Helen M. Anderson grew up in a Victorian-style home in Helena, Montana. It informed her lifelong love of Victorian culture, according to her son, Gordon. In 1983, a visit to the McAllister House Museum turned that love into a 22-year passion project: a book, titled Historic Homes of Colorado Springs and Vicinity: A Personal Selection. She spent those years touring and researching some of the most famous historic homes in the area. The book profiles 36 of them, a relatively small selection that nonetheless covers buildings from Briarhurst Manor to Glen Eyrie to the Trianon. Though she passed away in early 2006, the book finally hit shelves in 2014. This year, Gordon will accept the Friends of the Pikes Peak Library District's Golden Quill award on her behalf.
So what was so special about the McAllister House?
"Everything back in those days was done without electric tools — hand tools and pulley-driven tools," says Gordon. "It's amazing, the exquisite woodwork in these public rooms." In the book, Anderson notes details that were hand-carved by Winfield Scott Stratton, who was a carpenter before becoming the richest prospector in Cripple Creek.
Anderson took that same hand-tooled approach to her manuscript. It's formatted like an art book, with Gordon's black-and-white photos taking up a whole page opposite his mother's single-page essays on the history, architecture and current ownership of each home. Gordon says that each of his mother's essays was written and revised on a manual typewriter. Each essay focuses not on gossip about the homes' original owners, but on the architecture they used to impress. She focused on the details of dining rooms, ballrooms and other first-floor spaces. While the various bedrooms certainly have hand-crafted details, Gordon says they weren't built for display, hence his mother's decision to devote less attention to them.
Gordon's contribution to the book took a similar focus. By day, Gordon is a photographer with a background in nature photography. He took the photos for the book with a German-made Linhof 4x5 bellows camera that produces high-detail 4-by-5-inch negatives. Gordon then worked with a Photoshop artist to remove modern details from his shots, from telephone lines to neighboring buildings.
The manuscript was finished one month before Anderson's passing. But she and Gordon had already entrusted the book's future to the Colorado Springs Historic Preservation Alliance, which published the book eight years later.
"She left knowing this would be her legacy," Gordon says.
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