Memories of a nighttime blaze: Courthouse fire marked end of era

Just like those who can remember where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been shot, some locals remember where they were when the Douglas County Courthouse burned to the ground.

By By: Susan Dage-Ruby
Posted 3/8/03

Just like those who can remember where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been shot, some locals remember where they were when …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Username
Password
Log in

Don't have an ID?


Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.

Non-subscribers

Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

If you made a voluntary contribution in 2021-2022, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access includes access to all websites and online content.


Our print publications are advertiser supported. For those wishing to access our content online, we have implemented a small charge so we may continue to provide our valued readers and community with unique, high quality local content. Thank you for supporting your local newspaper.

Memories of a nighttime blaze: Courthouse fire marked end of era

Just like those who can remember where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been shot, some locals remember where they were when the Douglas County Courthouse burned to the ground.

Posted

Just like those who can remember where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been shot, some locals remember where they were when the Douglas County Courthouse burned to the ground.

When the courthouse burned 25 years ago, it marked the end of an era in Castle Rock.

"Our world was changing around us," said Judy Crenshaw, who at the time of the fire was on a first date with Joe, the man she later married.

"The heat from the fire was intense, the height of the flames overwhelmed me," Crenshaw said. "The whole building acted like a chimney."

Susan Miller was a teen-ager who had been out that night with friends. After she was home and in bed she heard the sirens and wondered what was going on.

"I found out about the fire when I woke up the next morning," Miller said. "The fire seemed to burn for hours."

The Christmas before the fire, Miller and other students from Douglas County High School had gathered on the courthouse steps to sing carols during the town's annual Starlighting ceremony.

"I remember we went down to the basement afterward for hot chocolate," Miller said.

Even at 15, Miller said she knew it was a devastating loss, but had no grasp at that time of the historical significance.

It was 1889 when construction began on the original courthouse. It was finished in July 1890 and cost $33,000 to build and furnish it.

In a little more than 24 hours, 88 years of existence as the focal point in downtown Castle Rock, the courthouse became a pile of rubble.

The fire started when Rose Ann Lucero, 17, started a small gasoline fire in a basement stairwell next to the treasurers office to reportedly create a diversion. Her goal was to get her friend's boyfriend out of jail. He had been detained on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Lucero pleaded guilty and spent two years for three counts of arson in a state correctional facility in Golden.

Reportedly, the helpless feelings of the spectators that night were compounded by the helpless feelings of law and fire personnel.

From his house on Gilbert Street, Ken Zimmerman thought downtown was ablaze.

"It looked like the whole downtown was on fire," said Zimmerman, who was the fire chief for Castle Rock's volunteer firemen in 1978. "There was a lot of dry wood and varnish on the floors which contributed to the fire."

Firefighters fought the conflagration all night and well into the next night, Zimmerman said.

"The firemen felt bad they couldn't do anything to save the building," Zimmerman said. "The courthouse was the town's pride and joy."

About all the firemen could do was control the sparks so that neighboring businesses didn't catch fire, Zimmerman said.

"I came in to town toward the end of the fire," said Castle Rock Police Capt. John Anderson, who was a police department reserve officer 25 years ago. "I was assigned to guard the perimeter because it was considered a crime scene."

He knew that the impact of the fire was going to be great, Anderson said.

"My beloved sheriff's office burned down," Anderson said. "When I was young, my grandfather often took me to visit the sheriff who was his friend."

Not only was it a sentimental loss for Anderson, but he also noted a climate change in the personality of the town.

"It went from an obvious warm hometown feeling to something a little colder," Anderson said.

The loss of the elegant building put Castle Rock on the map, said Tim White, who was 28 and on the Castle Rock Town Council at the time.

"I'll never forget standing at the site [after the fire was out] and a woman beside me said she hoped the town would put up something new," White said.

But any building to replace the beloved courthouse would have been subject to harsh criticism, White said.

The county hired an international architect to design the new courthouse, he said.

Construction costs for the new courthouse ranged between $1 million and $1.2 million, White said.

"The building won several awards," White said.

But it didn't win the hearts of the people of Douglas County.

In Douglas County News-Press articles written at the time the new courthouse opened, public opinion was that it looked more like an asylum or a warehouse.

"[Overnight] Castle Rock went from a rural commissioner [government] to an urban one," White said. "It was the first time it was brought home to us in vivid form that there were a lot of newcomers to the community. I felt sorry for the commissioners. They wanted to do their job, they just didn't know what it was."

A sign posted on the fence around the summed up the county's feelings:

"Gutted but standing and still loved …

Can we preserve anything from this disaster?"

Comments

Our Papers

Ad blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.