CANON CITY, Colo. (CBS4)- One city in Colorado has strong roots to prisoners. Canon City’s history is embedded in the prisons located in its city limits. Now, residents of the small town hope to preserve its penitentiary past.
“It’s our industry in Fremont County and we’re very proud of it, because they have to go somewhere, so why not here,” said Nancy Larson with the Museum of Colorado Prisons.
One part is in danger of disappearing. The Old Deputy Warden’s House is on the 2011 list of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places.
The state’s lawbreakers have made Canon City a home before Colorado was even a state. The Museum of Colorado Prisons is now located in what used to be the women’s prison. That is right next door to the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility.
“The first inmate arrived next door in 1871 and there are still inmates there today,” said Larson.
Next to the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, on the other side of the stone wall, sits an old victorian home built in 1901.
On the inscription, “Deputy Warden” still shows who used to live there. The home hosted many deputy wardens and their families.
“It was off prison grounds, because the warden himself lived on the grounds, so you have to have someone off the grounds in case of a riot or uprising, that he could go and get help,” said Larson.
“It’s a sad cry from what it was. They used to keep it up well. Used to be some big trees out in front here,” said Marshall.
Former prison guard Dean Marshall remembers many of the families who lived there. He grew up with them as a child and later, working as a prison guard for 20 years.
“The first ones I remember living there were Captain Gentry and his family, and after him, then Mr. Holmes, then Cowperthwaites came in after,” said Marshall.
“That name was on the hill in flowers, all 13 letters and they were big,” said former resident Mike Cowperthwaite. “I lived here for about 12 years in the early 60s and 70s.”
The Cowperthwaites were the last family to live there.
“I was around 13, 14 years old and it was pretty exciting to say the least,” said Cowperthwaite. “The house was a big house. It has a basement and a full upstairs. The living room was large and I remember listening to the radio and Cassius Clay at the time beating Sonny Liston for the world championship in boxing.”
For Cowperthwaite, the fond memories also bring back recollections of some close calls.
“We had a couple of escapes over the wall that I witnessed. In one, my father and another friend tackled a prisoner in the yard before the guards got there,” said Cowperthwaite.
It wasn’t unusual for prisoners to be in the home, because it was staffed with prison labor.
“They would talk to the kids, they weren’t supposed to, but they’d have conversations in passing. And an example of what you shouldn’t be doing, that’s why they were here,” said Cowperthwaite.
Visitors to the home didn’t seem to be phased by the presence of criminals walking around the home or in the yard.
“They got used to it pretty quick. They weren’t afraid being so close to the prison because a lot of them, their parents worked in the prisons anyway,” said Cowperthwaite.
After his family moved out, the Department of Corrections used the house for offices. After a while, the space began to crumble.
“I had a friend who worked there and they used to take care of the building themselves so they wouldn’t have to leave, they enjoyed it so much,” said Larson.
Today the building sits vacant.
“It’s not a priority. The newer facilities are in need of upkeep because they house the inmates,” Larson.
Larson would like to see the house added as part of the museum.
“I know the public would like it. We get a lot of comments during the tourist season, like could they go down and see the house,” said Larson.
For now, all visitors can do is view the house from the sidewalk.