Thunderhead revived

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History and rejuvenation join forces at the old Thunderhead Inn in Woodland Park. Long a part of the city's story, its colored past, infamous, raucous and illegal, the inn harbors ghosts, villains and maybe some heroes.

“The inn was built in 1935, after Prohibition, as a gambling hall and for prostitution,” said Ann Battin, who with Karen and Doug Gilliam owns the building and plans to live in the refurbished inn. “They had Las Vegas showgirls up here and got busted by the feds.”

Many of Woodland Park's well-known citizens, pillars-of-the-community-types, have passed through the doors of the Thunderhead, among them, former owners Bert Bergstrom as well Martin and Gertrude Murphy.

Battin enjoys the legends, especially the one about Bergstrom's indictment and the resulting consequences of his scheme to avoid incarceration. Seems Bergstrom hired Martin Murphy, an attorney, to argue the case against the government, promising the Thunderhead as reward for exoneration.

“The story has it that at the trial, the jury never retired to the jury room; the foreman stood up and said `not guilty,'” Battin said. “The property then came into the Murphys' hands. That is the legend.”

The Murphys ran the inn until 1954.

Somewhere along the way, the old schoolhouse was moved and attached to the back of the inn, thus, adding to Woodland Park lore.

The face carved on a log support post near the bar immortalizes a customer who, as legend has it, suggested the design while under the influence but returned the next day, presumably sober, to implement the idea. The post will remain.

Two antique stoves impart clues to the past, the cannon stove issued by the U.S. Army for Camp Carson (now Fort Carson) after WWII and another designed and manufactured by the Fisher Stove Company in Woodland Park.

Yet long before the inn contributed to the city's local color, the property was the vast Thunderhead Ranch, one of the largest in Teller County. While the farmhouse burned to the ground in 1927, the old barn and ice house, built in 1886, are intact.

“I think the Roberts family started selling things off when the house burned,” Battin said.

In restoring the inn as a home, full-time for Battin, part-time for the Gilliams, the partners felt a sense of urgency. “Last year it was obvious we had to do something because the ceiling was caving in,” Karen Gilliam said. “The city wanted the building to be structurally-sound.”

A fitting component to the story is that, all these years later, the historic connection continues, as the former owners' son, Chuck Murphy, of Murphy Constructors of Colorado Springs, initiated the restoration.

“The roof was starting to leak and we didn't want to see the building deteriorate any further,” Gilliam said. “Chuck Murphy redid all of this because the roof was collapsing, the ceiling caving in.”

Today, Mac Pitrone, Mac's Construction, is the general contractor for the project, Ralph LoCascio, Alpine Engineering, is the engineer and Chuck Severance, CRS Architects, designed the 2,692-square-foot home on 3.7 acres.

“We wanted to preserve as much of the old atmosphere as we could,” Gilliam said. “Mac believed the Thunderhead could be saved when nobody else did.”

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