Driggs Mansion is a one-story sandstone house in Unaweep Canyon that was built for Laurence Driggs around 1918. Constructed by Grand Junction stonemason Nunzio Grasso and his son, the house later served as a hunting retreat before parts of it were torn down in the 1940s and 1950s. Today the mansion’s ruins are a local landmark along the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway, and in 2005 it was listed on the State Register of Historic Properties.
New York attorney and aviation advocate Laurence La Tourette Driggs came to Unaweep Canyon in the 1910s. Whites had started to settle the canyon in late 1881, after the Utes were removed from the area, and it soon became home to farmers, ranchers, and miners. What brought Driggs to the remote canyon is unknown, but in 1916 he acquired the rights to an old copper mine and in 1917–18 he used the Desert Land Act to claim 320 acres in the shadow of the canyon’s large Thimble Rock formation.
Driggs hired Italian stonemason Nunzio Grasso of Grand Junction to build a house on his property near West Creek. Grasso and his son Vincent probably started the project in 1917—but perhaps as early as 1914—and completed it in 1918. They used stone from nearby Mayflower Canyon to build a one-story residence with an Italian farmhouse look. The rectangular house had a massive arched entryway on the northwest façade, a sloping front-gabled roof, and front and back porches made of poured concrete. The original design included an octagonal window above the entrance. The thick walls were made of semi-coursed sandstone blocks on the exterior and regular sandstone cobbles finished with cement plaster on the interior. Inside, the house had at least two hand-carved fireplaces and six rooms spread across roughly 1,200 square feet. It included a small northeast wing that probably functioned as a kitchen or utility room and a long southeast extension with at least two bedrooms. The southeast wing also enclosed an entry to the basement, which was used for ice storage.
Driggs raised cattle on his land in Unaweep Canyon, but it is unclear how long he used the house. Some accounts say he never lived there because his wife supposedly disliked the West. His aviation work in Europe during World War I also kept him away from Colorado. He sold the property in 1923.
Later Use and Abuse
The house’s next owners were Grand Junction residents George Turpin, Guy Sternberg, and Arthur Gormley. They named the stone house Chateau Thimble Rock and used it as a retreat for hunting and fishing trips. In the late 1930s, the house was rented to the Sturm family to use as a residence, and in 1941 local rancher Jerome Craig bought the property.
By the time Craig acquired the house, it was starting to deteriorate. He soon removed the roof to prevent its collapse. Over the next fifty years, natural weathering and vandalism continued to take their toll until most of the walls were partially collapsed.
Despite its deterioration, Driggs Mansion remained a recognizable and picturesque landmark at about mile 129 along Highway 141 in Unaweep Canyon. Eventually, several local organizations became involved in stabilizing the structure’s ruins to preserve an important part of the canyon’s history and scenery. In the 1990s, the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway Committee paid to stabilize the mansion’s entry arch and front wall using steel supports. In 2005 the Western Colorado Interpretive Association secured a State Historical Fund grant to pay for a historic structure assessment. Alpine Archaeological Consultants inspected the site and came up with a stabilization plan. That year the house was listed on the State Register of Historic Properties.
After a new owner purchased the house, the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado worked with the owner to implement the stabilization plan. In October 2012, the landowner and the State Historical Fund contributed equally to a two-week stabilization project completed by Alpine Archaeological Consultants, which included repointing and resetting stones and improving site drainage to prevent further damage. At the same time, new interpretive signs were put up along Highway 141 to alert drivers on the historic byway of the stone house’s historical significance.