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The Astor House Story

We just love a good story, don't you?

One of our most favorite projects we've had the privilege of working with is the Astor House in Golden, Colorado. This historic hotel and boarding house is FILLED with amazing stories since its beginnings in the late 1800s in Golden.

Jess giving a free public tour at the Astor House in Golden, Colorado.

In the summer of 2021, archaeological excavations were performed in the backyard of the historic hotel due to the reconstruction and renovation project for this property. To highlight what was found during the excavations and to share the history of the Astor House with the public, free tours were given to the community through Foothills Art Center (FAC) during ARTSWEEK Golden (2021), a paid tour for the Colorado Council of Professional Archaeologists (CCPAs) annual conference and again for free through FAC in May 2022 before construction started.

In 1885, Seth Lake bought two log lean-to structures on Lots 9 & 10 on the corner of Arapahoe and what was then 2nd Street, now 12th Street, for $750. Lake built the original rectangular structure that faces 12th Street to take advantage of the influx of travelers to a growing town, which he hoped would become the Territorial Capital. He named it the Astor House in honor of the luxury Astor Hotel in New York City, hoping that this namesake would give a luxurious impression. Throughout the building’s existence as a hotel and boarding house, it was known to have some of the larger, more comfortable rooms available in Golden. Unfortunately, for Lake's business vision, the capital of Colorado was moved to Denver in 1867, the year Astor House opened.

“Black and white photograph of the Astor House grand re-opening by owner Seth Lake in 1881.” Courtesy of Golden History Museum.
“Black and white photograph of Seth Lake taken from a daguerreotype." Courtsey of Golden History Museum

Moving the capitol of Colorado to Denver didn't deter Lake. He became an iconic figure in Golden for his entrepreneurial adventures, civil service, and sense of humor. An example of Lake’s mischievous attitude happened after renovations in 1881 (see picture above). He wanted to start off his grand re-opening with a BLAST; and by that we mean he planted sticks of dynamite across the street to celebrate! It blew out the windows of three or more surrounding businesses. Ooops! Most believe that the Astor House was not affected by the blast due to a for sale ad in the newspaper that Ida (another owner) printed for antique windows, which were probably the original windows of the Astor House hotel.

Lake was involved in Golden affairs until his death in 1888. In 1887 a year before his death he deeded the property to Catherine Mon Pleasure who ran the hotel as the Castle Rock Hotel. It was rumored (mostly because of her last name) that it was a house of ill repute, but no solid evidence suggests that this hotel was ever used for those kinds of things.

One of the excavation units at the Astor House. Note the cobble towards the bottom of the unit.

The renovation project for the Astor House presented the opportunity to perform archaeological excavations in the backyard of the property. Dr. Michele Koons and Amy Gillaspie with Denver Museum of Nature and Science in partnership with MANY others including Foothills Art Center, Golden City, Metcalf Archaeological Consultants, Golden History Museum, Community Connections LLC, along with volunteers, came together for excavations and tours.

Screen dirt pile from the Astor House excavations.

Excavation units were dug in 10 cm by 10 cm sections to slowly and carefully peel back the layers of dirt to uncover the artifacts that people left behind. These artifacts tell us about the people who stayed, lived, and worked at the Astor House. When the dirt is dug up from the excavation unit, it is sifted through a screen to catch any artifacts that may be mixed in with the dirt. The screening stations are important because this is where we find most artifacts!

These excavations have given us insight into the many different types of people that stayed at the Astor House while it operated as a hotel and boarding house. Here are some examples of what was found in the excavations.

Photo 1: Grand Amy of the Republic label pin

“A small lapel pin, representing the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) fraternal organization. GAR was formed in 1866 in Illinois by Benjamin Stephenson. Members of the organization included veteran members of the Union Army, Union Navy, and Marines. This style of pin was produced starting in 1879 and would be given to members to wear on the left breast of their coats. Oftentimes, the metal used to create these pins was from decommissioned guns.” Amy Gillaspie, co-principal investigator.

Photo 2: Ironstone China with the maker's mark "Alfred Meakin England."

Photo 3: Chinese Wén

Photo 4: Pelican Point

Photo 5: Collection of Bones

Photo 6: Colorless Glass Medicine Bottle

Check out the Astor House Archaeology Project on Instagram to see more artifacts! @astorhousearchaeologyproject

Ida Goetze standing in the backyard of the Astor House. Courtesy of Golden History Museum.

Another one of the main characters in the Astor House story is a German immigrant named Ida Goetze. In 1892, Ida bought the property after her husband died of a stroke in nearby Georgetown. She completely remodeled the Astor House and expanded it into the structure it is currently. Ida was imperative to the success and preservation of the Astor House. Her work is one of the big reasons we still have this building today. Ida ran the former Astor House hotel as a boarding house until her death in 1936, when her son and daughter-in-law took over and operated it until the 1950s.

The Astor House changed hands at least eight times. The renovations that have happened in the last 138 years are plentiful. Surprisingly though, the renovations often made the Astor House more sturdy. At the time it was built, it was the only hotel in the area made from stone, so it didn’t have the same issues such as pests, fire danger, or day-to-day upkeep that wooden structures did. Although in 1908, there was an attic fire that resulted in Ida receiving $168, which she then used to renovate the building and add a third story. Another visible renovation is a section of wall resembling an entry, but is now bricked in, located on the back right side of the rectangular building. This former entryway used to be the back door to the Astor House.

Photo left: Jasmine showing where the back door of the Astor House used to be.

Photo right: The interior view of the doorway within the Astor House.

Another major renovation project was the balcony located on the front of the Astor House facing 12th street. The original 1867 version of the Astor House is thought to have a balcony. However, many women in town complained that their dresses were getting stained with men spitting tobacco off the balcony into the street. Eventually, the city told Lake to tear the balcony down. In April 1887, there was an incident with a returning customer, Mr. Herman Ballinger of Ralston, who opened the door to where the former balcony had been and fell from the second floor. Apparently, he was okay as there didn't seem to be any major injuires reported. Yikes!

There were multiple times the balcony was taken down and rebuilt. Ida Goetze renovated the upstairs while she owned the building and rebuilt the balcony after 1900. In 1982, the Golden Landmark Association rebuilt the balcony another time. And, in 2006 the balcony was redone AGAIN by volunteers and museum employees, which is the balcony that is currently on the building. Renovations like these are apparent all over the Astor House and continue to be a part of its colorful history.

The Astor House has long been a place for community gatherings and making connections with travelers and locals alike. In 1972, with the help of community members, the Golden Landmarks Association was created to protect the Astor House and, in 1973, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2015, the museum closed to undergo structural rehabilitation and has been closed to the public since. The legacy of connection that the Astor House embodies has inspired yet another renovation for the Astor House. Designed by AB Studio Architects, this new project focuses on Foothills Art Center using this space as a community center for education and to support local artisans. Once again, the Astor House will be open to the public for gatherings, storytelling, and celebrating the wonderful community members of Golden.

Photo left: Volunteer members of the excavation crew in 2021.

Photo middle: The CCPA tour group in March 2022

Photo right: Amy Gillaspie, co-principal investigator, showing a tour group some of the artifacts from excavation.

Jasmine (left) and Jess (right)

We're so excited to continue this work into the 2023 season and beyond. We'll be posting updates to our blog so make sure you subscribe!

We've got even more projects to share with you, but we'll save those for our next post in 2 weeks!

See you soon!

Jasmine & Jess (J&J) 🌳

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➡️ In our next blog we'll talk about the Donkey Kong project in Pueblo, Colorado.

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