Rock Ledge’s Orchard House ready for tours of upper floors
The Orchard House at Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site has three floors, but until this year most guided tours could only show visitors the first.
That will change with the summer season starting Wednesday, June 4, thanks to a $130,000 restoration project.
The work completed historical touches to the second and third floors of a residence that Colorado Springs founder William Palmer had built for family members in 1907. Visitors will now see how the house might have looked in the time of Dr. William Schlater and his wife (Palmer's sister-in-law) Charlotte, when their bedroom and work/study areas were on the second floor and their servants' quarters on the third.
In 1907, Palmer's estate extended south of his mansion at Glen Eyrie, to include the area that would become the Orchard House. He hired prominent local architect Thomas MacLaren to design the building. The result was “a modern country house with a definite Cape Dutch or South African Colonial style, attributed to the influence of Dr. Schlater, who had lived in Cape Town, South Africa, before moving to the United States,” according to an article by Meg Andersen in the January 2006 issue of the Annunciator, the publication by the ranch's volunteer Living History Association.
As it turned out, the Schlaters only lived there from November 1907 to May 1908. Palmer died in 1909, and from 1918 to 1968 the place had four private owners. In '68, Colorado Springs bought the ranch property, including the Orchard House, with the aid of an El Pomar Foundation grant.
The restoration costs were covered by donations and a grant obtained by City Parks. Previous upgrades had restored the home's first floor and parts of the second and third.
Many of the improvements in the restoration were subtle, according to 12-year Rock Ledge volunteer docent Beth Harmon. “We (the city) received it in good condition,” she said. “The project wasn't so much to fix it but to put it back the way it was.”
This was not as easy as it may sound, considering that no photos existed of how the upper floors originally looked. The only interior photo had been of the downstairs dining room, Harmon noted.
But the city did have one helpful tool - the original blueprints. These confirmed, for example, that a second-floor doorway (from the hallway into a closet) had been added later on and thus could be eliminated in the restoration, she explained.
Historical correctness in the restoration included such fine points as cutting new carpet in relatively narrow strips, in keeping with the limitations of the looms of the early 1900s, when carpet was expensive because the strips had to be handsewn. The carpet color had to be guessed at, but the original wall color was found by peeling back layers of paint, Harmon said.
Other historically geared work included repairing trim, window sashes, plaster walls and ceilings; reconstructing cabinets; stripping old wallpaper, varnish and paint; and staining and waxing woodwork.
Additional (hidden) upgrades consisted of modern electrical wiring and plumbing. The fixtures still look antique.
When the city bought the house, little remained from the Schlaters' days. As it did on the first floor, the city has purchased furniture and accessories for the second and third floors that were deemed to fit the times. These include pictures and other items in Dr. Schlater's study, reflecting his travels to India, South Africa and other parts of the African continent.
Westside Pioneer article