There is a castle in Westminster Colorado, also known, “The Big Red Castle” or “The Pillar of Fire” When I first moved to Westminster Colorado, I was curious about this looming building. Just in case you have been wondering here is the scoop!
This is a historical landmark in Westminster Colorado. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as Westminster University.
Now owned by the Pillar of Fire Church, the “Big Red Castle” started life in 1890 with dreams of becoming “The Princeton of the West” when New Yorker Henry T. Mayham received approval to build a Presbyterian university on his land atop a hill overlooking Denver, Colorado. This beautiful property was named Crown Point and was the highest point in the early, sprawling Adams County.
Architect E.B. Gregory designed and laid the cornerstone for the university’s main building, which was to be constructed of gray stone from the Coal Creek area. Construction was delayed because of lack of funding, so Mayham hired New York architect Stanford White to finish the design and oversee construction. White changed a main design element, the stone, to a red sandstone from the Red Rocks/Manitou area. White’s design was completed by 1893: 160 ft frontage, 80 ft depth, three stories tall, with a distinctive 175 ft tall tower. The building’s architectural style is an excellent example of Richardsonian Romanesque.
The University opens
Although the construction was completed in 1893, the doors of Westminster University did not open until September 17, 1908 thanks to the Panic of 1893 and competition from a nearby Presbyterian college. Mayham’s persistent fund-raising paid off when the first 60 students began classes in 1908. Tuition was $50 per year and included indoor plumbing.
1911 saw some changes to the city in which the University was located. The town, formerly known as Harris (for an early settler), incorporated and changed their name to Westminster, in honor of Westminster University. The next few years were basically uneventful until, in 1915, the Board of Trustees made the decision to exclude women from the University. Just two years later, they found themselves with no enrollment because all of the young men had gone to fight in World War I. The Presbyterian University closed its doors in 1917, never to realize its dream of becoming the Princeton of the West.
Pillar of Fire
At its peak, the Crown Point property was worth nearly a half a million dollars. But after the devastating closure and three-year abandonment, was purchased by Bishop Alma Bridwell White of the White nationalist Pillar of Fire Church for $40,000 on January 31, 1920. Included in the sale was the main college building, 45 acres (180,000 m2) of land, a power plant, and two houses (one a student’s dormitory, the other the President’s house.)
The sale was a good deal, but the state of the buildings left the church with $75,000 worth of repairs. Shattered windows, cracked walls, and broken plaster were the main structural complaints, but the once regal building had also become a glorified barn with thousands of chickens in the basement and farm machinery on the first floor.
In spite of the enormity of the work, the new Westminster University opened to students on September 7, 1920, just eight months after the purchase. Within six years of opening, the school, now known as Belleview Schools, had received its educational accreditation and was ready for decades of education.
In the late 1920s the campus was frequently used for Ku Klux Klan meetings and cross burnings. But in 1997, the Pillar of Fire Church, the school’s owner and parent organization, repudiated its historical association with the Klan.
Belleview Christian Schools still reside on the Westminster University campus which is home to a wide range of educational experiences including Belleview Christian Childcare & PreSchool (ages 1–4), Belleview Christian School (K–12), as well as Belleview Christian College and Bible Seminary. Although most of the teaching happens in newer buildings on the campus, classes continue in the historic main building which was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The building is also the home of KPOF AM91 Radio, Colorado’s first station to broadcast in HD Radio.
The public is encouraged to come out to the campus for a family fun day that happens at the castle each June. “Open House on the Hill” features castle tours, carnival rides, games, food, and fun for the whole family sponsored by Belleview Christian Schools and AM91 The Point.