Dames close to sealing plan to share McAllister House

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Maj. Henry McAllister built his family’s house at 423 N. Cascade Ave. during 1873.

The El Pomar Foundation is negotiating to acquire the historic McAllister House from the National Society of Colonial Dames in Colorado.
Built during 1873 at 423 N. Cascade Ave. by Maj. Henry McAllister, the first director of Gen. William Jackson Palmer’s Colorado Springs Co., McAllister House is one of the most significant historic properties in the city. It has been operated as a house museum by the Colonial Dames since 1960 when the society acquired it. At the time, it was believed that the then-owners intended to tear it down and use the site as a parking lot.
El Pomar’s interest in the building is driven by the foundation’s concern that the Colonial Dames have neither the expertise nor the financial wherewithal to maintain the property, and by the historic links between the McAllister family and El Pomar.
McAllister’s son, Henry McAllister Jr., was a prominent Springs attorney, and was one of El Pomar’s original trustees. According to El Pomar President Thayer Tutt, McAllister House is the only remaining home of an original trustee.
“We went to the Colonial Dames — they didn’t come to us,” Tutt said. “They had told us earlier that the building needed a new roof and some other repairs that would cost about $100,000. The Dames do a wonderful job with programs, with running the property, and we didn’t want to get in the way of that. But we’re particularly interested in helping to preserve historic structures that are linked to El Pomar’s history, and Mr. McAllister was an original trustee, as well as Mr. Penrose’s lawyer. So we thought this would enable the Dames to focus on programs and activities, and not have to worry about repairs and maintenance.”
Under the proposed agreement between the Colonial Dames and El Pomar, title to the property would be transferred to El Pomar, which would maintain the building and the grounds in perpetuity. The Colonial Dames would continue to operate the house museum and would be responsible for museum programs.
Olivia Bennett, who is co-chairwoman of the McAllister House board and a member of the committee charged with negotiating the property’s transfer to El Pomar, stressed that the agreement had not yet been completed, and that she couldn’t officially comment.
But, she said, “It’s very, very exciting!”
Judith Rice-Jones, one of the founders of the Historic Preservation Alliance in Colorado Springs, said that El Pomar’s proposal for McAllister House is “very good news.”
“It’s one of the community’s most important buildings, with Stratton’s carpentry, and the links to Palmer,” she said. “It’s also important as a three-dimensional representation of American history, and local history, and a window into the lives and beliefs of the wonderful people who built this country, and founded this city.”
McAllister House might be one of the best-built residences in Colorado Springs, if only because the spring of 1873 was exceptionally windy. As The Gazette reported on Sept. 27 of that year: “The walls of Major McAllister’s house on Cascade Avenue are rising rapidly. When completed, it will be by far the handsomest residence yet put up in town.”
Those walls, of brick and stone, are nearly 20 inches thick, and are tied to the roof with iron rods.
The major specified such sturdy construction because, earlier that year, a fierce chinook wind had literally blown a narrow gauge train off its tracks, leading him to believe that gale-force winds were common in the newly incorporated town.
And although it might have been overbuilt, it has survived the area’s often-capricious weather for 134 years — longer than any other structure in Colorado Springs.
John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com