Two people who were very important to the history of Colorado Springs were Spencer and Julie Penrose. Spencer Penrose was born in Philadelphia on November 2, 1865. There were seven children in the family, and Speck (Spencer’s nickname) was the fifth in line. When he was fifteen years old, his mother died without warning with only Spencer in the house with her. For the rest of his life, he did not like being alone, and he could not even bear to hear his mother’s name mentioned.
Speck went to Harvard and barely managed to graduate in 1886. He came west with the hope of proving to his father and to himself that he would amount to something. He lived in New Mexico for four years, but then he heard rumors of gold in Colorado. His brother Richard told him about Colorado Springs, plus one of his childhood friends, Charles Leaming Tutt, lived there and had started a real estate business. So, in 1891, Spencer Penrose came to Colorado Springs with hardly any money in his pockets.
Charles Tutt met him at the railroad station and made him an offer of half his real estate for $500 if Spencer would live in Cripple Creek and manage the Tutt business there. Spencer agreed, and the two of them made so much money in the following years, that Spencer never had to pay the $500!
Spencer Penrose worked in other mining interests also. By 1906, the big money maker for him was the Utah Copper Company. He bought the majority of the shares of stock and became rich, extremely rich, and had proven himself to his father. And…he had absolutely no plans for getting married.
Julie was born in Detroit in 1870 and grew up with all the wealth and luxuries imaginable. When she was seventeen, her education included a Grand Tour of Europe! She learned to love art and music, especially opera, and these interests lasted her entire life.
She married the son of a multi-millionaire Michigan senator in 1890. Things seemed well until James went to Cuba during the Spanish-American War and contracted tuberculosis. They decided to move to Colorado Springs in 1901, which was well known as a tuberculosis center. Julie and James’ two children, Jimmy and Gladys, also moved to Colorado Springs with them.
Julie fell in love with Colorado Springs! There was an opera house, a lovely theater and a number of cultural and art organizations. She became a member of Colorado Springs’ party life, even though her husband was confined to the house. Many women in Colorado Springs were married to husbands who had tuberculosis or other confining illnesses, so Julie’s situation was not unusual. In fact, she became very close friends with Edith Field, whose husband was ill, and they attended many parties together. She met Spencer Penrose at one of these parties (a clambake, which he had organized and planned), but he paid no attention to her!!
In April of 1902, Julie and James McMillan’s son Jimmy died of a ruptured appendix. This was just too much for James McMillan who was already weak with tuberculosis, and he died on May 9, 1902. Julie became a more serious and mature person after these great losses in such a short time, and she and her daughter Gladys developed a very close relationship. During this time, she also became an even closer friend to Edith Field, who was also a widow. She and Edith gradually began to rejoin the town’s social circles.
Julie McMillan vowed never to marry, but she began to remember the handsome gentleman who had not noticed her at his clambake. She learned that he lived a bachelor’s life, so she would send her servants to do his laundry and clean up his rented room. She also invited him to her home for lunches or dinners, and he found himself becoming very fond of this young widow.
Speck could not resolve his mixed feelings, so he decided to run away from any temptation to marry and booked a passage to Europe on a ship leaving New York in February of 1906. While touring the decks with his brother, Speck ran into a familiar looking group. Julie McMillan, her daughter Gladys, and Edith Fields were on their way to Europe supposedly to place Gladys in a Swiss school. During the voyage, Speck had decided to accompany the three women on a tour of France. Knowing that he was falling in love with Julie, he had his brother write their father explaining the situation and asking for his approval.
Once his father sent his approval, Speck took the big step and proposed to Julie. He was usually very bold and sure of himself, but he proposed to her by throwing the letter from his father in her lap while she was sitting in the sun on the French Riviera!!
They married in London at St. George’s Church on April 26, 1906. They traveled extensively during their marriage. By marrying Julie McMillan, Speck had taken a step that would change his personality and the way in which he lived his life! Until then, he had dedicated himself to gaining personal wealth, but now he felt he could begin enjoying life, to start having fun. Her influence helped him to channel his energy into projects that would help people and improve the quality of life for the people of Colorado Springs. As their marriage continued, he came up with a new project…to turn the Pikes Peak area into a fantastic resort area, and he had the money to do it!
(See Broadmoor Hotel, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Will Rogers Shrine)
Spencer Penrose was diagnosed with throat cancer and spent his last days gazing at Cheyenne Mountain and the Broadmoor Hotel. He died at 12:50 a.m. on December 7, 1939, at the age of seventy-four. He was buried in the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun. Julie was devastated at the loss of this man who had been the center of her life for thirty-three years.
During the last part of her life, she busied herself with many foundations that Speck had established, plus she did many things on her own. She had the Carriage House Museum built which housed Speck’s collection of carriages plus other artifacts he had collected. She built a house on Cheyenne Mountain plus maintained a small home in Central City where she helped to fund and support the revival of the summer opera festival.
She also provided funds for several other organizations, such as St. Mary’s High School in downtown Colorado Springs. She endowed the Boys Club, continued to provide funding for the Fountain Valley School and also built Pauline Memorial Catholic School, next to Pauline Chapel, both of which were named for her granddaughter. Her largest contribution was a 3.2 million dollar grant for the building of the new Penrose Hospital.
Even though Julie Penrose was a very rich woman, she was always very thoughtful. She made it possible for many of her employees, or their children, to attend universities and helped them when times got hard. She entered the hospital for exploratory surgery on December 26, 1956. She died three weeks later on January 23 and was buried next to Spencer in the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun. You can still see their burial place today if you visit the Shrine on Cheyenne Mountain.
There are many other facts about the Penroses and their contributions to Colorado Springs. If you are interested, be sure to read more about them.
Bertozzi-Villa, Elena. Broadmoor Memories, The History of the Broadmoor. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc., 1993.
Written by: Carole Hiegert