Friday, February 6, 2015

Colorado Haunted Hotels - Windsor Hotel

Between now and late spring, we're sharing the history and haunted legends associated with each of the hotels and B&Bs included in our forthcoming book,  
Windsor Hotel

an amateur ghost hunting guide
to Haunted Hotels
in southwest Colorado

This week, we feature the Windsor Hotel  in Del Norte, Colo. (If you missed -- or want to revisit -- the paranormal investigation we conducted at this hotel, you can click here, as well as watch YouTube clips from our actual investigation.)

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Historical Context
The current site of the town of Del Norte falls within the vicinity of the Old Spanish Trail system used as a trade route from Santa Fe to California. By the 1870s, the area saw streams of prospectors flooding into Colorado to seek the rich deposits of gold and silver discovered in the San Juan Mountains. In 1872, the town of Del Norte sprang up on the Rio Grande River as a supplier and financial center for mining operations. At one point, freight wagons lined up on Grand Avenue for a mile waiting to head into the mining camps to the west.
In its boomtown heyday, Del Norte climbed to over 10,000 inhabitants, filled with saloons, dance halls, and local brothels as well as an opera house, movie theater, and library. During the boom years, the failure of only one vote prevented Del Norte from becoming the state capitol. In anticipation, town planners built extra wide roads capable of turning around six-horse teams.
Offsetting these high aspirations, the community experienced a Wild West town’s expected share of murders, stage robberies, jail escapes, and lynchings.
Lobby staircase
According to current co-owner Steve Whitehead, the Windsor is the oldest hotel in Colorado.  Enterprising citizens constructed the establishment in 1874 with local masonry and bricks. The building had expanded three times by 1888.
The hotel operated until the late 1970s, when it closed and sat empty for the next fifteen years. On the evening before scheduled demolition, Whitehead and several other locals decided to save the historic hotel. Pulling together enough funds overnight to buy the dilapidated property, they formed a committee called the Windsor Restoration and Historic Association to prevent the site’s fate of becoming a fast food restaurant.

From that point forward, the town joined together to preserve and later renovate the hotel. Grants and investors made it possible to restore the building above and beyond its former glory days.

Legends, Stories, and Guest Experiences
The hotel’s night supervisor said she thought it unsurprising a 140-year-old hotel would be haunted – the whole town is, including the streets and other buildings. One local resident shared stories about a nearby private residence where owners had captured apparitions by accident on multiple occasions in photos of the house.
Hotel co-owner Steve Whitehead reported he witnessed a rock fly out of a door he’d just opened while conducting a tour during building renovations. No one was in that room at the time. A housekeeper said she watched undisturbed clothes hangers start to move – swinging, stopping, swinging again. The radio also suddenly came on and lights switched on and off in Room 210 while she worked.
A guest staying in Room 204 reported hearing someone vacuuming in the hallway at 1 a.m. She was about to peek out her door but the noise quit, only to begin five minutes later. Staff doesn’t vacuum in the middle of the night.
Room where Maud Heinz
committed suicide
The most often reported site on the premises with paranormal activity is Room 209, where hotel guest Maud Heinz committed suicide in 1906. She’d arrived by train one morning, checked in under an alias, and then purchased a .38-caliber revolver and cartridges. She returned to her room and shot herself. She’d left a note, explaining her true identity, and the story soon came out. 

Two years earlier, she’d suffered an accident after an incident with a runaway horse, and she had “visionary spells” thereafter, according to Del Norte newspaper the San Juan Prospector in an article published April 7, 1906.  Shortly before her death, she’d had a lover’s quarrel and decided to end her life. In the century since then, guests report hearing and sometimes seeing her. 

Lodgers recount awakening in the middle of the night to see Maud peering down at them, and one overnight guest reported he awoke to hear her scream.

One of the more unusual features of the hotel lies below the south wing, accessible only from the outside courtyard: an ice cellar. The facility served double duty in the early days as a storage area to keep bodies during the winter, pending the spring thaw while remains awaited proper burial. We found no particular ghostly accounts relating to the cellar, but it certainly adds to the atmosphere!
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 Next week, we share history and ghostly stories for the Hand Hotel in Fairplay, haunted by at least five separate apparitions as well as a ghost dog!.