Ten Reasons to Visit the McAllister House
If you have lived in Colorado Springs for any length of time, chances are you have heard of the McAllister House Museum. Located at 423 N. Cascade between Boulder and St. Vrain Streets, this quaint old home gives a glimpse into early pioneer life in our city. And at just $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for kids (under 6 free), it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. Here are ten reasons to go:
- It is the first brick house built in Colorado Springs. Imagine the city in 1873 with no trees, wide dirt roads instead of paved streets, and covered wagons crossing the plains to get here. Most people in the late 1800s lived in tents or shanties until their houses were built; Henry McAllister had a healthy fear of the strong chinook winds that he had seen destroy houses of lesser fortitude, so he had his built with double-thick walls embedded with two-inch-thick iron rods. It’s not going anywhere.
- The museum is a hidden gem. Located between two larger houses, it has lots of museum-quality antiques, including dolls, clothes, furniture, quilts, and lace. Matilda McAllister, the McAllisters’ youngest daughter, was a lace-maker, and there is a half-finished project of hers on the settee in the parlor; this is just one example of the true-to-life charm of the McAllister house. A mirror that once belonged to Abraham Lincoln graces the entryway.
- McAllister contributed a lot to Colorado Springs. A friend of Palmer’s from the Civil War, Henry McAllister brought Colorado College here. He created the first library fund and was also the first Superintendent of Fountain Colony (later to become Colorado Springs), and for a short time, was editor of the local paper. He is also responsible for the planting of cottonwood trees along the major streets of downtown. After planting, he placed signs that said, “Do not hitch horses to young trees.”
- Elizabeth McAllister established a high quality of life in early Colorado Springs. It is said McAllister’s wife baked bread and gave water from her well to local Native Americans who came to her house every day. Although she was reticent to let her three children play outside because there were no trees or any protection to speak of, she loved the adventure of being here. Having left a home with hot and cold running water in Philadelphia, she was probably shocked by the move at first, but she brought her own sophistication to her new home city, and her touches of Philadelphia can still be seen here.
- Stratton did all the trim work inside, and the fancy woodwork on the porches. Winfield Scott Stratton, also known as the “Midas of the Rockies,” made a large fortune with his Independence Mine in Cripple Creek. Recognized by many as one of the founding fathers of the city, Stratton gave much of the downtown land and buildings to the city. Before he struck it rich, he made his living as a trim carpenter, with a very interesting style of woodwork called “knobs and notches” that was contrary to the Victorian style popular at the time. You can see evidence of his work on the outside of the house, but the really good stuff is inside.
- The Palmer and the Penrose families lavished gifts on the McAllisters. One of the best parts of a visit to the McAllister House is the connection of the family to other local families who made an early impact here, such as the Palmers. Because they were Quakers, the McAllisters shared Palmer’s vision of an alcohol-free resort-style city where one could remove oneself from the chaos of the day. The Palmers gave the McAllisters the beautiful chair set in the parlor; Julie Penrose’s Wedgwood china set is in the kitchen.
- The docents are knowledgeable and love kids. The tour is easy to follow, and the curator throws in all sorts of interesting side information about the city as she focuses on the stories about the McAllisters and their house. She engages kids in the history of the house and the city, asking them to imagine what it might be like to grow up here at the turn of the century. You should have seen their faces when she told some young male visitors that little boys wore dresses until they were four years old, and they would have had to use a chamber pot.
- You can schedule a Victorian-style tea there. The docents re-create an old-fashioned atmosphere in the carriage house that would have been typical of the time period, encouraging guests to dress the part, especially with the big hats and dresses of the time. Schedule early, though, because the teas book quickly. The next available dates are for February 14. You can view their schedule at http://mcallisterhouse.org/ .
- If you’re a native of Colorado Springs, part of your legacy is there. Even if you’re not a native, you can learn a lot about why our city was chosen to be here in the shadow of Pikes Peak, and how part of our national heritage was made in Colorado Springs. For example, Katherine Lee Bates, author of “America the Beautiful,” once taught Sunday school at the First Congregational Church, right around the corner, which was attended by the McAllisters. Bates’ father was a minister there for a short time, and I imagine her coming back from a day on top of the Peak, inspired by the view enough to write one of America’s most beloved anthems.
- The foundation needs work, so the museum could really use the donations. As with all older houses, there are always projects to be done, and this beautiful house is no exception. It has been under the care of the Colonial Dames of America since the 1960’s, and as it ages, volunteers have come forward to give their time and expertise keeping it maintained and clean, but structural damage to the foundation may make this jewel of the city have to close, and that would be a shame. Museum hours vary by season, so check their website before you go.