What was Colorado Springs like in 1873 when the McAllister family built their home at 423 N. Cascade Ave.? The population was nearly 250 people with 20 permanent structures. A photo taken shortly after the house and barn were completed reveals open prairie with several small transplanted, cottonwood trees. It was certainly different from the setting today of a bustling city, paved streets, soaring trees, and endless sturdy structures.
Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer had been the commanding officer for Maj. Henry McAllister during the Civil War. This connection, along with shared Quaker and Pennsylvania roots, led to a position for Maj. McAllister with Palmer’s Colorado Springs Company and an eventual move West. McAllister, his wife, Elizabeth, and infant son, Henry Jr., moved into this local treasure in 1873.
McAllister owned two-and-a-half acres of land just south of St. Vrain Street, between Cascade Avenue and Tejon Steet. Here he had a modest, English-style brick cottage built, along with a barn, carriage house, apple orchard, well, and assorted outbuildings. He was well aware that the growing town of Colorado Springs would gradually morph into a city and surround his personal oasis.
The McAllisters had two more children and actively participated in the growth of their adopted home town. Henry continued to reside in the home after the death of Elizabeth, and until his death in 1921. The family maintained ownership and the house was rented to Fanny Robbins, who lived there until her death in 1958, operating a candy and gift shop on the first floor. The home was purchased in 1960 by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, and in 1961 the McAllister House Museum was opened for tours that continue to this day.
A visit and tour reveal a fascinating snapshot of middle-class early life in our fair city. McAllister wanted to assure that that his family would be safe, warm and secure in a sturdy home resulting in double thick brick walls, three fireplaces on the first floor, and a unique inside chimney in the master bedroom. The first floor is comprised of a formal parlor, library, dining room, and kitchen. Upstairs, accessible by a decorative wooden staircase, are two large bedrooms and an attic area that was used for storage. Colorado Springs pioneer Winfield Scott Stratton crafted all the woodwork in the home including the lovely porches, unique second floor decorative window, and 3 pocket windows on the first floor that stretch from floor to the high ceilings.
The McAllister House is unique in that it was never added onto after the kitchen was completed a few months after the family moved in. It is virtually intact with the original facade, floors, interior and exterior woodwork, and floor plan. Around 40 percent of the furnishings belonged to the McAllister family. The only closet in the house served as the armory for the Denver and Rio Grande Railway and was always locked. There is one other house in Colorado Springs that is the approximate age of McAllister House, but it has been moved and the architecture has been completely altered, so McAllister House is considered the oldest home in Colorado Springs with intact architecture on the original foundation.
Eric Metzger became the museum’s first executive director this year. His goal is to change the model of the museum from “look, but don’t touch” to an increasingly dynamic experience bringing history alive. This year the house will be decorated for Christmas in a modest, Quaker style rather the previous ornate Victorian. School groups as well as the public are invited to come and engage in hands-on experiences that are in the process of being upgraded and re-designed by museum staff.