A large white-clapboard residence in Leadville, Healy House was built for the family of mining engineer August Meyer in 1878. The house signaled the arrival of some domestic comforts to the rough-hewn mining camp. After the Meyers moved away in 1881, the house served briefly as a Methodist parsonage before becoming a boardinghouse run by the Healy family. In 1947 the house was acquired by the Colorado Historical Society (now History Colorado), which continues to operate it as a local history museum. The house’s grounds now also preserve investor James V. Dexter’s luxurious Leadville cabin, which was built in 1879 and is the oldest surviving cabin in the city.
A House for Mrs. Meyer
Healy House was originally built by August Meyer, the mining engineer who arrived in what was then California Gulch in August 1876. Meyer did as much as anyone to launch the area’s silver boom over the next few years. Most importantly, Meyer, working on behalf of the St. Louis Smelting and Refining Company, was the first to ship lead carbonate ores out of the area for assaying (or determining their quality), and he also helped establish the Harrison Reduction Works, the first successful smelter in town. As a result of Meyer’s activity, Leadville’s boom began in earnest in 1878. Thousands of people flocked to the city, including a twenty-year-old woman named Emma Jane Hixon, who got a job at the local post office run by Horace Tabor. Meyer pursued a relationship with Hixon, and the two were married at Tabor’s house in May 1878.
To house his family, Meyer built an elegant, nine-room residence at the corner of Harrison Avenue and East Ninth Street, at the crest of a hill just north of downtown. The two-story clapboard house faced west, with large windows looking out toward the Great Divide. Painted white with green trim, the house had double entry doors opening onto a large central hall. The main floor had a parlor on the south side and a kitchen with an iron cookstove at the rear. A black walnut stairway led to the second-floor bedroom suites. The Meyer house was completed in fall 1878.
In 1881 the Meyers left Leadville for Kansas City. That September they sold their house and most of their furniture to the First Methodist Episcopal Church, which used the house as a parsonage and a space to host socials and other events.
In June 1886, the First Methodist Episcopal Church sold the house to Patrick and Ellen Healy Kelly, who moved there with their daughters and Ellen’s younger brother, Dan. After enlarging the house by attaching a barn to the east side, the Kellys operated it as a boardinghouse. It continued in that capacity after Dan Healy bought it from his relatives in 1888. In 1892 Healy’s cousin Nellie Healy moved to Leadville to become a schoolteacher. She took up residence in her cousin’s large house. To increase the house’s capacity, a third floor was added in the late 1890s. The house seems to have stopped operating as a boardinghouse around 1910, after Leadville’s boom turned to bust.
After Dan Healy drowned in Turquoise Lake in May 1912, his funeral was held at Healy House. He left the house to his female relatives: a sister, two nieces, and his cousin Nellie Healy, who had been living there for twenty years. Nellie Healy continued to live there full time until 1928 and in the summer until 1936.
Meanwhile, just a few blocks south on Harrison Avenue, a banker and mine investor named James V. Dexter had built himself a small cabin at the corner of West Third Street. Dexter and his family had arrived in Colorado in 1869, and Dexter had quickly organized a bank in Denver and invested in mines in Central City. In 1879 he started investing in Leadville’s silver boom and built the cabin where he started to stay on trips to the area.
Dexter was a millionaire who tended to prioritize pleasure over business, a trait reflected in his Leadville cabin. Because his family did not accompany him on trips from Denver, Dexter designed the small cabin for his personal use, with a bedroom, bathroom, and parlor. Constructed of square-hewn logs that belied its fancy interior, the cabin featured a central brick fireplace surrounded by luxurious furnishings, including a floor of walnut and white oak, embossed Lincrusta wall covering, and elaborate ceiling paper. The cabin was essentially a nineteenth-century equivalent of a bachelor pad or man cave, with Dexter using it to host stag parties where he gambled for $1,000 pots with his friends. The cabin served as Dexter’s Leadville residence until 1895, when he built a new cabin for himself at his nearby Inter-Laken resort. The old cabin eventually ended up in the possession of the Leadville Historical Association.
In 1936 Nellie Healy donated her Leadville house to the local historical association, stipulating only that the house be used to benefit the city. Two years later, the association’s president, Clara Gaw Norton, secured a grant from the Boettcher Foundation to do some restoration work at the house, with the goal of eventually turning it into the city’s first history museum. In the meantime, the house hosted some adult education classes and was used for Red Cross activities during World War II.
In 1947 the Leadville Historical Association gave both Healy House and Dexter Cabin to the Colorado Historical Society. The state embarked on an effort to restore Healy House to its 1880s appearance. Some original furnishings remained, including carpets, wallpaper, heating stoves, lamps, and silverware. To complete the look, the historical society gathered furniture and fixtures from other old houses of local mining magnates, including the mahogany desk and chair of local mine owner and politician Jesse MacDonald.
In 1948 the historical society moved Dexter Cabin to the grounds of Healy House to simplify administration of the properties. By that time, the cabin was the oldest remaining in Leadville. It was in disrepair at the time, with bulging floors, warped walls that had been whitewashed, and only a small fragment of the original ceiling paper. A timely bequest from the estate of Dexter’s son-in-law, Roland G. Parvin, provided funding for a complete restoration of the cabin, as well as some of Dexter’s own furniture and paintings to decorate the space.
The Colorado Historical Society opened Healy House and Dexter Cabin to the public in 1948 as a regional museum showcasing Leadville’s mining history. Healy House’s kitchen was turned into a reception room for visitors, and in 1958 an addition was built on the south side of the house to provide living quarters for the museum curator. More recently, in 2010–11, History Colorado used funding from the Colorado State Legislature and the Office of the State Architect to stabilize Healy House, insulate and rewire the building, reveal and refinish the original dining room floor, and repaint or wallpaper all the rooms with historical colors and styles. History Colorado also installed new exhibits at the house, with the first floor focusing on 1878–81, when the Meyers lived there, and the second and third floors focusing largely on 1886–1910, when the Healys ran it as a boardinghouse.
Healy House and Dexter Cabin are open to visitors daily during the summer and on Friday and Saturday for the rest of the year.