Clad in black, tingling hands pulling his coat tighter around his thin frame, the man stared hard at the mist covered mountains just outside the window. He squinted his failing eyes, making out shadows below on the lawn; members of the parish and town who were not sorry to see him off. Nor he them. “Allez!”, he shouted suddenly, turning to face the scuttling novices of the Sisters of Mercy, who now raced with boxes of belongings and pieces of artwork down the grand staircase. Anxious to return to polite, aristocratic society, the man became impatient. Soon, he and La Mere would return to France to settle back into the fine world his aristocratic father had laid out for them. And what had happened here would be forgotten, for who would speak of it? The mountains were silent sentries, quiet in their secret keeping.
Lodged firmly into the rock under which healing natural spring water flows, Miramont Castle is now home to the Manitou Springs Historical Society in Manitou Springs, Colorado. At an impressive 14,000 square feet and with thirty rooms, this is truly not an average abode or humble living quarters. Built in 1895, the castle was home to only two family members, a mother and son who had arrived from New Mexico by way of France.
Father Jean Baptiste Francolon had been dispatched to New Mexico to be the personal secretary to Bishop Lamy in the Archdiocese in 1878. Even at the age of twenty four, Father Francolon proved to be unpopular with the parishioners. There is even some speculation that he may have been poisoned, according to the Castle’s website (www.miramontcastle.org). In 1892, he was placed at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Manitou Springs, which was known for the healthy spring water. Hoping this would improve his health, the ailing priest moved north, staying within the confines of the Rocky Mountains.
The child of an aristocratic diplomat, Father Francolon was not used to the sparse living arrangements that the church encouraged for priests. Built in 1895. his home, which translates into “Look at the Mountain”, offered picturesque views, two inch thick walls between rooms, running water, various antiques, a luxurious parlor, and an immaculate garden. Certainly, a home to rival Versailles. It is also supposed that the nuns of the Sisters of Mercy cooked and cleaned for him and his mother.
But even within the confines of his magnificent fortress, Father Francolon could not escape his past. Debts and a lawsuit for non-payment of construction materials followed him, along with his reputation. Again, he was disliked by the townspeople and he kept mostly to himself. However, he did host two charity balls in 1897, with proceeds going to the poor of Manitou Springs and to the library.
A mere five years later, in 1900, Father Francolon and his mother left Miramont Castle, leaving many pieces of household furnishings, but taking expensive artwork. They returned to France, where she died shortly after their return. Father Francolon returned to the United States and lived in New York until his death in 1922.
The castle was abandoned until 1904, upon which the Sisters of Mercy purchased it and used it as the summer location of their sanatorium, Montecalme. Miramont became the permanent location in 1907 after the main campus was engulfed in flames and destroyed.
The Solarium, noted for it’s high ceilings, 180 degree view, and natural lighting, was used as an operating room for simple procedures.
In 1927, the sanitorium closed and the castle became a private retreat for the members of the nunnery.
The economic boom following World War II echoed through Miramont, as it was released from the Sisters’ hands and into private investors who converted it into nine apartments. These were mainly geared towards returning veterans and planned to accommodate them as they reentered into civilian life.
The Castle enjoyed another renaissance in 1976 after it had been neglected and damaged for years. Nearing condemnation, it was saved by the Manitou Springs Historical Society and today is open to the public The museum offers a view into the genteel world of Victorian living at the turn of the century, with some amazing architecture and amenities. It is handicap accessible and offers a Queen’s Tea for those looking for a special way to remember the Castle (check website for details).
The basement hosts a firefighter’s exhibit, and houses relics from some of the earliest firefighting equipment, badges, uniforms, and curios. Other exhibits throughout the Castle include Trial at Nuremberg, artifacts from John C. Young, Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court who presided over the 12th Nurnburg Trial, and a gallery of artwork by local artists.
But the Castle continues to be home to Father Francolon. His bedroom suite, decidedly smaller than the other rooms, appears to be awaiting his return; his hat hanging from a rack, his rosary near his bible.
A small chapel is located within the center of the Castle, near the sweeping staircase. A sign on the wall said that the chapel has been opened to the public for small ceremonies, including weddings.
The architecture spans nine types, including Gothic, Moorish, and Domestic Elizabethan, and offers, as a centerpiece, a twenty-ton fireplace in red sandstone, complete with an arched hearth.
The tour is self-guided, and comes with an informational sheet that details the history of the Castle and it’s rooms.
The reason as to why Father Francolon left Manitou Springs is never clearly discussed, which brings up many possibilities that could be entertained in a fertile imagination. With his reputation, it would be easy to create scenarios that introduce lurid details, but these questions are not answered within the Castle.
Miramont indeed lives up to it’s romantic name and is an impressive and lovely museum. Though located near a bustling downtown, there is a sense of isolation and loneliness that permeates through the two inch thick walls. Indeed, there is little happiness that accompanies the history of the Castle, the bricks and mortar held together by sadness and disappointment.
Manitou Springs is located five miles from Colorado Springs, Colorado and also offers many unique boutiques and eateries. There are also seven spigots in the main square which run spring water; tourists are encouraged to stop by the Visitors Bureau to receive a free cup so they may sample the healing waters.
For more information about Miramont, visit http://www.miramontcastle.org.