c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins
It is all well and good to “honor thy father and thy mother” just as the Bible says. Manitou Springs’ Father Francolon, however, took this commandment to extremes where his mother was concerned.
Father Jean Baptist Francolon was a native Frenchman who first came to Manitou in 1892 to work with the Catholic Sisters of Mercy. At the time, the Sisters of Mercy were the largest Catholic order of nuns in the country, sent to places like Manitou and Cripple Creek to assist the sick and needy. In a time when tuberculosis was running rampant across the nation, Colorado saw an amazing influx of those afflicted who were seeking a healthier climate. The population of tubercular patients throughout the state actually exceeded the number of miners who came to Colorado during the gold rushes of 1859 and 1890!
Rather than live on the grounds of the Sisters’ tubercular sanitarium, however, Francolon purchased a large lot right next door. Within a few years, the eccentric priest took even more unconventional steps when he decided to build a monumental home for his mother, Marie. The castle was named Miramont in her honor.
Work on the castle began in 1895. Francolon commissioned Manitou builders Angus and Archie Gillis and combined Romanesque, Moorish and Gothic styles to create what would be known as the Castle of the West. The outer walls of the castle were two feet thick and made of hand-cut native green sandstone. Overall, nine different styles of architecture were applied to reflect childhood places that Francolon fondly remembered. There are very few four sided rooms in the building. An octagonal shaped chapel originally served as Froncolon’s library.
By 1897 the 14,000 square foot structure was completed with four floors and an amazing 46 rooms. These included a drawing room, dining room, a great hall and eight fireplaces, including one measuring 16 feet wide and weighing 400,000 pounds, allegedly with a secret passageway behind it. Many of the ceilings were painted in gold leaf. Plumbing and electricity, very modern for the time, were installed as well.
Curiously only 28 of the rooms, mostly located on the second and third floors, were used by Father Francolon and his mother. The kitchen, complete with an intricate intercom system to the rest of the house, was rarely used since the Sisters of Mercy usually brought prepared meals to the castle via a tunnel from the sanitarium next door.
Allegedly, Marie Francolon slept in a bed with four towering posters that was formerly owned by Marie Antoinette or Empress Josephine. Some claim the bed was literally built in Marie’s bedroom and therefore cannot be removed without destroying it. Whimsical stories such as this have surrounded the castle for years, including just why Father Francolon abruptly left town in 1900 and returned to France. Marie Francolon passed away just a few months later.
In 1904 the castle was deeded to the Sisters of Mercy. When the sanitarium burned in 1907, the Sisters occupied the castle full time and called it Montcalme. After Francolon’s death in 1922, the Sisters hung on a few more years before closing the castle in 1928. It was then used for retreats until it was sold in 1946 and converted to apartments.
In 1976, the Manitou Springs Historical Society managed to purchase the castle for just $60,000. Over 260 broken windows were repaired. Staircases and other woodwork that were long ago burned for firewood were lovingly restored or replaced. Today Miramont remains as one of the Colorado’s most intriguing museums, as well as a monumental tribute to a strange little priest who dearly loved his mother. You can learn more by visiting the museum’s website here: https://www.miramontcastle.org/
Image courtesy of Miramont Castle