by Edie Flanagin
WALSENBURG- Bits and pieces of the fascinating history of Walsenburg were revealed to 32 history buffs at the Saturday morning “Secret Places of Walsenburg” tour hosted by the Huerfano County Historical Society. The two tours, led by Carolyn Newman, revealed some architectural details in several buildings in downtown Walsenburg that illuminated some of the intriguing history of our town. The first stop on the tour was the Fox Theater which was built in 1917. It served as a burlesque venue then later as a multipurpose space for shows or movies. A couple of interesting secrets at the Fox caught the imaginations of the group. Two ghosts are said to inhabit the theater, a well dressed gentleman and a young girl. Another interesting tidbit is that a secret room was found when the building was remodeled a few years ago. The room held a bed and a chair, and had a peephole to the outside. What was the purpose of the room? Was it a Mafia “safe” room? Local legends abound about the need for hideouts by the mafia in Walsenburg.
Also at The Fox, originally the Star Theater, the original Wurlitzer pipe organ used during the silent screen days was viewed. This unique bit of history sets Walsenburg apart from other cities since this pipe organ is only one of a handful in the United States still in its original location. After thoroughly examining the Fox, the crowd headed over to the former Unfug building at 5th and Main street.
This old hardware store used to house buggies, wagons and farm equipment on the second floor, and would display their newest model buggies on a small balcony jutting out over Main Street on the second floor. How did the buggies get up there? Inside the now empty building the secret was revealed: there is a large wooden freight elevator with cables, ropes and pulleys still intact. The old building has a colorful past, serving the citizens of Huerfano county as a supplier of harnesses, hardware and sundries for nearly one hundred years.
The tour then detoured through the alley behind the Eagles building. The tour group viewed the back stairs which led to one of Walsenburg’s many mining era bordellos. Unfortunately the upstairs rooms there are in such poor repair the tour was unable to visit the actual site. The Eagles building proved interesting enough for the tourists however since they got to see the ornate and well preserved pressed tin ceiling original to the building. The basement in that building was also interesting since a mysterious “stairway to nowhere” is still visible. It was actually a stairway from the ground floor to the basement show rooms when the building housed the Gambles department store. Now floored over, it would have been located several feet east of the center of the Eagles dance floor.
The tour ended the morning in the basement of the building housing Dorcas Circle. The building was a butcher shop at one time with possibly several other businesses sharing the basement. Here the tour group got a glimpse of a doorway which was part of the tunnel system which connected all the buildings in the 600 block of Main Street. What was the tunnel for? Until someone finds evidence or can remember its use, the tunnel will remain another mystery for the Historical Society detectives to uncover.
All participants in the tours were impressed with the secret places of Walsenburg and expressed interest in seeing more. Carolyn Newman is working on getting more sites to visit for future tours. If you have a secret place you’d like to share, please let Carolyn or other historical society members know.