Learning about local history and the Stroehle family
By Jaclyn Morrow
Saturday, September 9th at 2:00 pm, the Stroehle House was open for the semi-annual High Tea. This historic home at 231 Chase Street in Black Hawk has been recently renovated to Victorian times when the home was occupied by the Stroehle family. The home was donated to the Gilpin Historical Society by a cousin of the home’s occupants as requested as a generous gift to be kept as a historical reminder of ways and days now gone. The front two rooms are well preserved and display framed historical photos with 150 year old furnishings. The box-like grand piano came from St. Louis on a stage coach, and the curved glass curio cabinet with cherished collections graced the parlor where 16 guests gathered at four tables with four chairs each. The dining room next to the parlor seated 10 more guests. The food and tea modern were prepared in the kitchen from behind the dining room. The rooms in the rear part of the house are occupied by a residential tenant who cooperates with the living museum experience of the Stroehle House High Teas.
Since the passing of the last Stroehle family member in 2009 and the remodeling completed in 2015, the home has been opened for historical enjoyment. The last few years have developed a tradition of a spring and fall afternoon event of nostalgic tea drinking, keeping traditions remembered, sharing pleasant conversations, and maintaining historical funds sponsored by volunteers with the Gilpin Historical Society. High Society in grand attire held such events in the early mining days when Gilpin County’s Black Hawk, Central City, Nevadaville and other nearby communities flourished as the “richest square mile” in the US. The 2017 Fall High Tea had some participants dressed in the old Victorian fashions, while others dressed in newer attire. Everyone enjoyed the tea and delicious menu served in traditional fashion.
The menu for the High Tea included savory selections, sweets, specialty scones, and beverages. Tea served by ladies in historical attire was poured from elegant china pots into floral decorated cups and saucers. The flavors of tea included PG Tips English Black Tea or Orange Spice Tea. Whipped cream, sugar, honey and lemon were available on each table.
The delicate mini-sandwiches came shaped as tea cups and tea pots. There were puffs in small pastry cups filled with ham and Swiss cheese or Turdy and Cheddar cheese. It was challenging not to ask for more and more of the mini crab cakes with Lemon Chive Aiole.
The sweets came in five varieties: Fig Cakes with Vanilla Sauce, Lemon Brownies, Semi-Sweet Chocolate and Orange Truffle Tartlets, White Chocolate and Toffee Truffle Tartlets, and Italian Wedding Cookies. Picking your favorite was simply a matter of taste.
The specialty scones were the grand finale of the tea, accompanied by bags to take samples home. Vanilla Bean Scones with Devonshire Cream and Apricot Scones with Homemade Palisade Peach Jam were divine!
These scrumptious tidbits were prepared for service by Lolli Hughes, her British co-worker, Pam Johnson, and Margaret Grant. Tea and edibles were served by Margaret, her granddaughter Delanie Grant and Brenna Schembri. Our two youngest servers also told stories of the character they later dressed as representing ladies from Gilpin history. Both girls had also told character stories at the Cemetery Crawl in the Catholic Cemetery in Central City two weeks ago. The infamous coffin maker, Tom Matthews with the Wild Bunch, also told about the bee hive mausoleum in the Catholic Cemetery. These volunteers did an amazing performance to illustrate an essence of history today.
After scones, the 20-plus guests moved outdoors to the canvas covered seating in the lovely side yard green with grass and the stone wall and shed for the kitchen garden. The rain had stopped, however it brought a chill to the air. Drizzles could not dampen the interesting story with clever details of the unique brick bee hive shaped structure in the Catholic Cemetery. This story was told by Tom Matthews as the coffin making undertaker of the late 1800 in Gilpin County. He wore his black hat, black suit with stiff white shirt collar and tie, along with a tape measure around his neck to accurately fit bodies into coffins. He explained the bee hive mausoleum was made by a brick laying son, who had promised to take his mom back to Ireland when she passed. However, it was very expensive and he could not take her just then, so built the bee hive mausoleum to hold her coffin until he could afford passage for them.
Unfortunately, others died before he could move her, and with the difficulty of digging graves in winter, other coffins began to be added. Some of those who passed within two years of the mother included Thomas Johnson, the son’s brother in law, his two daughters, and the son himself passed. Oddly, the coffins did not remain in the places they were set, even though the door was sealed and not unbroken before placing another body in the brick bee hive. The two girl’s lead encased coffins were found standing on end like they were ready to leave, while their dad’s was often leaning against the inside of the structure. Later, when a nearby tree broke and fell on the mausoleum breaking the door, the coffins were moved to other grave yards. The only coffins that seemed to have been moved were those who were not Irish. The locals shipped the two Irish bodies back to Ireland and much relief was found once the bodies were safely placed on a wagon going back to the east coast.
Delanie represented the story of Mary Powers Stapleton. Born in 1847 she was a confident 25 year old who took the long, long trip alone by train from Connecticut. She met Timothy Stapleton in Georgetown, and they married and lived in Central City while he pursued mining. However, her husband soon discovered he did not care for mining, which had become unionized. Meanwhile, she had a hard pregnancy and the daughter born to them did not live long. Later, a second easier pregnancy delivered William in 1876. Sadly, when he was 7 months old, his mother Mary passed away. Her husband Timothy started a new family and moved to Aspen to homestead and grow hay. Those hay fields are now the Aspen Airport. Mary Powers loved to sing so finished her story by singing Amazing Grace.
Brenna represented Mini Epplet Cody, married to James Edward Cody. Her parents raised her, and an older brother and sister in Russell Gulch. She and her sister were very close in size, and wore the same clothing. In 1913 there was a great Gala celebrating the seven minerals mined in the area. Seven young ladies wore gowns representing the color of each of the minerals. Mini was able to wear the gold gown in a parade and festivities celebrating the gold mined in the area. She and her wonderful husband did not have any children in their seven years of marriage. Sadly, after being a pall bearer for a friend who died, within three days James also died of influenza. Mini spent the next 40 years living in Denver with her sister, and she did not remarry. The sisters later moved to Aurora while she worked for the telegraph company. Mini died at 96, recognized by only a three sentence obituary as most who knew her had also passed. She wanted us to know that “life passes quickly, so make the most of it.”
Thrilling details of the Stroehle home and how it happens to welcome guests for tea were told over the delicious edibles and more than a few cups of tea in the parlor last Saturday, by Nancy McDonough Page-Stevens. Nancy’s mother and Matilda Schultheiss Stroehle were first cousins. She knew well the history of the Stroehle family, having lived locally many of the years and graduating high school in Denver about the time that mining was no longer keeping our current community thriving. Matilda (1884-1946) married John Stroehle in 1902. They raised their four children in this home on Chase Street in Black Hawk. George lived seven years, John Clarence lived 35 years, William Frederick lived 32 years, and Marjorie lived one year. As the Black Hawk Historical plaque reads on the door, John and Clarence each served as mayor of Black Hawk, while William served as Gilpin County School Principal. The Stroehle family had many interests in mining, though they supported the industry as boiler makers. On October 27, 1940, both William and Clarence went to see the operations of one of their boilers and had an accident in the bucket that went down inside the mine. Both men died. Clarence was married and had a daughter Billie Jean, who loved her single Uncle William. John Clarence Stroehle’s wife had come from Texas, so she and her daughter Billie Jean returned to her family there when her husband and brother-in-law died. Photos on the wall include the news article of the Stoehle brothers accident, the children, and what is believed to be little Marjorie standing next to a dog sitting up. She may have been the little one who moved the workers tools time and again as they remodeled the Stroehle home. When a median was brought in to understand why there were so many mystical disturbances to the rehabilitation work, the young child said, “I just wanted to sit on that workers lap.”
Billie Jean Stroehle was three years old when her mother moved back to her family in Memphis, Texas. Billie Jean would come to Colorado to visit her grandma, family interests and enjoy life in the mountains. In 1946, Billie Jean’s grandmother, Matilda Stroehle, passed away and blessed her with an inheritance, being the only surviving Stroehle in her branch of the family. She met Marvin Smith in the Memphis, Texas High School. They married and sharing a strong interest in education. They went on to each earn advanced degrees from Texas Tech. They did not have any children. Marvin and Billie Jean Smith spent some time in Australia with off-shore mining. When they returned to Colorado to keep up with family interests, they settled into a smaller home in Apex Valley and a lovely home on Lookout Mountain. Billie Jean endured extended illness complicated by multiple sclerosis and dementia. Marvin was a tall, intelligent southern gentleman. He was Billie Jean’s devoted caregiver as she lost both cognitive and physical abilities, having the mentality of a small child. Marvin continually provided loving care for Billie Jean until he passed in 2006 within weeks of being diagnosed with brain cancer. When he became ill, 2nd cousin, Nancy Page-Stevens assured him that Billie Jean would receive 24/7 care in her Lookout Mountain home. That request was fulfilled, along with others. Billie Jean passed away at the age of 70, 13 months after her husband. Nancy was the conservator for the family and then also the executor of the estate. She was honored to follow their wishes with the help and advice of a small circle of their trusted friends, their attorney and their accountant. So many people cared deeply for both Marvin and Billie. Nancy continually receives thank you notes from scholarship recipients at Texas Tech where they donated millions to a scholarship fund. Billie Jean would say in her southern accent, “We are giving them scholarly inperfectunity.” Billie also bequeathed the Stroehle home to be used for the education of history, although no funds were provided for that. The Gilpin Historical Society was able to take it over and the City of Black Hawk helped arrange for materials and volunteers to restore this historic home in memory of the contributions to the area by the Stroehle family.
All those in attendance of the High Tea at the Stroehle home will remember the values of this family and the care they gave to the community for years to come.