by Beth Dodd:
Thomas Cusack, also known as the Billboard King of Chicago, was a self-made millionaire who made his home in Ute Pass in the 1890s. He’d first come to the United States from Ireland as a three year old boy fleeing the Irish potato famine in 1861. Soon after arriving in New York City, both of his parents died. A few years later his only brother also died in a drowning accident. From this difficult beginning, Cusack rose to a position of wealth and power in a classic American rags-to-riches manner. After the deaths of his parents, his mother from an illness contracted on the journey and his father in an accident, Cusack was sent east to be raised by a relative who was a boat pilot on Lake Michigan. As a young man Cusack moved on to Chicago, where he worked as a sign painter and opened his own sign and carriage painting shop, which he grew into America’s largest billboard advertising company, the Thomas Cusack Company.
At the height of his success, Cusack had 100 branch offices and over 100,000 ad locations on building walls, rooftops, and roadside billboards. He also served one term as a U.S. Senator for Illinois in 1898, served on the Chicago Board of Education, and was on the staff of Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld. When he retired in 1924, he sold his business for 24 million dollars. In 1895, Cusack purchased a home in Cascade as a gift for his new wife Mary Greene. They called the house Ellinor Cottage, after Cusack’s deceased baby daughter, who had died along with her mother, Ella Ross Cusack, five years earlier. Thomas and Mary Cusack used their Colorado property as a summer home.
As their family grew, the house also grew, with several additions being built over the years. The Cusack’s eventually had five children, Ann, Thomas Jr., Charles, Frank, and Evelyn. In 1920, Thomas Cusack purchased the Cascade Town Company, in what is thought to be the first private purchase of a town in the United States. He planned to develop the area as a resort for his company’s employees. With this goal in mind, he had the once elegant, but now declining, Ramona Hotel, torn down. He planned to build a Spanish-style hotel and other resort buildings in its place. In 1922, Mary Cusack died of cancer. At the time of her death, Thomas Cusack had already begun the construction of a large new home just up the hill above Ellinor Cottage. The building was finished in 1923 and named Marigreen Pines in her memory. The new house was very large and beautifully furnished, with marble floors, marble fireplaces from Rome, elaborately decorated ceilings, hand-painted frescoes by Italian artisans, a marble grandfather clock built into the living room wall, and a state of the art fire suppression system. Colorado Springs architect and builder, Charles Thomas, best known for his work on Shove Chapel at Colorado College and the Will Rogers Shrine, supervised the construction of the residence.
Thomas Cusack was able to enjoy Marigreen Pines with his children and grandchildren for several years before he died of pneumonia near Chicago in 1925. His son, Frank Cusack, took over at the helm of the Cascade Town Company after his passing. Frank completed the construction of the Cascade Community Building near the intersection of U.S. 24 and the Pikes Peak Highway, as well as the Cascade Tennis Club. The community building was first used as a tea room, market, and garage, but later became Bob Young’s Cabaret and then Drummer Tweed’s Furniture. Frank Cusack also owned the Shootin Star Ranch in Florissant, which is now part of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Thomas and Mary Cusack’s children built the Chapel of the Holy Rosary in Cascade in memory of their parents in 1931. The stone chapel, which won an architecture award for its designer Charles Thomas, stands on the hill above the foundation of the old Ramona Hotel. Frank Cusack never built a resort building there as his father had originally planned. Instead he built the Pyramid Mountain Lodge at the top of the mountain on the sunny side of Cascade in 1935. The Lodge was once popular for its weekend parties, dances, and good food, but had to be torn down in 1961 after being badly vandalized. The Cusack family continued to live at Ellinor Cottage and Marigreen Pines until 1979. At that time, Thomas and Mary Cusack’s oldest child, Ann Cusack Johnson, donated both homes and the surrounding land to the Congregation of Holy Cross. An affiliate of the Catholic Church, Congregation of Holy Cross is best known in this country for the University of Notre Dame, where many of the young men in the Cusack family were educated.
At the dedication of Marigreen Pines to the church, Ann Cusack Johnson was recognized by Pope John Paul II for her many acts of philanthropy and charity and presented with a metal by Colorado’s bishop. She died in 1984. Congregation of Holy Cross has used Marigreen Pines as a novitiate for the past 33 years. Young men thinking about entering the priesthood or brotherhood spend a year there preparing for a life of religious service and deciding if it is the right path for them. At the end of their year as novices, the young men can chose to take their first vows. Ann Cusack Johnson was a founding member of the Ute Pass Historical Society, which was started in Cascade in 1976. At the time that she donated Marigreen Pines to the Congregation of Holy Cross, she stipulated that the Ute Pass Historical Society should be allowed to give tours of the property every three years. The last tours were in 2009. On Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July 15, 2012 the Ute Pass Historical Society will once again host tours of this beautiful historic estate, including both of the Cusack family homes, Ellinor Cottage and Marigreen Pines. Tickets are available at the Ute Pass Historical Society office on the north side of the Woodland Park Library, or you can contact UPHS at (719) 686-7512 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets for the last Marigreen Pines Tour in 2009 were completely sold out three weeks before the event, so don’t wait to get tickets if you want to take the tour. The opportunity won’t come again until 2015!