Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lair O' the Bear and Dunafon Castle

The restored Dunafon Castle

Lair O' the Bear Park is nestled in a steep canyon about six miles east of Evergreen, Colorado. John and Matilda Johnson emigrated from Sweden with their two young boys and purchased the narrow meadow in 1902. They named it Mountain Nook Ranch, built a four-bedroom house and raised Red Durham cattle. Their two sons, Finis and Francis, attended school in nearby Starbuck, now known as Idledale.

It was originally named for John Starbuck who won the town property in a poker game. John Johnson was a master gardener and his popular, fresh produce was sold in Evergreen and Denver. They planted over 200 cherry and apple trees in the area. If you look closely many can still be found throughout the park today.

The unruly Bear Creek sculpted the beautiful scenery and provided the needed irrigation for productive crops but it also wreaked plenty of havoc. There was a constant fear of extreme flooding. The Lariat Trail (Highway 74 today) crossed Bear Creek six times between Morrison and Mountain Nook.

If a severe flood destroyed the tenuous, wooden bridges, travelers became stranded for days. By the 1920s, before Evergreen Dam existed, a flood warning system was initiated. Evergreen's telephone operator would notify the Johnsons and other families living between the canyon walls to alert them if a flood was surging their way.

Marcus Wright designed an overshot waterwheel and creatively harnessed the energy of Bear Creek to power his magnificent Castle Springs Ranch. During the 1930s the eccentric genius created an architectural masterpiece about a mile upstream from the Johnson's homestead. The Wright Castle, built with stone quarried on site, was a remarkable fortress complete with turrets, battlements, arched doorways, a moat and a dungeon.

There was also an electric, 18-gauge miniature railroad that looped around the property. The decadent interior of the creekside mansion featured huge fireplaces, a terrazzo floor and a spiral staircase. When Wright died, the castle went into a trust. It was later rented out and converted into a gambling hall and brothel.

William and Tasmin Barnes purchased the castle in 1970. By then, the premises was completely ransacked and in terrible shape. Barnes throughly revamped everything, making drastic changes that updated and modernized the entire place. He also added to the top of his stronghold a 25 food long, mechanized, fire-breathing dragon to welcome guests.

All future plans were terminated because William, Tasmin and a daughter died tragically in the infamous, EgyptAir Flight 990 airline crash on Halloween morning in 1999. All attempts to sell failed and the necessary maintenance to upkeep the estate was neglecgted. Within five years, the castle was in disrepair once again.

Allured by its medieval charm, current owners Michael Dunafon and Debbie Matthews acquired the citadel in 2004. Dunafon devised a restoration plan based on blueprints, historic photographs and interviews with surviving members of the Barnes and Wright families. To complete the massive project, Dunafon hired guys from Step 13, a program to rehabilitate homeless alcoholics and addicts.

They cleaned, sanded, painted, pulled weeds, cut trees and entirely restored the interior. Then the crew meticulously sifted through trash and dirt to recover the original small parts and bolts needed to refurbish the hydroelectric power plant. Today, everything appears to be back in prime condition. It's like a fairytale ending. It took a group of ambitious men, who were struggling to rebuild their own troubled lives, to restore a magical castle.

Lair O' the Bear Park is nestled in a steep canyon

Originally known as Mountain Nook Ranch

Bear Creek sculpted the beautiful scenery

Unruly Bear Creek used to wreak havoc

Constant fear of flooding

Stone foundation from the Johnson homestead

The Wright Castle was an architectural masterpiece

The castle is upriver from the Johnson homestead

A remarkable fortress

Today, the castle is in prime condition

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Yeah, it's pretty cool. The castle has lots of local history and has recently been restored to its original design. They now have weddings and banquets held there.

      Delete
  2. We use to frequent that area. Fascinating history. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, it's one of my favorite places in this area.

      Delete