Originally built in the early 1870s at the mouth of Queens Canyon in Colorado Springs, Glen Eyrie was home to city founder William Jackson Palmer. In the early twentieth century Palmer expanded the house into an elaborate stone castle, but he died soon after its completion. The property passed through several hands before being acquired in 1953 by an evangelical ministry called the Navigators, who operate the property as a Christian conference and events center.
The railroad engineer William Jackson Palmer first saw the area that is now Colorado Springs in the 1860s, while surveying for the Kansas-Pacific Railroad. He made plans to establish a resort colony there and bought land for himself at the mouth of a narrow canyon just north of Garden of the Gods. His landscape architect, John Blair, may have suggested the name Glen Eyrie (“Valley of the Eagle’s Nest”), referring to an eagle’s nest on a large gray rock near the entrance to the canyon.
In 1871, the year Palmer founded Colorado Springs, he began construction on his first house at Glen Eyrie, a large clapboard house with more than twenty rooms. Over the next two decades, however, Palmer and his wife, Mary Mellen Palmer (often known as Queen), occupied the house only sporadically because they were often traveling for Palmer’s job. In addition, starting in the 1880s Queen Palmer suffered from a heart condition that forced her to stay at lower elevations. She lived primarily on the East Coast and in England with her three daughters, and Palmer visited them regularly several times a year. After Queen Palmer died in 1894, the Palmer daughters came to Glen Eyrie to live with their father.
In 1901 Palmer sold the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad for $6 million and retired from active business. His fortune secure, he started to donate large plots of land to the city of Colorado Springs and also made plans for extensive renovations to Glen Eyrie. Preparations with architect Frederick J. Sterner and engineer Edmond Van Dienst took two years, with the bulk of the renovations completed in 1903–4 while Palmer and his daughters toured Europe.
The large new stone castle at Glen Eyrie had sixty-seven rooms and more than twenty fireplaces. The exterior used stone quarried from the estate, and the interior relied heavily on oak paneling. The main level had parlors, a solarium, and a dining room. Bedroom suites for Palmer and his daughters occupied the second floor, which also contained guest suites and servants’ quarters. The third floor had even more bedrooms plus a sitting room and access to the castle’s tower. The most impressive room in the house was Book Hall, a huge room large enough to hold 300 people. It had a massive fireplace and a balcony where an orchestra could perform. Underneath Book Hall were billiard rooms and a bowling alley. The kitchen had space for ice storage as well as a walk-in refrigerator, and a separate building nearby housed a pasteurization plant.
Palmer enjoyed his elaborate stone castle for only a few years. In 1906 he was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident, and he died three years later.
After Palmer died at Glen Eyrie in 1909, his daughters tried to donate the mansion to the city of Colorado Springs. The city declined because it feared maintenance costs would be too high. Over the next forty years, the property passed through the hands of several owners, but the main house was rarely occupied.
In 1916 a group of Oklahoma businessmen bought Glen Eyrie for $150,000. They hoped to turn the property into a golf resort with a tavern and up to 150 luxury houses, but that plan died after the United States entered World War I in 1917. The businessmen operated the castle briefly as a tea room, then sold it to Alexander Smith Cochran for $450,000 in 1918.
Cochran soon closed the castle, which was too expensive to maintain, and allowed it to fall into disrepair. On the sunny side of the valley, he built himself a separate $100,000 vacation house, known as the Pink House, though he rarely spent much time there. Cochran died in 1929, just at the onset of the Great Depression, and the expensive property languished on the real estate market for the next nine years. During that time a group of servants lived at Glen Eyrie and maintained the buildings.
By 1938 the economy was improving. That year the Texas oilman George W. Strake bought Glen Eyrie for $200,000. He expanded the Pink House and reopened the castle for parties. He also did some ranching on the property. In 1953 he listed Glen Eyrie for sale at $500,000.
The listing caught the eye of Dawson Trotman, a Christian evangelist who had founded the Navigators ministry in the early 1930s. At the time, the Navigators were based in Los Angeles, but Trotman was considering a move to Colorado and eyed Glen Eyrie as a possible headquarters for the organization. Trotman originally planned to split the purchase with his friend and fellow evangelical Billy Graham.
When George Strake, a devout Catholic, found out that Christian groups wanted to acquire Glen Eyrie, he slashed the price to $300,000 to make the sale easier. Nevertheless, the deal nearly died, especially after Graham backed out when his business advisers warned against it. Trotman had to quickly raise $100,000 for a down payment. The Navigators raised the money at the last minute, and in September 1953 the group bought the Glen Eyrie estate, which included lakeside property in the Rampart Range above Queens Canyon.
Since 1953 Glen Eyrie has been the headquarters of the Navigators and the organization’s more recently established publishing arm, NavPress. The Navigators also operate the property as a Christian conference and retreat center, hosting about 350 events and 46,000 visitors per year. The lakeside property in the Rampart Range is now home to Eagle Lake Camps, a Christian summer camp program.
Because of its location at the mouth of a canyon at the edge of the city, Glen Eyrie has faced several natural disasters. Major floods swept through the property in 1947 and 1999. Most recently the Waldo Canyon fire in June 2012 seriously threatened the property, causing hundreds of people to be evacuated. The fire eventually blew north and caused no damage at Glen Eyrie, but it left nearby hills devoid of vegetation and susceptible to floods and mudslides. Since 2012 the Navigators have invested more than $1 million in drainage control and landscape improvements to mitigate the risk of flooding.
The main Glen Eyrie castle remains largely unaltered, with the exception of a new kitchen and the removal of the bowling alley to add a dining area. The house and grounds are open to visitors who make reservations for afternoon tea, a castle tour, or an overnight stay; it is possible to spend the night in the castle, the Pink House, or newer lodges built by the Navigators.