Explorer’s Hub: Back to 1903
When the sun disappears behind dark mountains that rise abruptly from the Crystal River Valley, it’s easy to conjure illusions roaming the streets and dirt roads of Redstone. Of course the village’s most famous landmark is reputed to be haunted, but that’s the inevitable fate of any building that’s called a castle. Put me in the skeptics’ camp. Still, I can’t deny that there is a presence that pervades the castle, the village, even the entire valley. It belongs to a giant whose footprint is still visible here, and whose legacy is as complex as the fate of the castle where he lived and died.
The term “robber baron” is no compliment. No doubt John Cleveland Osgood would have preferred the less rapacious “captain of industry,” a title that Osgood began working to earn when he came to Colorado in 1882 to explore the potential for coal development. It was there, and he grabbed it, buying huge tracts of land that sat on large coal deposits. Within five years he formed the Colorado Fuel Company. Within 10 years, Osgood was the head of Colorado Fuel and Iron, mining three-quarters of Colorado’s coal output and boasting a huge ironworks at company headquarters in Pueblo.
Redstone? It didn’t exist until John C. Osgood created it as a way to head off what every American industrialist of the time feared more than anything; labor unions. Osgood believed that he knew best how to keep workers both content and productive. In Pueblo, he built a hospital for company employees, but Redstone would be Osgood’s ultimate expression of what became known as “welfare capitalism.”
Osgood had quite an operation going in the Crystal River Valley. Along Colorado Highway 133, you can still see some of the 250 beehive-shaped ovens that turned area coal into coke, a fuel that was shipped by rail to Osgood’s foundries in Pueblo.
For his married workers, Osgood built more than 80 comfortable cottages, sturdy enough that some of them are still lived in today. He built a school, a library, a theater. Unmarried men stayed in a 40 room dormitory that looked like a Swiss chalet. It featured luxuries unheard of for the working man. Electricity! Indoor plumbing! Today, it’s a hotel called Redstone Inn.
Osgood built a castle, Cleveholm Manor, to impress his second wife. Its 24,000 square feet of English Tudor grandeur, hidden from highway view by surrounding forest, haven’t always gotten the royal treatment. The hotel’s been boarded up, operated as a guest lodge, seized by the IRS, and most recently sold to the owners of the Hotel Denver in Glenwood Springs. After some restoration, road work and utility upgrades are complete, they plan to reopen the Castle to public tours in the spring of 2018, and eventually to overnight guests, including wedding parties.
Redstone Castle provides a sumptuous glimpse into a Gilded Age that didn’t end well for John C. Osgood. First, a stock ownership Battle of the Titans with John D. Rockefeller; Osgood lost. Then, a strike in the mining camps; Osgood pressured the governor to use force to break it. Finally, an explosion at an Osgood mine in Las Animas County; 121 people died.
By 1925, Osgood had made New York City his primary home, but a diagnosis of terminal cancer brought him back to the Crystal River Valley one last time. He died at his beloved Cleveholm Manor in 1926 at the age of 74. His ashes were scattered throughout the valley. Nearly 100 years later, his imprint lives on.
As an explorer of Colorado’s highways and byways, Pat Woodard has stayed at both Redstone Castle and Redstone Inn, sleeping in the shadow of one man’s social engineering.
Walking through the Redstone Castle is an experience of stepping back in time, with so many of the original finishings and furnishings intact. Highlights:
- Tiffany and Co. lighting
- Gold-leaf ceilings
- English oak and Honduran mahogany
- French silk and fresco plaster
- Russian ruby red velvet wall cover, mahogany and gold leaf with mostly original furniture.
- Clawfoot bathtubs