Wednesday, January 29, 2020

John Walker and the Summer White House

Recently my husband showed me a postcard of a proposed summer home of the Presidents. Neither one of us had ever heard about this so I decided to look for more information.

“If you’re looking for a little more adventure, or just wanting to extend your hike, then add on a trip to the Summer White House…This short trail (0.3 miles, 185 ft gain) will take you to a proposed site for a Summer White House. John Walker’s dream of building a magnificent summer retreat for the Commander-In-Chief never materialized, but the cornerstone remains as a reminder of his grand vision.”

John Brisben Walker was born in 1847 and served in the Chinese army, ran for congress and made and lost several fortunes in iron and real estate. In 1879, he came to Colorado to try agriculture and made a fortune by introducing alfalfa farming. He also developed real estate and an amusement park in Denver. He moved back east in the late 1880s to manufacture cars and stage America’s first auto race.

Walker had dreams of many projects in the early 1900s including Cosmopolitan magazine. He bought the failing magazine, improved it and sold it to Hearst Corporation in 1905 for a profit. Returning to Colorado in the early 1900s, he pioneered changes in farming and developed parts of Denver. He opened a casino, developed Red Rocks Park, and built Mount Morrison’s cog railway.

In 1909, Walker and his wife began building a mansion on Mount Falcon.  Walker also proposed a “castle in the clouds.” This was the proposed summer home for the Presidents.  The cornerstone made of Colorado yule marble was laid on July 4, 1914. The castle was to model European ones so that the President could enjoy the summer months here. It was supposed to have five floors built into a steep cliff and have 22 rooms, designed by Denver architect J.B. Benedict. Funding was a huge issue for this project though. Walker persuaded school children to donate dimes to the project and the foundation was laid.

After his idea for the summer White House took form, his life took a turn for the worse. His wife died in 1916 and beautiful home was destroyed by fire two years later. Stone ruins are all that remains there. Fundraising for the summer White House failed as World War 1 approached. Walker’s fortune was depleted, and tax debts increased so much that a lot of his property was sold, foreclosed, or condemned. So, he left Colorado to live with his son in Brooklyn where he died in 1931.

Activities for the Classroom:
·      Research The White House. When was it built? What President was in office when it was first built? How many rooms are in it? Name 3 interesting facts about it.
·      Research Roosevelt’s Little White House. Where is it? When was it built? How many rooms were in it? Why was it called the Little White House? When was it used?
·      If you were to build another White House, where would you build it? Why? How many rooms would it have? What would be special about it?

Original photo by Pat Hensley

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