Navigators finish restoring Glen Eyrie’s first building
From horse stables to multiuse business center.
The Navigators, the nonprofit entity that owns Glen Eyrie, recently completed a five-year, “adaptive” restoration of the Carriage House, which was the first building on Colorado Springs founder William Palmer's 800-acre estate.
The facility now offers a paver-laid courtyard, meeting rooms, bookstore, coffee shop and lobby for guests checking in for over-night stays. But signs of its 140-year history still remain, including the brick floor of the bookstore, some exposed brick walls and the iron rings on the courtyard's stone walls that once secured Palmer's horses.
The restoration won an award in October from the Historic Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs in the category of Compatible Landscape for a Historic Civil Property.
“We are proud of the award and of the people who worked hard in restoring the Carriage House,” said Susan Fletcher, the Navigators historian who researched the building's past and accepted the award.
“The recent preservation actions have restored this gem for the present generation and have positioned the building to last for another 140 years.”
Although Glen Eyrie, 3820 N. 30th St., is now a private Christian conference center, the Navigators policy is not to turn the public away. Anyone wishing to visit the Carriage House just needs to tell the guard at the gate. Full tours of Glen Eyrie, starting at the Carriage House, are also available for a fee.
For the award event, Fletcher prepared a chronology of the Glen Eyrie and Carriage House history. The two-story Carriage House was built first, she said, because the highest priority was a place to stable the horses. At least part of the time while it was being built in 1871, Palmer and his wife Queen lived in a tent. When it was finished, and their large main house was being built (it too exists to this day), the couple resided in the Carriage House's upper rooms, Fletcher recounted.
The stable housed Palmer's famous horses. “The stable hands expertly cared for Scrub Oak, Donner, Schoolboy, Forrest King and The Moor,” Fletcher writes. “The building also housed carriages and contained living quarters for Palmer's coachman and other male servants.”
Palmer modified the Carriage House several times from 1871-1909, “to accommodate his growing collection of horses and coaches,” Fletcher continues. He added the east and west wings in 1900, and in 1906 built another addition behind the eastern wing. There was even a tunnel to the main house, which is still intact today (but closed to the public).
It was Schoolboy's stumble on a ride in October 1906 that threw Palmer to the ground and left him paralyzed until his death in 1909.
When Palmer's daughters decided to sell Glen Eyrie in 1914, the Carriage House was listed as having accommodations for “around ten carriages; thirteen single stalls; four box stalls and hospital box stall; loft; coach room; saddle room; harness room; kitchen and dining room; nine bedrooms and two baths.”
The initial buyer, an Oklahoma syndicate, paid $150,000 for the estate. The group “platted the valley for 150 luxurious villas,” Fletcher relates, and went ahead with changes in the Carriage House including the creation of the “Black Horse Tavern” on the first floor. However, Fletcher adds, “with the nation embroiled in WWI and an influenza epidemic, the plan for the luxury villas failed.”
After that, Glen Eyrie changed hands several more times without major changes in the Carriage House - other than making it possible to park cars right outside it - before the Navigators bought the estate in 1953.
Initially, the Carriage House was used for carpentry, paint, electrical and lawn maintenance shops, with some restorative work that included removing the stables and creating guest rooms and meeting spaces. Long-range studies in 1984 and 1998 led to the layout that exists today.
The recent improvements began in 2005, a three-phase project that first addressed the courtyard (with pavers replacing the asphalt and gravel and the parking area being moved east of it).
Phase two was the building's main floor. “The staff transformed a bare-bones meeting room into a beautiful lobby that welcomes visitors with historic photographs of the property and the Palmer family,” Fletcher writes. “The space that had once been stalls for General Palmer's horses became the bookstore. Today guests can view the original rafters of the building, the historic windows, and the exposed original brickwork while sipping a cup of coffee in the bookstore cafe. The 1914 Black Horse Tavern dining room became a multi-purpose room that hosts large tour groups.”
The third phase was the second floor, which was restored into meeting rooms with the “large, open spaces that once had served as Palmer's Hayloft and Granary,” Fletcher reports. “These large spaces became meeting space for The Navigators and their guests.”
Third-phase challenges included the Hayloft floor having settled four inches, structural problems on some of the remodeling work done since Palmer's day and the need to find windows that looked like the originals but were energy-efficient. (Note: Throughout the Carriage House, “most of the original leaded glass windows and several original doors remain,” Fletcher states.)
Also on the second floor, crews salvaged “almost all of the Southern Yellow Pine used as sub flooring,” Fletcher records. “Southern Yellow Pine is no longer widely available due to clear-cut forestry practices over the last one hundred years.”
Regarding the project's benefit to the city, Fletcher suggests that it “preserves an important historic site - the estate of city founder General Palmer. The public can visit the Carriage House and learn more about Palmer and his vision for the city.”
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