Lace House, Black Hawk Colorado

Date added: January 28, 2010 Categories: Colorado House Gothic Revival

The Lace House is part of the Central City-Black Hawk National Historic District and is considered Colorado's premier example of Carpenter Gothic architecture. Fully restored, it is also one of the few structures in Black Hawk remaining from the 1860s.

The Lace House has both received lavish attention and suffered benign neglect during its history. It was built in 1863 as a wedding gift from Lucien K. Smith to his wife, Mary Germain. According to local folklore. Smith was the secretary of a company that built and managed a toll road from Black Hawk to Denver. His father, Nelson Smith, and uncle, Ebeneser Smith, realizing the profit potential of a passable road to Denver, decided to take advantage of new territorial legislation that allowed the incorporation of toll road companies. The county commissioners were authorized, under separate legislation, to set tolls as follows: $1.00 for a wagon and team of two horses, mules or oxen; .25 for each additional animal; .75 for a one animal vehicle; and .10 a head for each loose animal. Parties passing for funerals or religious ceremonies were exempt. The term of the tolls was to be twenty years. By October 3, 1861 the Smiths had completed their road.

Lucien Smith operated the final toll gate on the road to Black Hawk. The toll gate was apparently located on Main Street in Black Hawk, within a half mile of the business section. The building that now houses the Black Hawk Art School is thought to be the site of the original gate. Lucien also ran a saloon, offering food, drink, and a place to stay in conjunction with the toll gate. That business, combined with the income from the relatively high toils, made Smith a very wealthy man.

On January 24, 1863, Smith married Mary Germain. They honeymooned in Denver for two months and returned to the house at 161 Main Street, which Lucien had arranged to have built as a surprise for his new bride. They lived in the house only until 1865. Legend has it that after losing a child in the seventh month of Mary's pregnancy, the Smiths no longer wanted to live at "Tragedy Point", so they sold their house and moved to Central City.

The house was sold on August 11, 1865, to Charles W. Fisk. For $400, Fisk received a number of mining claims in the Enterprise, Russell and Gregory Mining Districts and "one house and lot situate in Black Hawk City and known as the house and lot of Lucien K. Smith, the lot being 40 feet front and 100 feet deep". Charles W. Fisk owned a mine that was "one of the prominent producing mines in Gilpin County". He had started a quartz mill of eight stamps and a circular sawmill, with George B. Allen as a partner, just outside Black Hawk. Fisk purchased and sold a number of different mining claims while he was in business.

From that point, the house changed hands a number of times. Fisk sold it to Samuel B. Morgan on June 22, 1867. For $7,800, Morgan received some mining claims and "also the house wherein the said Charles W. Fisk now resides, situated on the south side of Main Street in the City of Black Hawk, aforesaid with the lot whereon the house is situated being the same house erected by Lucien K. Smith about the year 1863 and by him conveyed to said Charles W. Fisk."

Morgan assigned the house in a trust deed, but defaulted on the loan and lost the house. Willard Teller, the trustee, sold the house at auction to the highest bidder. John E. Barber purchased the house and lot for $1,940. This complex transaction took place on July 20, 1874. Barber, of New York City, sold the house to Daniel A. Spearin on July 28, 1874 for $600. Spearin owned the property for nine years, the longest period of ownership until that time. He sold it in 1883 to Lydia Osborne (also Osbourn, Osbourne) for $575. She lived there until late 1896, at which point she sold it to Rosa Pircher, For $700, Pircher purchased the Lace House and an old log stable which had also belonged to the Osbomes.

The frequent change of ownership, decreasing value of the house, and the eventual defaults on loans are indicative of the economic slump which hit Black Hawk in the mid-1860s. It had become more difficult to recover minerals using stamp mills as the surface ores supplies were depleted and complex sulfide ores were mined. As a result, production declined. One solution to the problem was the smelting process, in which ores were heated to high temperatures and allowed to burn in the open air, driving off the sulfur. The roasted ore was then put into smelting furnaces and reduced to slag and copper matte, which contained the valuable minerals. Smelting was a new technique and the first attempts in Black Hawk were not successful. However, in 1868 Nathaniel P. Hill organized the Boston and Colorado Smelting Company and opened a smelter in Black Hawk, using a new combination of chemicals to extract the ores. His smelter revitalized the mining industry and the city of Black Hawk, giving rise to the prosperity of the 1880s.

Not much information has been found about the other early residents of the house. Lydia Osborne was interviewed in 1950 at the age of 97. She said her husband, a mining technology engineer, purchased the house upon the family's return from a three-year visit to their native England, Osborne was at that time employed by an English mining syndicate, and during the period he was in the area he was associated with the Bobtail tunnel workings. Mrs. Osborne also said the house was originally built by the Gregory Mining company as the home of the mining company's superintendent. She may have been referring to Charles W. Fisk, the second owner of the house. The house was one of the "showplaces of the day"' and the Osbomes entertained many guests, such as H.A.W. Tabor, Peter McFariane, and the family of Governor Evans.

Mrs. Rosa Pircher, who purchased the house in 1896, was a miner's widow with four sons. She purchased the house "with her husband's insurance money after he died of the 'miner's disease." She lived there until after World War I, when she went to California to live with one of her sons. According to Frank R. Hollenback's history of the area, Central City and Black Hawk Then and Now, Lou Pircher lived in the house from 1904-1913. He was the Gilpin Tramway Superintendent and left town to work for the Moffat Road at Tabemash. Apparently, his mother then left town as well. Rosa Pircher was the last person to live in the house before it began to fall into serious disrepair.

The house remained vacant for a number of years, with the city periodically taking title to it for back taxes. It went in and out of city ownership several times before 1925 when the city of Black Hawk formally took possession of the house.

In 1935 the house was sold to Leo Elden Cull. A letter from G. Cull to Dolores Spellman recounts a fire at the house in 1938. The fire was caused by sparks from the railroad which was just across Main Street.

The house again reverted to the city for non-payment of taxes in 1943. That same year, the city sold the house to Evelyn Hume for the sum of $10.00. The stipulation that she was "not to tear down the above house, but is to repair it, the same as originally" was made part of the sale. Mrs. Hume did make a few repairs but returned to Greeley permanently without completing the work. The house remained unoccupied for many years. A number of efforts were made by the city, civic groups and individuals to purchase the house for restoration. Despite the many offers, Mrs. Hume refused to sell the house for many years, In 1973, however, she deeded the house to the city of Black Hawk. In 1976, the city decided to apply for status as a Centennial-Bicentennial site and restore the house.

Restoration itself was a long and arduous process. The primary group responsible for the renovation was the Little Kingdom Historical Foundation, which had previously restored the ceiling of the Central City Opera House. The group had been founded after the Central City Black Hawk National Historic Landmark District was designated for the purpose of restoring noteworthy buildings. Funds for the restoration came from community donations, grants, and matching funds from Mrs. Edith Barbour Andrews, whose great-grandfather was Nathaniel Hill.

Restoration was begun in 1976. In 1977, exterior restoration was completed; the house was reroofed and received new paint, and all missing parts of the gingerbread were replaced. As repairs were made to the house, new pieces were dated before they were put in place to distinguish them from the original structure.