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 Leadville's Crystal Carnival - Ice Palace

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Ice Palace in Leadville, Colorado, 1896

Leadville's Ice Palace, 1896, by William Henry Jackson.

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The Ice Palace was built in just 36 days utilizing 5,000 tons of ice.  The palace held a skating rink, a restaurant, a ball room, a dance floor, gaming rooms and a carousel house.

 

 

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In 1896 a spectacular true Norman ice palace stood on a gleaming, snow-covered rise above the City of Leadville, Colorado. Sitting at the foot of two of Colorado's highest peaks, the ice castle was the largest ice structure ever built. The crystal castle housed a ballroom, a 180 foot skating rink, a curling rink, a restaurant, a dance floor, gaming rooms, a theatre, toboggan runs and a carousel house.

Leadville was born from the fabulous gold strikes in 1860 and for two decades the town thrived with fortunes made from the rich ore of the surrounding mines. But in 1881, some of the largest, richest mines began to play out after years of exploitation. The miners began to leave in search of richer finds, stores and banks failed, and the town was consumed by fires that destroyed the rows of wooden structures. Repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the depression of 1893 further depressed the economy of Leadville and ended the silver era.

In 1893, the Herald Democrat, reviewing the events of the year, expressed: "Those were the days of panic and gloom for Leadville. Ruin and bankruptcy stared every mining man, every smelting man and every businessman in the face.''

 

Prior to the winter of 1895, the desperate townspeople proposed a mammoth ice castle to draw sightseers, create jobs and rescue the town's flagging economy. Anticipating trains full of tourists, the project began by hiring Charles E. Jay, an architect who had designed an ice palace in St. Paul, Minnesota. Tingley S. Wood was hired to build the ice palace and the Leadville Ice Company got the contract to produce the ice.

 

 

Leadville Ice Palace Skating Rink

 

Construction began November 1, 1895 with a crew of 250 men working day and night. Day laborers were paid $2.50 per day and skilled laborers were paid $3.00 per day. The palace was more than 58,000 square feet - 325 x 180 feet, utilizing 180,000 board feet of lumber and 5,000 tons of ice. The palace was supported by a complex frame work of trusses, girders and timber, with the ice for appearance only. The ice was trimmed to size and placed in forms, then sprayed with water, which served as mortar to bind the blocks together. The towers reached 90 feet high by 40 feet wide and the palace encompassed 5 acres of ground.

 

Just 36 days later, the Ice Palace, between Seventh and Eighth Streets on top of Capitol Hill, was opened on January 1, 1896. Visitors from far and wide were amazed by the spectacular castle, with its impressive size, electric lights casting a glow through the translucent walls, and American Beauty roses and 18 inch trout frozen in blocks of clear ice decorating the inside walls. Outside the castle was adorned with gleaming search lights with prismatic colors, and when visitors arrived at night they were awe-struck. 

The Ice Palace was a fairyland come true to the children that visited, who were overwhelmed with the smells of many popcorn machines, the merry-go-round and the skating rink.

 

 

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