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Unique JeffCo Architecture: The Magical Dunafon Castle


Between Bear Creek and Hwy 73, between Kittredge and Idledale Owner Michael Dunafon


Many residents of the central foothills have heard about a magical, 13,000 square foot, stone castle along Bear Creek, surrounded by Denver Mountain Parks and JeffCo Open Space. The magnificent, 14-room Scottish/English/Irish masterpiece, is built of stone quarried on the property, rests under the steady guard of a gargoyle and dragon. Although it has struggled to survive neglect over the years, thanks to its latest owners, the castle once again sparkles with the enchantment of childhood fairy tales.


Marcus Wright built it on 17 acres from 1929 to 1941. He was a genius who built turrets, battlements, a moat, terrazzo floors, arched doorways, and huge fireplaces. He powered the castle with electricity generated from a waterwheel connected to two hydroelectric plants. The charming interior featured miniature light fixtures shaped like castle towers, metal hardware and doorknobs, and doubled paned, arched windows. He even built a miniature, electric, 18-gauge, railroad that ran through the grounds.


After Wright died in 1953, the castle grounds became a jungle and renters ransacked the interior while it was held in trust. Then, in 1970, new owners William and Tamsin Barnes restored the castle. Unfortunately, the magical place was again abandoned after the Barnes and one of their daughters died in an airline crash in 1999.


In 2004, Michael Dunafon, the Deputy Mayor of Glendale, and Debbie Matthews, a descendant of the original settlers of the entrance of Mount Vernon Canyon (I-70), acquired the castle. The property was again overgrown and in extreme disrepair. Dunafon created a restoration plan based on blueprints, historic photographs, recommendations of professionals, and interviews with surviving members of the Barnes and Wright families. “This was an industrial-size project that required a committed staff,” Dunafon said.


To help with the project, Donafon hired men from Step 13*, a program to rehabilitate homeless alcoholics and addicts. The men sanded, cleaned, and painted. They took out 20 cubic yards of Canada thistle and knapweed, cut 30 cords of wood from overgrown trees, removed 11 feet of silt from the ponds, and restored a 420-foot tunnel to the turbine house. They removed carpet glued to terrazzo floors, repaired leaks, built cabinet replacements in the kitchen, and carefully sifted through 50 years of mud in the power plant to collect any bolts and parts for restoration.


When the restoration was completed, the ground level four-car garage and huge wine cellar were converted to entertainment space that opens to a huge patio and the enchanting grounds of wild flowers and trout ponds fed by Bear Creek. Whether by luck or by the protection of the gargoyle and dragon, this castle, which is now occasionally used for charity benefits to support Step 13 and other unique organizations, must be truly magical. While the surrounding area suffered from extreme heat and drought, the castle grounds were nurtured all summer by rain showers.


*Step 13: A hand up… NOT a hand out

“Handing a dollar to a drunk helps him stay drunk.” Step 13 is one of the most effective programs rehabilitating homeless alcoholics and addicts to get their life back on track. It offers opportunities to build self-respect and industrious self-sufficiency. More than a third of the men who make it through the program stay off the streets forever. 303-295-7837 www.step13.org

— Carole Lomond

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