This grand mansion built by early Boulder Mayor James P. Maxwell is a tribute to a bygone era.
Maxwell chose his site well, nonetheless. “He owned 1,600 acres here and he picked this spot to place his house out of all that land,” says Boulder realtor Sel Goldstein. “The good location then is even better now; it’s still serene, despite the Broadway address.” That’s because the home isn’t on Broadway at all, although a long private drive leads from the home to “12th Street,” which is what Broadway was named in Maxwell’s day. Instead, it perches on a knoll above Linden Lake.
Maxwell knew the three rules of real estate even then: location, location, location. His home’s commanding site was close to town, yet removed from the downtown bustle; the perfect headquarters for his ranching and orchard operations.
The house sits above Silver Lake Ditch, formerly Maxwell’s private irrigation canal. He and his partner, George Oliver, built the ditch in 1888 to irrigate Maxwell’s orchards and cattle ranch. The ditch begins a mile up the mouth of Boulder Canyon and travels down through Mt. Sanitas valley, where it turned the semiarid desert land into soil capable of sustaining farming.
That water wizardry is just one mark Maxwell left on Boulder and the state. He also built the first road from Boulder Canyon to Black Hawk mining camps and was instrumental in developing both Mapleton Hill and the town of Steamboat Springs. So influential was he that in 1902 a stretch of Bluff Street was renamed Maxwell Street in his honor.
As for his home, it’s a notable edifice, but not ostentatious—although Maxwell certainly was wealthy enough to make it that way. During construction, an article titled “Another Splendid Home” appeared in the Oct. 3, 1906, Boulder Daily Camera. It reported the following: “Hon. James P. Maxwell hasn’t made much noise over the splendid home he is building on the mesa just north of Newland’s addition, but it will be a fine, substantial home, built on a hill and can’t be hid. The brick walls are now going up rapidly in the hands of Frank Gregg.
“The home will cost between $8,000 and $10,000 and will command a view of pastoral and mountain scenery unsurpassed. A fine stone barn has been completed and from a spring in Two Mile Canyon water is being piped to the new residence. Those who know say that the new Maxwell home will be ideal in point of beauty and comfort.”
Foresight Is Everything
A hundred years later, Maxwell’s mansion (with a price tag that leapt from $10,000 to nearly $4 million) “is really Boulder’s only in-town estate,” Goldstein says, citing the home’s privacy, beauty and spaciousness.
Maxwell lived in the mansion until his death in 1929, just weeks before his 90th birthday. His daughter and son-in-law, Marie and Charles R. Burger, lived in it until 1950. The home’s subsequent owners have preserved much of the home’s original design. The wide-stone veranda, first-floor parlors, second-floor balcony, wainscoted servants’ stairway, gracious 10-foot ceilings, beveled windows, crystal chandeliers, and built-in oak cabinetry and bookcases maintain their original gravitas. Maxwell’s two safes, like those seen in old westerns, still reside in the basement. Painted and inscribed with gold filigree, one reads “Ohio Safe and Lock Co. Philip Garretson, Agt. Denver, Colo.” Today, the vault room serves as a wine cellar that can store up to 1,200 bottles.
“It’s a great house for a family with children” who love alcoves, nooks, multiple stairwells, secret passageways and old-fashioned games of sardines, Goldstein says.
Yet, the home boasts enough changes so that it’s clearly not a monument to the past. In the 1980s, former owner William Urick refashioned the kitchen and dining room in a white, light, bright style. In 1990, current owner Bart Macgillivray opened up the attic to create an open-floor-plan office with lots of windows, skylights, an additional deck and 360-degree views.
The home’s biggest remodel occurred in 1997, with a 2,500-square-foot addition that’s so in keeping with the original house that it may fool the casual visitor—at least from the exterior. The addition includes a second master suite with a steam room, a family/entertainment room off the kitchen, and a new west-facing entryway with quartersawn oak panels. In total, the house now offers seven baths, five bedrooms and 8,433 square feet of living space.
Outside, the grounds are traditional, but not fussy, with sumptuous lawns that beg for croquet parties. The 2.2 acres also host the original stone barn, an ample 1940s brick garage and a combination playhouse/root cellar. The original dirt driveway still exists—a reminder of the days when access to the house was via 12th Street. You can just about skip a stone in Linden Lake, a hidden reservoir tucked between Linden and Wonderland Hill avenues, on a virtually unknown 8.5-acre park (called Maxwell Park, of course). While the grounds have been well cared for, with new sprinklers, stonework and a circular drive, you won’t find modern fountains, koi ponds or xeric gardens.
In fact, the only place where the new millennium is at once apparent is past the mansion’s property line, where the surrounding land has been swallowed up. In Maxwell’s time, the home overlooked orchards and fields; today it oversees a crop of houses. But the Front Range vistas remain as beautiful today as the day Maxwell first scouted his property.
Wendy Underhill lives and writes in a 1930s-era stone house in Boulder. The Maxwell mansion is one of the few places in town she’d be willing to trade for her place.