Built in 1892 by local businessman James K. Sweeny, the Victorian mansion at Third and Terry Streets in Longmont was acquired by Thomas and Alice Callahan, two of the city’s leading residents, in 1896. The Callahans conducted extensive renovations and additions to the home before donating it to the city of Longmont in 1938.
As the Callahans had done, the city continued to host meetings of local women’s groups at the house through the 1990s, when the building became available to rent for other events such as weddings, piano recitals, and professional meetings. The Callahan House, as it is locally known, was declared a Longmont Landmark in 1973 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
The Callahans Arrive
Thomas M. Callahan was born in Chillicothe, Illinois, to Irish immigrants in the late 1850s. He worked as a photographer and merchant in Illinois, and married Alice E. Barnett in 1886. Searching for business opportunity in the west, the Callahans moved to Longmont in 1887 and opened a dry goods store, the Golden Rule, on Main Street.
When the Callahans arrived, Longmont was already a bustling agricultural hub on Colorado’s Front Range. The arrival of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad in 1883 and the construction of the Empson Cannery in 1889 furthered the area’s economic growth. The Callahans’ Golden Rule store prospered in the booming economy, helped by its owners’ insistence on only dealing in cash and stocking large amounts of in-demand goods.
The Golden Rule soon became one of Colorado’s earliest chain stores, with locations along the Front Range and Wyoming. Callahan sent one of his ambitious young clerks, James Cash Penney, to run one of his Wyoming stores. Penney went on to create the mercantile giant J. C. Penney.
Trading Lumber for a Mansion
In 1892 James K. Sweeny, the cashier at the local Farmers National Bank, built a Queen Anne–style mansion at the corner of Third and Terry Streets, a few blocks west of Main Street. Sweeny used sandstone from nearby Lyons to frame the foundation and windows of the red brick house. Having established a veritable retail empire and welcomed a son, Raymond, in 1894, the Callahans were in the market for a new home. In 1896 Thomas Callahan sent seventeen rail cars of white pine lumber to Sweeney in exchange for his house.
The Callahans immediately began renovating their new home, installing a hot-water system, central heating, and electric lights, and adding new paint and wallpaper. In 1897 the Callahans moved in, and another set of renovations began in 1904. This time, the family added a veranda on the west and south side with special concrete facade that gave it a Victorian appearance to match the rest of the house. Work on a two-story addition, also designed to match the rest of the structure, began in 1906. Late that year, Alice Callahan bought an additional thirty feet of land, increasing the property’s frontage to 224 feet. With that purchase, the Callahan House became the largest private lot in the city at the time.
When the two-story addition was finished, the family upgraded the entire interior, adding floral-themed decor to each of the three bedrooms, ceiling paintings, oak woodwork, and Louis XIV wall treatments in the living room. They hung large brass chandeliers in the dining room and parlor. The house also featured a grand central staircase made of intricately carved oak, walnut, and cherry. Outside, the lawn was plowed up to allow for walkways, driveways, trees, and shrubs. Cement benches and a fountain were installed in the garden, which was enclosed by a wrought-iron fence and gate.
The Callahan Era
As prominent and wealthy citizens of Longmont, the Callahans often found themselves the target of theft. The house was robbed three times between 1900 and 1907; jewelry taken in the third robbery was subsequently mailed back to Alice Callahan, and the thief was never caught.
In 1902 the Callahans bought the first automobile in Longmont, and in 1904 they added a garage to their property at Third and Terry. The garage featured a built-in turnstile that allowed a car to drive in forward, rotate 180 degrees, and drive out forward.
Alice Callahan began hosting women’s and children’s parties at the house around 1900. She soon began hosting meetings for the many women’s clubs she belonged to, including the Mutual Improvement Club—an informal ladies’ education group formed in 1892—the Tuesday Afternoon Bridge Club, the Kensington Club (another bridge club), and the Fortnightly Club, a literature review group. Alice’s favorite club, however, was the PEO. One of only a handful of secret women’s organizations in the United States at the time, the PEO was dedicated to improving the education and lives of women. The letters “PEO” ostensibly stood for “Philanthropic Educational Organization,” but the true meaning of the acronym was kept secret by its members. Longmont’s Chapter M of the PEO was established in 1907, and as an officer in both the local and statewide organizations, Alice Callahan hosted meetings and parties at her home.
Aside from Alice Callahan’s meetings and parties, the Callahans were rarely in Longmont to enjoy their stately home. They traveled widely for business, but they became more reclusive after their daughter-in-law Mildred died in 1936. Alice and Thomas made frequent trips to California to visit Raymond, and eventually decided to relocate to Reno, Nevada. They left Longmont in 1938 and donated their house to the city of Longmont. The property was valued at $25,000.
City of Longmont Era
Once acquired by the city of Longmont, the Callahan House continued to serve as an important community center. The city added a small kitchenette on the main floor and converted bedrooms to meeting rooms that could accommodate both small and large groups. Women’s clubs continued to hold meetings at the house, even making rules that forbade both alcohol—except on certain occasions—and men. In 1969 twenty-four groups used the house on a monthly basis.
In the 1970s the carriage house served as headquarters for the Longmont Chapter of the American Red Cross. In 1973 the Callahan House was one of the first two properties to be designated as a Landmark by the city’s Landmark Designation Commission. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
By 1990, only thirteen groups used the house on a regular basis. Over the next decade, the city obtained more than $90,000 in grants from the State Historical Fund to restore the Callahan House’s interior and grounds.
Today, the house and grounds are managed by the City of Longmont’s Community Services Department. Instead of hosting club meetings, the current manager is responsible for coordinating, planning, and supervising events. Filled with intricate woodwork—including mahogany, golden oak, and Antwerp oak—and featuring original chandeliers and an 1893 Steinway walnut piano, the Callahan House is one of Longmont’s most popular historic structures. Having dropped its traditional restrictions on nonwomen’s events, the Callahan House is currently available to rent for weddings, teas, piano recitals, professional meetings, and other events.