By Beth Dodd:
Today, Chipita Park is a bedroom town for commuters to Colorado Springs. It gives no hint of its history as a vacation hot spot in the 1890s and 1930s as you zip through on U.S. Hwy 24.
Chipita Park was originally named Ute Pass Park by William Blackmore in 1872. Blackmore owned about 1,000 acres in the area. He opened it to European investors before his death in 1879. They formed the Ute Pass Land and Water Company in 1890, and developed the park into a resort. Soon homes, vacation cottages, a lake, and the graceful Ute Hotel overlooked the red sandstone Colorado Midland Railroad depot.
Similar resorts were being built nearby, and it wasn’t long before the Colorado Midland Railroad was carrying thousands of tourists up Ute Pass every summer to posh hotels in Ute Pass Park, Cascade, Green Mountain Falls, Woodland Park, and Manitou Park. The visitors rode horses, watched balloon ascensions, listened to concerts, danced, hiked the hills, fished, paddled small boats, and generally had a good time in the mountains.
The social center of Ute Pass Park in the 1890s was the Ute Hotel, a large elegant two-story building with two wings wrapped by verandas and topped by pointed towers. Sadly, it burned to the ground because of a chimney fire on New Year’s Eve in 1899. The tourists took their business to the neighboring towns, and the area became quiet. The Colorado Midland Railroad even tore down their station there.
After William Blackmore had died back in 1879, much of his land was sold and used for ranches, farms, and harvesting timber. For example, Joe Sales ran a saw mill and cut trees from Bald Mountain and Manitou Park into lumber. William Wellington and Nathan Culver had ranches in the area. They grazed their cattle on Rampart Range in the summer and brought them back down to Ute Pass for the winter. After the Ute Hotel burned down, these rural enterprises became the focus of the town.
Enter Frank Marcroft. Frank Willoughby Marcroft was born in Springfield, Missouri in 1885 to British immigrant parents. As a young man, he married May Elizabeth Long. May Long was born in New York in 1888, but her family had moved to Manitou Springs by the time she was 12. It is unclear where and when Frank and May met, but by 1910 when Frank was 26 and May was 22, they were married and living in Salt Lake City, UT where Frank worked as a railroad mechanic. Their daughter Alvyra was born there in 1910.
By 1915, the Marcroft family had moved to Colorado Springs. Two more children were born to them there, Loren in 1915 and Helen in 1917. By 1920, Frank was working as a public accountant and tax advisor at the Mining Exchange Building on Pikes Peak Ave in downtown Colorado Springs. Perhaps this is where he became interested in real estate investments.
In 1927, Frank Marcroft bought the Ute Pass Land and Water Company and began to turn sleepy Ute Pass Park into a thriving resort town once again. He renamed the place Chipita Park in honor of the wife of the Ute chief Ouray.
Soon Chipita Park had new homes and vacation cabins, and a small central business district. Marcroft built the Chipita Park Lodge, which served as a community center, land office, store, and post office. Marcroft served as the post master starting in March 1935. This building is now a bed and breakfast. Marcroft also installed a nine-hole golf course where Ute Pass Elementary School sits today. There were stables and tennis courts, and the lake was kept stocked with trout.
Summer homes in cool Colorado were popular with people wanting to escape the hot, humid Midwest, and Marcroft traveled there frequently to promote his idyllic mountain town. He offered several different cabin floor plans. In the 1930s you could buy a four room home with a bathroom, fireplace, garage, and beautiful views in Chipita Park for $2,500.00.
Tragically, Marcroft died of a heart attack during a business trip to Oklahoma to promote Chipita Park on March 27, 1941 when he was 56. His wife May took over as Chipita Park’s post master for a few weeks following his death until someone else took over the position. May Marcroft out lived Frank by 32 years, dying in Colorado Springs in August 1973. After Frank’s passing, the Chipita Park area became quiet and residential again. Today, the local community center, Marcroft Hall, remains as a reminder of his contributions to the town.