They called it Manifest Destiny, and in the first third of the 19th century it was the creed that sent countless Americans surging west from St. Louis. The high Rocky Mountains held many riches and a new way of life for those who sought freedom from the crowded East. Some became mountain men, surviving off the land, trapping beavers and bears and other creatures for the valuable pelts. Others, men and women, inhabited the rowdy mining towns, hoping for that lucky strike or a share of someone else's.
In later years, as Colorado entered the Union in 1876, as the new century dawned and travel became more accessible and affordable, westward journeys had new goals. The soaring rooftops of America lured visitors for skiing and recreation and simply to experience those rugged peaks that have always defined the states that straddle the Continental Divide. The state capital of Denver sits at the base of the foothills where the mountains rise to the west, a continual reminder of the nearness of the wilderness to the urban dweller. The Rockies have ever demanded of those who live near them, an upward-reaching spirit, and it is fitting that the Colorado Governor's Residence sits atop a hill, where it was built as a private home by one of the state's leading pioneer families.
Walter Scott Cheesman rode an ox cart from Chicago to Denver in 1861, where he joined his brother in the drug store business. He became an enthusiastic and effective booster of his new city, helping bring railroad service to Denver, developing the town's fledgling real estate industry and rising to local and regional prominence. After the tragic loss of his wife and two year old son, he remained single for many years. At the age of 47 he remarried, to the beautiful and charming widow Alice Foster Sanger. Two years later their daughter, Gladys, was born and from the moment he saw her, Walter Cheesman was devoted to her. While still a teenager, Gladys helped her father design a wonderful new house for the family. But in 1907, just as he was planning to begin construction of the landmark mansion atop Denver's Logan Hill, Mr. Cheesman died. Gladys and her mother proceeded with the plans, and the result was a graceful, soaring home of three stories that soon became the envy of Denver high society. From outside the wrought iron fence, citizens marveled at the mansion's west portico with its two-story Roman Ionic colonnade, at the widow's walk and the elegant arched windows. The Cheesman home became the talk of Denver.
Shortly after the home was completed in 1908, Gladys married her childhood sweetheart, John Evans, grandson of the second territorial governor of Colorado. They shared the house with Mrs. Cheesman for several years until they built a house of their own. They added unique features through the years: a fountain-centered rose garden, a lily pool with pergola, and a solarium constructed in 1915 over what had become known as the Palm Room.
Mrs. Cheesman died in 1923 and the house was sold to Claude K. Boettcher, a leading western businessman. Mr. Boettcher presented the deed to his wife Edna as a Valentine's Day present in 1924. Where the Cheesman-Evans era had focused on expanding the mansion and its grounds, the Boettcher family toured the world acquiring furnishings and objets d'art, many of which remain part of the modern mansion collection. Among their finest additions was a Waterford cut crystal chandelier that hung in the White House ballroom in 1876, when President Grant presided over America's centennial celebration (and Colorado's admission to the Union). The Boettchers expanded the Palm Room to enclose the former porch into a magnificent bay, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the fountain and gardens, with the view reaching to Pike's Peak, 70 miles to the south. They added two small wings to the Palm Room, and remodeled the upstairs bedroom suites, eliminating the solarium. Charles Lindbergh, a close friend of the Boettchers' son, was such a frequent visitor that one of the new bedroom suites was dubbed Charlie's Room. Another guest was a future president, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Claude Boettcher died in 1957, his wife Edna the following year. She left the house to a private family foundation, requesting that this beautiful mansion be offered to the State of Colorado to be used as a governors' residence. Ironically, several state agencies initially rejected the gift, and after two years of trying to give the mansion to the state, the foundation hired someone to catalog the contents of the house in preparation for an auction. The house itself would be razed because the value was in the land. But in the closing days of 1959, Governor Stephen McNichols gratefully accepted the mansion on behalf of the state. In a double irony, it was not the first time McNichols had seen the inside of the home. He had lived in the neighborhood as a boy. When Charles Boettcher II, son of Claude and Edna, was kidnapped and held for ransom in 1933, young Steve McNichols was among those who peeked in the windows during the sensational case. Charles Boettcher was returned home unharmed, and 26 years later he handed over the deed to his family's home to his former neighbor.
Visitors to the Colorado Governor's Residence at the Boettcher Mansion today are surrounded by art and artifacts with connections to the pioneer Cheesman, Evans and Boettcher families.
In the wings added to the Palm Room, hand-crafted leaded glass windows that overlook the south lawn bear the Boettcher family initials. The Palm Room and wings have floors of white Colorado Yule marble, with Italian Carrara marble statuary throughout - scrolled pedestal tables, benches and urns. The greenerys add an airy simplicity that makes the room ideal for entertaining.
The President Grant chandelier hangs in the ground floor Drawing Room. The Tiffany garniture on the mantel - a clock and candelabra of ormolu and alabaster - was a gift from Mrs. Cheesman's granddaughter, the only items in the house from the Cheesman era. Two 18th century Venetian chairs, antique French crystal wall brackets and Gobelin tapestry co-exist with Chinese carved jade vases mounted as table lamps and a Chinese carved amber elephant. The Drawing Room mixture of European and Oriental motifs is carried throughout the mansion's public rooms - the heritage of the eclectic tastes of its private owners.
It is the grand entry hall which commands a visitor's immediate attention. The broad, columned corridor features ornate 18th century French chandeliers along the 100 feet from the foyer to the bay window with its view of Pikes Peak. Artwork from France, Italy and China line the walls, above furnishings that include an Italian ebonized table with silvered metal mountings, a Loving Cup made in 1824 by the English silversmith Paul Storr and a hand carved Italian baroque credenza dating from the 16th century. Also on display in the hallway is a 1740 Beauvais tapestry, one of several rare tapestries that decorate the mansion.
The ground floor public rooms open off the central hallway. In the State Dining Room, the table and throne-like chairs are from Italy, hand carved from walnut. The massive table features lion and shield supports. Flanking the fireplace are antique French rococo style mirrors atop console tables. Over the table hangs an 18th century French bronze and crystal chandelier, with fruit shaped pendants in amethyst.
The Library was remodeled in 1927, when the Boettcher family added uncommon architectural detailing. Cross-cut inlaid oak paneling covers the walls, and romantic landscape paintings nest in lunar arches above the doorways. A centerpiece of the Library, and of the mansion, is the Louis XIV French cylinder desk, made of rare and delicate tulip wood with massive ormolu mounts. Created by Andre Boule, the most celebrated of Louis XIV furniture makers and designers, it is said to be one of only two in existence. The Library also boasts four 1690 armchairs, one of Aubusson tapestry, and a glass display case that holds unique jade sculptures from the 16th and 17th centuries, a pair of four foot tall Chinese cloisonne urns, remarkable for their size and azure color and four Tang mortuary horses.
The second and third floors of the residence are the private quarters of the first family. The second floor contains the elegant Guest Suite that is a showpiece of the mansion's historic grandeur. After a 1987 remodeling, the three-room suite was outfitted with a set of unusual painted-finish Venetian furniture pieces that were in storage since the 1920's. These Venetian pieces include twin sleigh beds, armoire, desk and chandelier. This was the room known as "Charlie's Room" during the Boettcher years.
The mansion's grounds are in keeping with the classical decor of the marble Palm Room. Architectural elements include a small columned stone garden temple with a wrought iron dome, a wide Italianate balustrade around the upper terrace, and an alcove below with stone benches, a lion's head lavabo in the center fed by the overflow from the fountain above. In the years since the home was constructed, the trees have reached full height above the yards and the original wrought iron fences have adopted mantles of clinging greenery.
The Colorado Governor's Residence began as a landmark private home, was transformed into a display of old-world elegance and remains one of the west's true treasure houses as it approaches its second century. Part executive residence, part repository of museum-quality furnishings and objects d'art, the house is a meeting place for the past and the future. By fulfilling this potential, Colorado itself is reflected, as the state unfolds from the hearts and dreams of its pioneers to become a truly cosmopolitan crossroads.