History of Chapter House
Historical Site of the Dixon Homestead
The Colorado P.E.O. Chapter House is located on part of the site of the first homestead in Cheyenne Canon in Colorado Springs William F. Dixon, claimed the land in 1862 and built a cabin, farmed and raised cattle. He built irrigation ditches and planted some apple trees.
The land was eventually sold to some of Colorado Springs most well-known founding fathers. 20 acres was purchased by Winfield Scott Stratton in 1900. The remainder was purchased by the the Penrose family and their friends, the Tutts, who developed The Broadmoor Hotel, and built their own homes on the land. The famous Broadmoor is now just over the ridge from the Chapter House. After spending time as a landmark park, part of the Stratton land was purchased in 1966 as the site of the Colorado P.E.O. Chapter House.
The Dixon Homestead
Winfield Scott Stratton
Winfield Scott Stratton, a millionaire Colorado miner and philanthropist, came to Colorado Springs in 1869 from Indiana. He tried his hand at carpentry and prospecting and in 1901 made claim to the Independence Mine in Cripple Creek, CO. This venture, plus investment in four other prospective mines, netted him millions. He contributed much of his fortune to civic projects in Colorado Springs.
Stratton developed the 20 acres purchased from Dixon as a community park he named Cheyenne Park for local residents and tourists, particularly those who traveled the Colorado Springs and Interurban Railway street cars, which he owned, to Cheyenne canyon. Attractions on the line included Seven Falls, The Broadmoor and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Up to 10,000 people visited the park during the summer weekends. On Sundays in the summer, the Colorado Midway Band played for the audience at the bandstand. Stratton died only two months after the park was completed, and the name was changed to Stratton Park in his memory.
The park was dedicated on June 6, 1902, featuring John Philip Sousa and the Sousa Band playing for 4,000 attendees. Sousa was known as the American March King and authored many military and patriotic marches, including 'The Stars and Stripes Forever", the National March of the United States.
Sousa served in the U.S. Marine Corps and eventually became the head conductor for the U.S. Marine Band. He led "The President's Own" band under five presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes ;to Benjamin Harrison. After leaving the Marine Band, he formed his own band and toured with them from 1892 until 1931. Having the nationally famous Mr. Sousa and his band play at the opening of the park in Colorado Springs was a significant occasion. While touring the US and Canada, Sousa and his band were welcomed 'as conquering heroes at every port,' and were notable celebrities of the day.
John Philip Sousa
Stratton oversaw the construction of bridges and rock walls for Cheyenne Creek, and created footpaths along through the natural landscape of hills, wildflowers, and wildlife. Construction included a bandstand and a building of refreshment stands and waiting rooms. When the park was completed in 1902, it had ponds for swimming and fishing, gardens, and picnic pavilions. Other recreational facilities included a baseball field, a shuffleboard court, rides for children and adults, and a dance pavilion.
The trolley serving the park began going into decline after 1911 when automobiles started becoming widespread. More than half the park was sold in 1932 to Pierce Hampe, a real estate magnate who developed the property as an upscale residential area. In 1966, the Colorado State P.E.O. Sisterhood purchased the last 8 ½ acres as the site of the Colorado P.E.O. Chapter House.
A Home of our Own
The idea of a Home of our Own for P.E.O.s was first presented at what was then called Supreme Grand Chapter (now International Convention) in 1907 by the Colorado State P.E.O. President.
The suggestion was made that the funds available from P.E.O. Day held at the St. Louis 1904 World's Fair, more properly known as The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, be used to establish a P.E.O. Home in Colorado. br>
By the time a resolution came to the floor, the idea of a Home was replaced by a Loan and the Educational Loan Fund was instituted instead.
P.E.O. Homes were established in other states, all as state P.E.O. projects. In recent years, the Homes in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, San Jose, California, Knoxville, Illinois, Saint Joseph, Missouri and San Antonio, Texas have been the last to close.
Of the remaining Homes, Beatrice, Nebraska provides assisted living, and the Caldwell, Idaho Home and Colorado P.E.O. Chapter House in Colorado Springs, Colorado provide independent retirement living. The home in Alhambra, California is now considered a former P.E.O. home and is under new management.
Architect Claude Nash's drawing of the Colorado P.E.O.Chapter House, circa 1967
In 1949, the Colorado Foundation Fund of the P.E.O. Sisterhood was formed at Convention to administer Colorado donations. The 1956 Convention of Colorado State Chapter adopted the recommendation of the board of trustees that each chapter contribute one dollar per capita annually to the fund, and by 1963 the fund had reached $180,000. Current day annual per capita dues is just two dollars.
In 1964 the board of trustees received approval to proceed with plans for a P.E.O. Chapter House. A total of 30 properties were considered in Denver, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins.
The trustees even purchased a five-acre tract in Fort Collins for $10,000.
On January 24, 1965, the board of trustees received a letter from the attorney for the Stratton Home Estates trustees offering to sell 8.84 acres on Cheyenne Avenue in Colorado Springs, known as the Stratton Park, to the corporation for $65,000.
The proposal required the Stratton home Trustees' approval of the architectural design for any structure built on the site, that the property not be subdivided, and that the landscape be altered as little as possible.
The Fort Collins property was discarded and the historic Colorado Springs site was approved.
A resolution to change the name of the corporation from "Colorado Foundation Fund of P.E.O. Sisterhood" to "Colorado P.E.O. Chapter House" was approved at the 1965 Convention of Colorado State Chapter and the long held idea of a P.E.O. Home in Colorado was finally becoming a reality.
Mr. Claude Nash of Denver was selected as the architect and Godwin-Bevers of Colorado Springs as the contractors.
Mrs. Ralph Monell of Canon City, chairman of the Board of Trustees, stated that the Chapter House was "to be a home for gracious living."
Building to Honor History
The original plans were for facilities to house 60 residents with ground level single apartments and for 60 more in 10 cottages. However, the initial construction provided for three units of six apartments each. The Chapter House site was annexed by the City of Colorado Springs in 1968. Due to zoning changes, the footprint of the Chapter House has remained the same and plans for the expansion and cottages have not proved practical.
The history of the Stratton Park was memorialized by retrofitting an existing Stratton Park dance pavilion to become the Chapter House main building, comprised of the commercial kitchen, main living room, large dining room, and a spacious front porch. The porch was eventually enclosed and became the Chapter House library, where numerous Chapters and Committees meet, the annex to the library, the main entrance and the General Manager's office.
On the patio between the Chapter House and Cheyenne Creek still stands a short stone wall which was part of the original bandstand which hosted John Philip Sousa in 1901.
The mortgage for the Colorado P.E.O. Chapter House was burned at the 1980 Convention of Colorado State Chapter held in Pueblo, when the loan amount was paid in full, making the land, bridges, easements and all the buildings fully owned by the Colorado P.E.O. Sisterhood.
The groundbreaking ceremony held February 6, 1966, was attended by 140 guests, including representatives of 36 chapters. Mrs. Earl Russell of Pueblo, then-president of Colorado State Chapter, presided with Mrs. Ralph Monell of Canon City, then-chairman of the Board of Trustees, who turned the first shovel full of earth.
On October 23, 1966, more than 400 P.E.O.s and guests were present at the dedication of Chapter House. At that ceremony Mr. Nash presented gold keys to Mary Bischof of Chapter CE in Colorado Springs who was President of Colorado State Chapter so "she would never be locked out."
Update and Progress
In preparation for the Colorado P.E.O. Chapter House's fortieth anniversary in 2006, the Chapter House Board of Trustees approved in 2004 the modification of the original motel room-sized resident's 'bed/sit' rooms into larger apartments.
By 2006, five one-bedroom apartments and two efficiency suites were created from combining rooms into more modern accommodations, with updated kitchenettes and baths. Five of the original sized rooms remain and are used as Bed and Breakfast lodgings for guests of residents and P.E.O.s and their families or traveling companions.
At the 2005 Convention of Colorado State Chapter, delegates approved a proposal to open the Colorado P.E.O. Chapter House to women not P.E.O.s who are sponsored by P.E.O.s and to P.E.O.s and their husbands (B.I.L.s).
The natural beauty of the area provides a peaceful setting for this facility. More than 70 P.E.O.s from throughout Colorado and other states have lived in the house - some for a few months and many for several years, some for decades and one, Thelma Pinger, for 39 years!
Thelma Pinger, Chapter GV, resident 1976-2015