A long, long time ago Leadville, Colorado was home to one of the great wonders in North America but the distinction was short-lived.

15 Million Pounds of Ice and $20,000

With $20,000 and around 15 million pounds of ice, the magnificent Leadville Ice Palace was constructed in 1895 to be the largest such structure on the continent. The residents of Leadville wanted their palace to be three times as large as similar structures that had been built in St. Paul Minnesota and Montreal, Canada.

The goal of the project and the idea of a winter carnival was to make Leadville a tourist destination and draw throngs of people to this high-elevation Colorado town, stimulate the economy, and create jobs. Unfortunately, it was a huge failure.

Leadville Colorado by Boston & Ziegler c1880.png/Public Domain
Leadville Colorado by Boston & Ziegler c1880.png/Public Domain

How the Ice Palace Began In Leadville

One of the leading proponents and financiers of the Leadville Ice Palace was James J. Brown, best known as the husband of the Unsinkable Molly Brown from the Titanic. Brown pledge $500 to the project and helped raise $20,000 for the palace that would sit on three acres.

The wood frame of the palace was 450 long and 350 feet side with walls of ice 22 inches wide. The pillars were said to be "all encased in solid walls of transparent ice - so clear one can almost read through them - and none of the woodwork is visible to the eye."

What Was Inside the Leadville Ice Palace?

Inside the Leadville Ice Palace was a grand ballroom with a floor of grooved Texas pine, a banquet hall, a cloakroom, various exhibits, and rooms where visitors could go to get warm. The main attraction was an ice rink with a surface area of 15,000 square feet, with electric lights that would "sparkle like diamonds."

The carnival would feature famous skaters, hockey, across, curling, and golf matches, ring tournaments, ice bicycles, and other attractions. Outside would be snowshoeing, fireworks, and toboggan parties on the two-mile toboggan slide.

Ice Palace 1896/Public Domain
Ice Palace 1896/Public Domain
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What Went Wrong With the Leadville Ice Palace?

The winter carnival in Leadville attracted some 250,000 visitors, far less than had been hoped for. An early thaw in March brought an end to the carnival. The palace was condemned on March 28, 1896, and was left to melt away. Meanwhile, ice skaters continued to skate in the rink until the ice melted in June.

It had been hoped the winter carnival would be an annual event, with the ice palace being reconstructed each year. Unfortunately, the project was a financial disaster. There was no profit for the investors which doomed any future plans for the carnival or the building of another Leadville Ice Palace. The people of Leadville did all they could to make the event successful, but it just wasn't enough.


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