Castle Rock, Colorado, started as a mining town with 80 people connected to the outside world by a railroad. Today, it is safe to say that its population is much larger and its industry widespread. However, there is much to be learned about the roots of this town we call home. A bulk of that history can be excavated in an afternoon downtown with a pair of walking shoes.
It is only fitting to begin a journey to explore Castle Rock’s history from the town’s oldest monument- the giant slab of rock for which the city was named. From virtually every point in Castle Rock ‘The Rock' is visible, and from The Rock the same is true for virtually every point in the town. Panoramic views of downtown, the 1-25 corridor, Pikes Peak, and the Front Range can be admired from 6,590 feet.
Hungry explorers in the early 1840’s originally nicknamed this structure “Poundcake Rock” due to its semblance to the sugary delicacy, but, obviously, the name did not stick. This landmark is open for exploration and provides ample parking and trails so that the public can choose their quest. Rock Park Open Space was deemed the town’s first official preserved open space in 1987. In the time since, just under 6,000 acres have been added to preserved open spaces in Castle Rock. The town’s value for the environment is evident- as the population rises, so does the amount of preserved land.
On a sunny Saturday the community can be found frolicking about this natural playground. Even tykes scale the steep incline that leads to the track around the Rock’s perimeter, a 1.4 mile distance. Though a sign cautioning “danger” warns against climbing to the top, the Rock’s natural nooks and crannies provide perfect footholds for people to ascend to the highest point.
From a perspective where buildings look like anthills and open space abounds, one realizes that people are truly what makes Castle Rock, Castle Rock. Today’s citizens certainly stand on the rock-solid foundation of the people who have come before them. Climbing the rock gives one the impression that they’re in a city that has been intentionally cultivated and carved out over time.
From a bird’s eye view to ground level, the next must-see landmark involves a deep dive into the lives of the people who first built this town.
Castle Rock Historical Society and Museum
The Castle Rock Museum is history housing history. The building was part of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad system as Castle Rock’s original train depot. A walk inside it’s doors will transport you to a black and white vignette of 1888. The train depot was purchased in the 1970s for $25 and uprooted from it’s original location only a couple blocks away, but is otherwise in prime original condition. Their walls are graffitied with charcoal signatures of railroad employees that date centuries back, and the creaky wooden floors bear the marks of time. A 19th century general store is on display, complete with glass bottles of milk and tin cans of coffee.
The railroad was of extreme significance to the advent of Castle Rock because it allowed for the transport of rhyolite. This volcanic rock, similar to granite, was the the defining industry in Castle Rock for decades according to Claudine Phibbs, an employee at the museum.
“Rhyolite is the very thing that put Castle Rock on the map,” she says.
Artifacts in the museum serve as a tangible timeline for how the town evolved in government, commerce, and education. There are newspaper relics plastered on the wall, such as a particularly interesting one from when the courthouse was burned down by a 17-year-old in an attempt to create a diversion substantial enough to break a friend’s boyfriend out of jail.
If you visit the museum, employees like Claudine will surely supply you with valuable (free) information, sites to visit, and maps of walking tours you can take throughout the town. The next must-see site comes from one of those very tours.
Historic Craig and Gould Neighborhood
Castle Rock’s oldest homes are nestled in the Craig and Gould Neighborhood. The walking tour provided by the Castle Rock museum comes with a brochure of 25 key locations across Lewis, Front, and Cantril streets. Finding each of these homes feels a bit like a scavenger hunt. There are plaques emblazoned with the phrase “This property has been designated as a historic landmark by the town of Castle Rock,” at the base of each home that are nearly hidden from plain sight. These old homes frame the hustle and bustle of downtown’s commerce, but there is just enough distance to provide for a peaceful stroll.
In traditional style, many of these houses bear rhyolite stone exteriors with variegated shingle patterns on the gables. Typical of the time, most houses have semblance to a four-square structure with two front rooms, a dining room and a parlor, a kitchen at the back, and two bedrooms upstairs. Despite their beauty, it is easy to pass by these houses without realizing their significance. However, each house has a story. In this neighborhood rests Castle Rock’s first school, the former homes of several mayors, and buildings that were bought in their entirety right out of a Sears & Roebuck Catalog. Be sure to stop by the Dyer House, noted as the oldest house in Castle Rock with a cornerstone marked “July 1875.”
In 2005, a sixteen million dollar improvement project of the Craig and Gould neighborhood was completed. These buildings of the past have been repurposed into assisted living homes, school district offices and preschools, inns, and personal residences, all so that the town can enjoy and utilize their history.