DENVER (KDVR) — You might have heard of Ice Castles, which announced in late September that it would return to the state later this year. However, the attraction is not the first ice structure-centered attraction in the state.
For that, you need to look back nearly 130 years to the Leadville Ice Palace.
Leadville Ice Palace’s history
On Jan. 1, 1896, the Winter Crystal Carnival kicked off in Leadville and at its center was a large, medieval-style castle that included 90-foot tall turrets on the outside.
On the inside, the palace had a skating rink, ballroom, restaurants and museum exhibits.
At the entrance was a 19-foot ice sculpture of a woman holding a scroll inscribed in gold lettering with “$200,000,000.” This represented the value of all the metals that Leadville’s mines had produced. The sculpture also pointed east to the town’s mines.
The Leadville Ice Palace didn’t just come out of nowhere.
To put it briefly, in 1893, economic panic swept through the American economy and, as a result, a law called the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed. That act had required the U.S. Treasury to buy large amounts of silver monthly, which greatly boosted the economy of silver mining towns like Leadville.
The repeal caused silver prices to plummet, which devastated Leadville’s economy. According to Colorado Encyclopedia, things did get better by 1895, thanks to rebounding silver prices and other changes, but the townspeople wanted something to help boost the economy.
They decided on a winter carnival with a giant ice palace at the center. The idea was inspired by popular winter carnivals in Quebec, Canada, and St. Paul, Minnesota, which both featured ice palaces.
One of the best-known figures in Leadville was former resident James Joseph “J.J.” Brown. At the time, the businessman was married to socialite and Titanic survivor Margaret Brown, better known as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
According to the Molly Brown House Museum, while the two had already moved to Denver, J.J. Brown was part of the planning board for the Ice Palace.
Estimates of the cost of the project range from $35,000 to $65,000 at the time.
It didn’t last forever
The Ice Palace opened to the public on Jan. 1, 1896, and, unfortunately, spring came a bit early that year.
By March 28, 1896, the palace welcomed its last crowd as warm temperatures had melted a lot of the structure.
The project also didn’t prove to be as much of an economic boost as hoped.