PALMER LAKE, Colo. — A mansion that was once home to McPherson College's Rocky Mountain Summer School is up for sale.

The Estemere Estate's history is documented in the book, "A Victorian Mansion in the Rocky Mountains: The Estemere Estate at Palmer Lake," co-authored by its current owner, Roger Ward. The book details how Estemere was built in 1883 by Dr. William Finley Thompson, a dentist who practiced in several cities across the U.S. and in London.

Constructed in the Queen Anne Victorian style, the main house has lathe and plaster walls and high ceilings, several of which have hand-painted borders and murals. It also features seven fireplaces, two master bedrooms, stained-glass windows and glass transoms. The home also has ash hardwood and original pine wood floors, mahogany stair rails and vintage crown moulding. Its third floor has an observatory with stained-glass windows and a celestial painting on the domed ceiling, while the fourth floor opens onto a widow's walk.

In 1890, the Thompsons moved out of Estemere and the property defaulted to an investment company in 1892. It became a place for businessmen traveling through the area to stay for a short time until being purchased in 1897 by Eben Smith.

When McPherson College Professor Harvey Harlow Nininger went to Colorado in the summer of 1921 to collect beetles and rock specimens, he visited Palmer Lake and appreciated its temperate climate.

"As you can imagine, it would be really hot in the 1920s in Kansas in the middle of summer with no air conditioning," Ward said.

Nininger then came up with the idea of setting up a summer school in a place where natural history studies could be pursued in nature, especially by public school teachers who wanted to take

refresher courses.

McPherson College agreed to let Nininger organize the Rocky Mountain Summer School on a trial basis for the summer of 1922.

"The Rocky Mountain Summer School is an extension of McPherson College, which has been established to serve public school teachers and college students who find it desirable to earn credits during the summer months and who at the same time feel the need of recreation such as is offered by the cool and invigorating atmosphere of the Rocky Mountains," a booklet from the college stated. "...Facilities in the form of school buildings and summer cottages are supplied by the village and laboratory and library facilities are transported from McPherson."

Palmer Lake's town records noted in October of 1921 that McPherson College was to be given use of chairs from the town hall for the summer school at no charge.

Nininger, along with McPherson College faculty members B.E. Ebel, Sadie Glucklich, Mary McGaffey, George Boone and Helen Whitaker, taught courses in education, languages, history and natural history during the summer of 1922.

Some students were housed in old YWCA canvas tent "cottages" in Glen Park, with partitioned rooms that included a bed, box, candle and two nails for hanging clothing.

McPherson College students not only attended classes, they also participated in chapel exercises and assemblies, organized story hours for the public on Wednesday evenings and played tennis and croquet. Both boys' and girls' baseball teams were put together to compete against other teams in the area.

The students also went on excursions outside of Palmer Lake to climb Pike's Peak, study birds in the Black Forest, hike to Dome Rock, picnic in Butler Canyon or watch the sunrise at the top of Ben Lomond.

Trips to the Royal Gorge, Phantom Canyon, Seven Falls, Manitou, Cave of the Winds and the Garden of the Gods, along with other locations around Colorado, were also part of Rocky Mountain Summer School's activities.

Rocky Mountain Summer School purchased the Estemere property for $7,500 from the

Smith family in October 1926. It held classes for between 80 and 100 students each session through 1930.

Nininger left McPherson College in 1930 for his a position with the Colorado Museum of Natural History. Without his leadership, and with the Depression causing budget concerns, the Rocky Mountain Summer School program was stopped.

Estemere again became a property rented for short-term camps and visitors. It was sold to Oliver Adams, Clarence Vessey and Rodney Palmer on May 27, 1935, and later became the site for the Pine Crest Methodist camp.

Estemere went on to have several private owners. Ward recalls having special guests from McPherson stopping by to revisit their memories of the Rocky Mountain Summer School. One such former student was Clara Richter Euhus, who wanted to show her sons the home.

"It was really special, the sparkle in her eye as she saw the room she stayed in," Ward said. "She also worked in the kitchen and noted how special it was to have running water there, unlike her home in Kansas."

The six-acre estate, which includes the home and additional garages, cottage, shed and chapel with a campanile, has been renovated and is now listed at $2.5 million. For more information, visit

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