Winfield Scott Stratton: The $10 Million Man, Part 4
The More Things Change
Winfield Scott Stratton was a man whose destiny had been shaped by dreams. From a dream as a teenager of coming to Colorado to seek gold, to the dream as a destitute carpenter and part-time prospector of the location of a fortune in gold, to the dream as a millionaire to sell his gold mine and will his fortune to the erection of a home for the destitute named for his father, Stratton’s life continues to be one of mystery and benevolence even 113 years after his death. Many questions have come up while I was researching this article.
What has happened to the buildings and holdings of Stratton’s estate?
The Mining Exchange functioned as usual until sometime in the 1920s, when gold and silver mining in the area tapered off so much that it wasn’t needed anymore.
It sat empty for a few years and was a bank and office building for many years before it was purchased and refurbished into the Mining Exchange, a Wyndham Grand Hotel in 2013. Considering that the building originally cost $325,000 to build and was considered in 1902 to be “the handsomest…and most substantial building in the city,” it sure has kept its grandeur all this time. Pictures comparing it at the time of construction to modern day barely show any difference.
Stratton’s mark is all over the city. The Stratton open space, Stratton Park, and Stratton Elementary School are just a few places that bear his name.
Buildings and land that he bought, donated and financed are still in active use today: The Mining Exchange, the Independence and Fremont buildings, the Post Office, City Hall, and the Courthouse buildings all still function as the heartbeat of downtown. The McAllister House and a few other original buildings still bear his beautiful woodwork.
What about Stratton’s “bowl of gold” theory?
For a guy who had just a few classes at the School of Mines and Colorado College, he was pretty astute when it came to mineralogy. He had been prepared at the time of his death in 1902 to explore a six-square-mile area near Cripple Creek for this huge gold deposit; he wanted to drill down at least a thousand feet if necessary. He sank at least $7 million into this venture; that’s how certain he was that he’d find something. And guess what? He was right. Five years later, a tunnel was driven into the south side of Pikes Peak at 8,000 feet to drain water that blocked further downward progress. Even more gold was found, and in 1941 another tunnel was added 3,200 feet below the surface which drained 25,000 gallons of water a minute into the Arkansas River. Forty-five million ounces of gold have been processed in Colorado to date; 25 million ounces have come solely from the areas around Cripple Creek and Victor. It’s no wonder those old-time miners had “gold fever,” and some people still do—at just under $1,154 per ounce, you do the math.
Mining processes have changed significantly in the intervening years, and the “slag” that the nineteenth century miners discarded is now being processed differently. Current mining involves cyanide leaching, where the ore is pulled out and crushed, then laid out in large areas where a cyanide mixture is slowly dripped over the ore. After the gold is extracted, the excess soil is cleaned and stored until the mining is finished. From the areas being mined near Cripple Creek today, about 230,000 ounces of gold were produced last year from the Cresson Project, which started mining the area in 1995. Since modern mining doesn’t involve drilling, a plan must be in place before any project can be started; the mined areas must be backfilled with cleaned and processed soil, then layered with topsoil and reseeded with native plants and trees. Here’s a Rocky Mountain PBS video made recently about gold in Colorado. It is fun and informative. (Side note: I’ve been in the Old Hundred mine featured in the video, and met Ernie, the tour guide, who was quite a character. He used to be mayor of Silverton.)
What about the Myron Stratton Home, the main benefactor of Stratton’s will?
The idea of a “poor house” didn’t go over well with the citizens of early 1900’s Colorado Springs. They didn’t want the stigma of a home for indigents hanging like a pall over “Little London.” Once people got used to the idea that Stratton’s will was airtight and must be followed, they hoped that the home would be established further south of the city, closer to Fountain. But the executors of the will found a nice piece of ground just south of the Broadmoor Hotel that suited their purposes perfectly. Since the will allowed for no more than $1 million to be expended to buy and build up the property, most of Stratton’s fortune would be held in trust to fund the ongoing staffing and maintenance of the Home.
The Home was originally designed to house elderly people in 25 cottages and orphans in dormitories (the Independence for boys and the Washington for girls). The goal was to provide sanctuary for those who needed support. Many kids who grew up in the home thought of Stratton as their savior. One girl even said, upon viewing his statue at the corner of Nevada and Pikes Peak Avenues, “That’s our pal!”
Sometime in the 1970s, when foster care replaced the need for an orphanage, the Home re-purposed the dormitories as a Consortium for service-providing non-profit businesses. Stratton’s will is very specific; it stipulates exactly what kinds of services and people his money must serve, even today. For a while the Home hosted Cleo Wallace, a care center for emotionally and physically disabled kids, which left the Home in 2004. Now the Consortium houses several other care services, such as Partners in Housing, which provides up to a year’s stay and case management, budget counseling, and life skills training for single homeless mothers; TESSA, which provides sanctuary and help for victims of domestic violence; and Peak Vista, a health care service provider. These businesses have a wonderfully symbiotic relationship. For instance, if a victimized woman needs to see a doctor immediately, she can get right into Peak Vista with little notice.
By far the best part of the Myron Stratton Home is the elder care. As stipulated in the will, only those who are low-income may apply for residency. The Home offers two levels of care: at this time, 74 people live independently in the cottages, and 25 reside in Winfield House, the alternative care building. Although later housing laws caused the Home to start charging for these services, the bulk of the costs are still covered by Stratton’s money. Rent and meals are charged on a sliding scale, and no resident pays more than $2.50 for a meal (although most cook for themselves in their own cottage kitchens). The older people I met in both areas were happy and well cared for, with a variety of services and activities provided for them. They even play pool on Stratton’s own pool table.
In 1913 Stratton’s fortune amounted to about $4.4 million after all the lawsuits and expenditures had been settled, but now its assets total over $152 million. Most of the land holdings have been sold off; currently the estate holds about 105 acres of land including the Home, the reservoir behind the Broadmoor Community Church on Lake Avenue, and royalties on the ore that is refined in Cripple Creek on land that Stratton originally bought.
The Home started a grant program in 2001 and since then has given out $3,625,500 to 105 different agencies with programs that center on the elderly, children, and low income and health and nutrition projects, just as Stratton would have wanted. It’s not easy to get a grant; the process takes at least six months, and once awarded, the grant will not be reconsidered for at least another year. The goal is to provide opportunities to many different organizations and give aid to as diverse a population as possible.
Stratton’s original wishes are always considered when decisions are made by the administration of the Home, but they don’t do it because the will says they have to. After “A Century of Sanctuary,” they do it because they believe in what Stratton wanted: the ideal of giving back to the community that makes one rich.
And those of us who live in the shadow of Pikes Peak are all richer for it.