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 …
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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
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
"The heat from the fire was intense, the height of the flames
overwhelmed me," Crenshaw said. "The whole building acted like a
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
"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
In a little more than 24 hours, 88 years of existence as the
focal point in downtown Castle Rock, the courthouse became a pile
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
From his house on Gilbert Street, Ken Zimmerman thought downtown
"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
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,
"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
"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
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
A sign posted on the fence around the summed up the county's
"Gutted but standing and still loved …
Can we preserve anything from this disaster?"
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