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American Castle Was Built by Iron, Coal Baron

November 01, 1987|MARTIE STERLING | Sterling is a free-lance writer living in Aspen, Colo.

REDSTONE, Colo. — Even though there are castles in Spain, castles on the Rhine, castles in England, Scotland and Denmark, high in the Colorado Rockies lies a splendid American castle.

In this red and white sandstone mansion crowned with red-roofed towers beneath serrated sandstone cliffs, Teddy Roosevelt once waited for big game to be driven conveniently down a valley toward the veranda.

Thrusting a hand into his shirt front, he expounded: "This scenery bankrupts the English language!"

Redstone Castle was built in the beautiful Crystal River Valley by John Cleveland Osgood, who made his fortune in Colorado coal and iron. He created his 45-room, 27,000-square-foot fantasy at the end of the 19th Century.

Although he owned estates in Denver, London and New York, Cleveholm (the castle's original name) became his favorite--a manor in the Hudson River style with overtones of King Ludwig, Tudor, Moorish and Nantucket.

Rising like a mirage through the mists, Redstone Castle is a place of peace and plenty.

Beyond vast expanses of lawn by the rushing Crystal River, large blocks of marble from an upriver quarry lie like giant chess pieces tumbled from a board--part of a shipment destined for Washington's Lincoln Memorial.

Model Company Town

The estate comes with the usual quotient of gatehouses, stables, greenhouses and outbuildings. Nearby is a company town, handsomely designed for the employees of Osgood's Carbondale coal mines and coke ovens. (He employed 19,000 workers statewide.)

The town was a social experiment. It provided decent family living in an era fraught with dirty and depressing workers' quarters--an era of powerful cartels, when the rich freely trampled the poor.

When Roosevelt became President, Osgood was influenced by his friend's desire to see the little man get "a square deal."

Although he never believed in "keeping the peasants out of the castle," he did provide his bachelor miners with a large, comfortable hostelry, today the Redstone Inn. The model workers' village is called Redstone, the great manor house is known as Redstone Castle.

Osgood was a first cousin to President Grover Cleveland and one of the nation's richest industrialists. The years of his greatest power, the era when he built his mountain castle, were his happiest.

International Shoppers

Osgood and his second wife, Alma Regina, a beautiful member of Swedish royalty, traveled extensively to find perfect fittings and furnishings for their castle 37 miles northwest of Aspen.

In the manner of William Randolph Hearst, they filled room after room with carloads of Gustav Stickley chairs, English silver services, Tiffany lighting, Oriental carpets, carved cherrywood sideboards and inlaid Moorish thrones.

Backdrops for these treasures were gold-embossed leather ceilings, Belgian wall coverings, French silks and damasks.

Once everything was in place, the Osgoods played host to the world. The fact that the castle was 2,000 miles from New York, in a valley far from any metropolis, did not deter visitors. A Denver and Rio Grande Railroad trunk line ran through Glenwood Springs, 12 miles away. And George Pullman's elaborate sleeping cars with gold-embossed leather walls and hand-painted murals made train travel luxurious.

John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan came to the castle to escape Wall Street. Teddy Roosevelt gleefully rode the valley's 19,000 wooded acres. The King of Belgium relished this idyllic refuge from Europe's marble palaces.

Bountiful Hostess

Guests basked in the waters of nearby natural hot sulfur springs, rode the manor's five-gaited horses, declared the food Lucullan and the service nonpareil.

With an enormous household staff and all the activities of the employee town, the castle was a beehive of activity. The Osgoods had no children, so Alma, known to employees as "Lady Bountiful," played the role of gracious grande dame.

Beneath the castle Christmas tree were the dolls and sleds every village child dreamed of. Sick or needy families could expect frequent visits and gifts from Lady Bountiful.

The only person she dismayed was the castle engineer--by paying unannounced visits to his hydroelectric plant and conducting white-glove inspections of pipes, hoses and fittings.

Everyone in Redstone, however, loved having the Osgoods in residence. When they were here the power was turned on--in the town as well as the castle.

Dedicated Owners

Owned today by Ken and Rose Marie Johnson, the castle is almost exactly as Osgood built it.

Johnson, a former newspaperman, is a publishing consultant who says: "My primary occupation is grappling with 89-year-old fire hydrants, bathtub plumbing that's been in place nearly a century and the sensitive wiring of all those touchy Tiffany lamps."

Although the castle has had long periods of lying empty, it has never undergone the rigors of redecorating. Guests sleep in original canopied beds, dine in high-backed leather and brass-fitted chairs. Nothing is roped off.

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