a revival of the annual summer cultural gatherings
by Cathleen Norman
Lucretia Vaile, youngest daughter of a prosperous Denver family, loved the mountains and she loved reading. Her life-long passion for nature, books and art inspired her to leave a legacy to the small town of Palmer Lake.
Lucretia was born in Denver in 1884, the year that the family bought property at Palmer Lake, in the forested foothills between Castle Rock and Colorado Springs. Her father, Joel Frederick Vaile was the law partner of Senator Edward O. Wolcott, and later served as legal counsel for the Denver & Rio Grande railroad and became a national authority on mining and railroad law. Lucretia’s mother, Charlotte, wrote children’s books, penned while the family summered in Palmer Lake in their quaint, slab-sided cabin perched on Highland Street.
The four Vaile children – William, Gertrude, Louis and Lucretia – enjoyed summer-long adventures of hiking, burro riding, fishing in Palmer Lake, sleeping in tents under the pines and “tramping” with pack horses on the trails that thread Rampart Range. “Our view was mostly nature-made,” Lucretia recalled, “open field, the Lake, the Valley of Monument Creek, the Black Forest … approaching rain, vivid rainbows…”
The Vaile family experienced the flowering of the arts in Palmer Lake, 1887 to 1910, when the annual summer Chautauqua brought speakers and lovers of art and music to town. They saw the village flourish as a summer colony, with small rustic cabins scattered in Glen Park and scrambling up the lower mountain slopes.
From September through May, the Vaile family lived in a fashionable Queen Anne style house at 1610 Emerson Street, where the four children went to Emerson Elementary School. Lucretia graduated East High School in 1901, at the dawn of a new century that promised greater opportunities for women and improved social conditions. She and Gertrude went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, a leading educational institution for women. There Lucretia gained an appreciation for art. Located in the art-inspiring Hudson River Valley, Vassar was the first college in the United States to include an art museum in its original design.
Lucretia’s love of mountains, books and art shone throughout her life. She helped found the Colorado Mountain Club in 1912, sitting on the first board of directors. Petite and sophisticated, yet a sturdy mountaineer, Lucretia led the group’s second official hike on June 20, 1912, from Palmer Lake to Woodland Park. In the early years many CMC hikes departed from Palmer Lake, often stopping for tea or an overnight stay at the Vaile family cabin. She later became the CMC historian, and climbed 35 of Colorado’s 14’ers, clad in flannel blouse, knickers and smooth-soled shoes.
Like her mother, Lucretia immersed herself in a world of books. After receiving her degree from Vassar, the young woman studied at the New York Library School. Lucretia came back to Colorado and worked 1914-28 as head reference librarian at the Denver Public Library. She then returned to New York as librarian of the Queensborough Public Library, retiring from that institution in 1946.
Throughout her years as an urban dweller and career woman, Lucretia always tried to summer at Palmer Lake, where she nurtured the cultural heritage of her beloved mountain community. The life-long librarian, spent more time in Palmer Lake after her retirement. When the Vaile family sold their cottage in 1952, Lucretia had a modern house built next door on Highland Street. She helped found the Palmer Lake Historical Society in 1956 and nurtured the town’s Little Art Group.
In 1964, eighty-year-old Lucretia moved to the sunnier climate of La Jolla, California. Four years later, she gifted Cloudview, her modern summer home, to the Little Art Group (today the Palmer Lake Art Group). In 1974, she received the Governor’s Award for Arts and Humanities for her efforts as a civic leader.
Lucretia Vaile died in 1977 in California at age 93. She was buried in Denver’s Fairmont Cemetery in the family plot. She bequeathed $46,000 to Palmer Lake for cultural purposes. This gift, combined with government funds, constructed the Lucretia Vaile Library and Museum that opened in 1983 across from the town hall.
The Palmer Lake Historical Society maintains interesting exhibits about the history of the town and its neighbor, Monument, on the ground floor of the Lucretia Vaile Library and Museum building. Hours: 10:00 to 2:00 on Saturdays year round; 1:00 to 4:00 on Wednesdays in June, July and August. For more information go to www.palmerdividehistory.org