Monday, June 10, 2013

Leadville's Crystal Palace



By Vickie McDonough

I visited Leadville, Colorado, when I was on a trip with my good friend, Margaret Daley, and was duly impressed with it’s quaint and colorful Victorian homes, majestic scenery, it’s historic buildings, and fascinating history. At an elevation of 10,430 feet, Leadville was often called “The Two Mile High City” or “Cloud City,” both fitting names. Located at the foot of two of Colorado's highest peaks, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, Leadville is one of America's last remaining authentic mining towns.

Colorfully painted house


Leadville was founded in 1877 by mine owners Horace Austin, Warner Tabor, and August Meyer, setting off the Colorado Silver Boom. By 1880, Leadville was one of the world's largest silver camps, with a population of over 40,000.




In 1881, some of the richest mines began to play out. Miners started to leave, stores and banks failed, and the town was consumed by fires that devoured rows of wooden structures. The depression of 1893 and the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act further depressed the economy of Leadville and ended the silver era.

A Leadville church with mountains in the background.

The desperate townspeople proposed a mammoth ice castle with the hopes it would draw sightseers, create jobs, and rescue the town's sagging economy. Charles E. Jay, an architect who had designed an ice palace in St. Paul, Minnesota, was hired as the designer, and Tingley S. Wood was hired to build the ice palace. The Leadville Ice Company got the contract to produce the ice.

Leadville's Crystal Palace
Construction began November 1, 1895 with a crew of 250 men working round the clock. The finished palace was more than 58,000 square feet—as big as a football field, and made of 180,000 board feet of lumber and 5,000 tons of ice. The palace was supported by a complex frame work of trusses, girders and timber, with the ice for appearance only. The ice was trimmed to size and placed in forms, then sprayed with water, which served as mortar to bind the blocks together. The towers reached 90 feet high by 40 feet wide.

Over 250,000 people visited the Ice Palace, which boasted a skating rink, a restaurant, a ballroom, a dance floor, gaming rooms, and a carousel house. Admission was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. But despite all, the Ice Palace was a financial disaster for its investors, so they abandoned plans to build one each winter, but it remains a fascinating part of Leadville's history.


Coming July 1st: Whispers on the Prairie

When Sarah Marshall’s wagon breaks down near a stage stop on the Santa Fe Trail, marriage proposals fly in faster than the incessant wind, but only one man interests Sarah—and he’s not proposing.

Ethan Harper’s well-ordered life is thrown into turmoil when an uppity city gal is stranded at his family’s stage stop. Now his two brothers and every unmarried male in the county are wooing Miss Priss. When one brother proposes, Ethan is in turmoil. Is it because she’s the wrong woman for his brother —or the right one for Ethan?



Vickie McDonough is an award-winning author of 26 books and novellas. Her novels include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series and the 3rd & 6th books in the Texas Trails series. Her novel, Long Trail Home, won the Inspirational category of the 2012 Booksellers’ Best Awards. Coming July 1st: Whispers on the Prairie, the first book in an exciting new series set in 1870s Kansas. To learn more about Vickie, visit her website: www.vickiemcdonough.com

18 comments:

  1. what an inventive way to try to rescue a town. Too bad it didn't work. Thanks for this great tidbit.

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    1. It does sound like a massive project, doesn't it?

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  2. I would have loved to see that beautiful structure. I have heard of ice palaces elsewhere, I will have to look that up! Great post!
    Susan P

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    1. Thanks, Susan. I imagine it would be a majestic sight to see, especially back in the1800s.

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  3. That's quite an impressive-looking palace! But it doesn't seem like it was very practical to build something that massive that would have to be rebuilt each year! Guess it's another example of learning from history!

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    1. That's true, Bethany. I wonder if they hoped to keep the frame year after year and just add new ice.

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  4. Very interesting. Hate that they couldn't make a go of it. With 250,000 people visiting, if the investors could have stuck with it for just 5 years (since the framework was laid), I'm guessing it would have been a success.

    Can you imagine seeing that place in all it's glory? It must have been amazing!

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    1. I agree. It must have been an amazing thing to see at 10000 ft elevation. The town alone is impressive with its incredible views.

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  5. What a neat idea for a local attraction...I'd go! I wonder, though, how a crystal palace would hold up in today's climate? Then again I'm thinking like the true Oklahoman that I am because we haven't had much of a winter the last 2 yrs. But gosh I bet that crystal palace was a sight to behold! Thanks for sharing this post. Btw, I cant wait to get my hands on Whispers On The Prairie next month!

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    1. The thing we plains dwellers have to remember is that Leadville has an elevation nearly 2 miles high. It makes for chilly weather pretty much year round. I was there in late June and had to wear a jacket to stay warm. For an Okie, it seems might strange to be cold in june.

      Thanks for being a fan of Whispers! I hope you enjoy it.

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  6. What an interesting piece of history. They should plan an ice castle in the future to see if it will draw visitors.

    It's been a long time since I've visited Colorado. My favorite places were the old mining towns. I'd love to go back and explore.

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  7. Christina, You'd love Leadville and it's history. The old buildings there are really cool, and the drive up is amazing. You're literally on a mountaintop and can see for miles.

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  8. I visited Leadville a number of years ago, when we were living in Colorado! It truly is a fascinating place, one which I would lotto visit again and stay for awhile.

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  9. Did you visit any of the sights there? It'a 96 degrees today, and I wish I were in Leadville right now!

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  10. Having lived in Colorado, I visited Leadville a couple of times. This is a very cool (haha) part of Leadville history!! Thanks for sharing. :)

    Whispers on the Prairie sounds like a great read-- I'd love to read it!!
    I don't think I've read anything by Vickie McDonough, but I'm definitely checking her out!! :)

    ladettek[at]gmail[dot]com

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    1. Ladette, I love visiting Colorado. Other than Texas & Kansas, it's probably the state I've been to the most. You're blessed to lived there.

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  11. Fascinating, Vickie. I Didn't know that.

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  12. How interesting! It amazes me what they could accomplish with the tools they had. I'd never heard about it before.

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