Tag Archives: Winfield Scott Stratton

A match made in luxury: Cripple Creek’s Winfield Scott Stratton and Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

According to one legend, Winfield Scott Stratton, the first and most famous millionaire of the Cripple Creek District, traveled to Denver during a particularly nasty storm in the spring of 1900. Upon stumbling into the prestigious Brown Palace Hotel, Stratton was ordered by an imperious employee to remove himself and his muddy boots from the lobby. The temperamental tycoon retaliated by purchasing the hotel outright so he could fire the employee.

A more scathing story was that Brown Palace manager Maxey Tabor, son of former silver king H.A.W. Tabor, disapproved of a young vaudeville actress Stratton was courting while both were guests at the hotel. In fact, Tabor went so far as to suggest to the lady that she should leave the hotel, never to return. For that reason and no other, according to the Telluride Daily Journal, Stratton purchased the Brown to exact revenge, “and now they do say that Manager Tabor will be out of a job just as soon as the new owner moves into the second floor front suite.”

The third, more genteel story, is most likely a combination of the Tabor story and the truth: Stratton was in fact saving the Brown from foreclosure when he purchased the mortgage in 1900. The grand hotel had opened some years before, specifically built to cater to the rich, political and powerful men and women of the time. Carpenter and architect Henry C. Brown financed the project, naming the hotel for himself. As early as October 1, 1891, the Leadville Herald Democrat noted the hotel was under construction, but was already receiving guests on a limited basis.

The Brown Palace officially opened in 1892 and immediately became a prominent meeting spot for political conventions and important organizations of the time. Denver’s most elite hotel was constructed of Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone outside, with decorative iron and Mexican onyx inside to create a sturdy structure that could stand for decades. Nine floors offered luxurious suites, ballrooms, meeting and banquet rooms, private clubrooms, restaurants and an expansive lobby that was visible via a wrap-around balcony extending to the eighth floor. High above, a 2,800 square-foot stained glass ceiling provided natural lighting.

There is little doubt that Stratton favored staying at the Brown for a number of reasons. Being a former carpenter himself, the mining magnate likely appreciated Henry Brown’s humble beginnings and admired architect Frank Edbrooke’s Italian Renaissance design of the hotel. Here, Stratton could easily find and meet with politicians, mine owners and other influential figures to discuss the state of affairs regarding gold mining and the future of America.

The Brown Palace also offered a safe retreat from the money-grubbing men and women of the Cripple Creek District and Colorado Springs who constantly vied for Stratton’s money and attentions. Upon staking the Independence gold mine at Cripple Creek on July 4, 1891, Stratton had literally become a millionaire overnight. Almost immediately a gaggle of newfound “friends”, gold-digging harlots and illegitimate heirs came forth, all wanting a piece of Stratton and his new fat wallet. Whether killing him with kindness or clamoring for his cash, Stratton’s fan club only served to embitter the man further and drove him to drink.

Stratton is known to have taken refuge at the Brown as early as 1896, when he joined others at a meeting to fight against silver coinage. W.H. Bush, manager of the hotel at the time, was also a mining investor and favored such meetings. Here, Stratton found colleagues whose best interests lay with the future of mining, not his own pocketbook. From his upstairs suite, he could relax in privacy, imbibe freely in his alcohol and recover from his hangovers via the hotel’s wonderfully refreshing artesian well, located some 750 feet underground. Fountains from the well once graced every floor.

Most unfortunately, running a place as swell as the Brown Palace came at a cost. The hotel happened to open just before the Silver Panic of 1893, which sent the nation into a devastating depression. By 1900 Henry Brown was struggling to make ends meet. Stratton, who had already earned kudos for extending money to friends, supplying Cripple Creek with needed goods following two devastating fires in 1896, and even assisting former millionaire widow Baby Doe Tabor with her Matchless Mine at Leadville, came to the rescue. In April of 1900, newspapers announced that Stratton had purchased the Brown Palace Hotel for a cool $1.5 million, regarded as an extremely good price even for the time.

Alas, Stratton may have saved the Brown Palace Hotel, but he could not save himself. On September 14, 1902, he died at his home in Colorado Springs. At the young age of 54, Cripple Creek’s favorite millionaire quite literally drank himself to death. The Brown Palace remained under Stratton’s estate for the next twenty years. It was then purchased by another key player in Cripple Creek history, the same Horace Bennett who platted the city, made a million dollars from lot sales, and for whom Bennett Avenue is named.

Bennett’s partner in 1922 was hardware magnate and philanthropist Charles Boettcher. The latter was already a part time resident of the hotel, which remained in the family until 1980. During the time in between those years, the Brown Palace has played host to no less than three presidents plus several dignitaries, governors, celebrities and others who have contributed to its enduring and endearing history. A favorite story: the time Zsa Zsa Gabor’s pampered puppy got lost in the heating ducts. The Queen of Slap was forced by other engagements to move on while hotel workers toiled to extract the dog and personally flew him to be reunited with Gabor.

Today, a stay at the Brown Palace Hotel continues to reflect everything Brown, Stratton, Boettcher and subsequent owners expected in a five-star, four-diamond hotel. Care of the 120 year-old structure is a great undertaking, but visitors can still relax with such amenities as Victorian rooms with modern comforts, historic décor including artifacts dating as far back as 1763, a polite and friendly staff, moderately-priced to upscale fine dining, and of course that excellent artesian water that now flows from every faucet. The four o’clock tea is an especial favorite among the ladies. For looky-lou’s, beware: the prestigious Brown does not allow anyone above the second floor to ensure the privacy of their guests.Brown Palace lobby

Count Pourtales Takes A Swim

The Green Mountain Falls and the town's charming lake are pictured here, circa 1889.

The Green Mountain Falls and the town’s charming lake are pictured here, circa 1889.

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

The year was 1884 when Count James M. Pourtales first arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Of European royalty, Pourtales was on the lookout for investments to save his interests in Germany and Prussia. He was also looking to spend more time with his beautiful cousin, Countess Berthe de Pourtales, whom he later married. Perhaps as a means of staying nearer to Berthe, Pourtales invested in the failing Broadmoor Dairy Farm, located on the southwest end of town, in about 1885.

Pourtales balanced his time in Colorado Springs with frequent visits to his homeland in Prussia. He soon discovered, however, that his departures generally resulted in doom for his investments. Pourtales soon learned to bloom where he was planted. Upon reviving the dairy farm, he next began purchasing more land. In the spring of 1889 he purchased a few hundred acres in what is now the five star Broadmoor neighborhood for development as a resort and casino.

In his free time, Pourtales courted his beloved Berthe and took short excursions around the growing Pike’s Peak region. One of his trips included a visit to Green Mountain Falls in May of 1889. As one of many resort towns of Ute Pass, Green Mountain Falls offered expansive picnic areas, a pretty little lake and namesake falls which cascaded gently down a local rock formation. Whether by accident or design, the Count happened to be present for the grand opening of the Green Mountain Falls Hotel. The new hotel was one of a number of pleasure resorts along Ute Pass designed to attract travelers from the east.

The hotel was a grand three story structure, built by W.G. Riddock very near the picturesque lake. Locals predicted the place would soon rival the Ramona Hotel in Cascade, located just down the road. The Green Mountain Falls Hotel offered 70 spacious guest rooms and comforting surroundings. Like the Ramona, the Green Mountain Falls Hotel also sported scenic gable rooms on each side and verandas running the length of each floor.

The grand opening was an event to be remembered, with hundreds of people attending the festivities around the hotel. Count Pourtales was amongst them, and at one point took a stroll down to the lake. There, he watched as Mr. F. E. Dow, president of Green Mountain Falls Town & Improvement Company, paddled leisurely on the water with his wife, their child and one Mrs. Clark. Suddenly the boat capsized, sending the occupants splashing into the water. As Mr. Dow attempted to save his family and Mrs. Clark, a man swam to their rescue. The hero was none other than Count Pourtales. Some say the lake is no more than a few feet deep in the middle, but the Count no doubt enjoyed his notoriety for saving the day.

Count Pourtales’ fame did not end with swimming to the rescue of Mr. Dow and his family. In 1891 the Count visited the Cripple Creek District, located just over Pikes Peak from Green Mountain Falls. The Count quickly made friends with such influential people as Sam Strong, Emma Carr, Bob Womack and Winfield Scott Stratton, all of whom contributed to the success of the District’s gold mining. When Pourtales and his partner invested $80,000 in the Buena Vista claim, their purchase made the papers and enhanced the gold rush to Cripple Creek.

In spite of his fame and notoriety, Pourtales’ investments continued to falter on occasion. In 1893 he defaulted on a $250,000 loan and lost his investment in the Broadmoor, destined to become a top star, classy destination for the millionaires of the future. Ironically, the loan company later sold the land to the estate of Winfield Scott Stratton, the Cripple Creek District’s first millionaire who averaged $12,000 a day in mining profits and died in 1902. The land was used for the Myron Stratton Home, Stratton’s own orphanage and home for the aged that is still in operation today. By the time the Myron Stratton Home was built, Pourtales had returned to his native land, where he died in 1908. His departure from the Pikes Peak region was surely final, but a good many people remembered him for years to come.