c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins
In the Victorian era, there were no televisions to while away the evening hours. Reading and sewing were suitable for family recreation, but what about social settings? Between barn dances and quilting parties, a unique source of entertainment crept into existence. Ouija boards and seances became the object of many a parlor game, and Henry Clay Childs jumped on the psychic bandwagon with both feet.
Henry and his wife, Catherine, had come to Colorado on the advice of a “seer”, who told them their fortune would come at one of two places: the area now known as Crystola on Ute Pass outside of Colorado Springs, or at what was to be known as the Cripple Creek Gold Mining District. It was a 50—50 chance, and the Childs chose to settle at Crystola. In 1876, the enigmatic couple built a simple frame home in what was then known as Trout Park.
Claiming to rely on a crystal ball for guidance, the Childs were soon receiving visits from curious neighbors. Psychics were entertained at the Childs home, where seances were conducted regularly. Folks began attending spiritual meetings in the Childs’ livingroom. One night, the spirits told Henry once more that gold abounded on his land. Accordingly, Childs built a large mill, the Brotherhood Gold Mining and Milling Company. By 1887, Trout Park was a regular stop on the Midland Terminal Railroad and growing ever popular.
In 1899, the town of Crystola was officially platted. Within a year there was a grocery store and post office, and the Hotel Abbott fairly seethed with psychics. But the gold never came, the mill never opened, and Childs’ plans failed after ten years of promotion and wasted money. The psychics went away. After Catherine passed away, Henry became a reclusive alcoholic. He died in 1910 without ever realizing his dreams.
Not surprisingly, Henry Childs left some rather odd decrees in his will. In March of 1911 the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph announced plans for Childs University of Psychic Research to be built at Crystola. Per Childs’ wishes, the purpose of the institute would be to study the supernatural. It is no wonder that the Gazette claimed that “Ghosts, goblins and spirits from the unknown are presumed to walk the hills in the neighborhood of Crystola.”
By 1915, the university had been cast aside in favor of an “industrial utopia” by the executors of Childs’ estate. The socialistic object of this new community would be to “promote greater justice in distribution of wealth”. A big tent auditorium was part of the plan to accommodate speakers who would give daily lectures. Guests could stay in the twenty or so cottages at Crystola, or stay at the Abbott Hotel. But once again, the utopia never materialized.
In 1920, the cabins were being rented out to staff members from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Crystola faded into quiet obscurity, save for a flood in 1929. One fatality was the result: the drowning of Mrs. C.E. Emery, wife of a local photographer. The Hotel Abbott was razed in 1931. The former Crystola Inn burned in the 1950’s, replaced by today’s Crystola Roadhouse. Today Crystola remains as a pretty little wide spot on Highway 24, referred to by locals as the last great haunted place of Ute Pass.