Looking for a romantic private dinner out? How about brunch? High Tea? Have out of town guests who want to stay somewhere nicer than your futon or want a staycation for yourself? Maybe you got engaged during lockdown and are looking for a beautiful Denver location to get married? The Lumber Baron Inn has something for you.
A Brief History of the Building
The Lumber Baron Inn is one of the oldest buildings in Denver. Old enough, in fact, that it was one of the prominent buildings in the City of Highlands before the area joined Denver (the Highland and West Highland neighborhoods owe their name to the former independent suburb of Denver). Built in 1890 by lumber industry magnate John Mouat and his wife Amelia, it was originally a home for their family. The Mouats were part of a group of Scottish immigrants who were some of the first to settle in the area now known as the Potter Highlands in the 1860s, according to Phil Goodstein’s book “The Lumber Baron Inn: Denver’s Mystery Mansion.” Goodstein is a local historian who has written multiple books on the history of Denver.
Fast forward close to a hundred years and few would expect the building would become a beautiful bed and breakfast. Cut into over 20 apartments, the building’s infrastructure was shot and the house was in foreclosure. It likely would have been torn down if it wasn’t for a 21-year-old North High School teacher who purchased it on April 1st, 1991. Walter Keller and his wife Maureen Coll purchased the dilapidated Mouat Mansion for $80,000 from the bank and began the process of renovating the building that would become the Lumber Baron Inn.
The Lumber Baron Inn
Today, the Lumber Baron Inn is owned and operated by Joel Bryant and his wife Elaine Britten-Bryant who purchased the property in 2016 (also on April 1st). Running the business with a small staff, they handle most of the day to day operations themselves, currently living on-site — “in the dungeon”, Bryant joked about the basement. When COVID cases nationally made hosting guests from across the country too much of a risk, they made the same hard decision as many other small businesses: they shut their doors and waited. Closed for almost five months, they took the time to do more renovations and prepare for their reopening at the beginning of March.
The Lumber Baron Inn is a bed and breakfast with five spacious rooms; they also host special events. Most weeks, that means Saturday and Sunday brunches. With current occupancy limits due to COVID-19, they seat three tables at a time. “There’s room for social distancing; we take that very seriously,” said Elaine Britten-Bryant. Reservations are usually required given the limited seating.
Keeping with the Scottish history, you’ll find offerings like “Hadrian’s Wall” — a savory bread pudding prepared with eggs, house lamb sausage, potatoes, green onions, and cheese. There’s also more modern options like “Mom’s Avocado Sandwich,” which sounds suspiciously like the popular, and often mocked avocado toast, popular in new North Denver brunch spots.
Dinners vary with new offerings each week. Joel Bryant now serves as head chef too. “I’ve been in restaurants my whole life,” he explained. Bryant said he grew up in the neighborhood when it was predominantly Latino and Italian and you’ll find both of those influences in their offerings alongside the Scottish faire.
Most years, they host quirky events like a Titanic themed dinner, where guests dress up and enjoy the same last meal as the passengers on the famous ship. In another month or so, they’ll likely be opening up their garden, a large space behind the house where they host other meals and special events, including weddings. There’s also a ballroom on the 3rd floor.
The rooms themselves are beautifully and uniquely decorated — it’s one of the few bed and breakfasts full of antiques. The “newest” bed is from 1941. Yes — they of course have modern mattresses, showers, and amenities, but the furniture itself is ornate in a way you won’t find many places.
There’s too much about the building and business for a single article; it’s enough to write a book about (as Goldstein proved when he did), but if you’re looking for a little more to whet your appetite there’s a strong supernatural aspect as well. The building has been on nearly every list of haunted buildings in Denver. The new owners have both embraced that history but also not wanted to commercialize it too much, turning down TV shows focused on ghost hunting. Elaine Britten-Bryant herself is a spiritualist who does card reading, spellwork, and said she’s spent a lot of time working on the energy of the building. “The house deserves peace and rest,” she explained. Numerous guests over the years have spoken of mysterious helpful staff who, it turns out, don’t exist and other apparitions. “It’s the sweetest haunting,” Britten-Bryant says of the building’s longtime spiritual residents.
Whether or not you believe in spirits, the house seems to have a will of its own, defying the odds to even exist. The strange coincidence of April Fool’s Day sales, buyers willing to take on a challenging building when demolishing it would have been far easier, and the fact that the business operates under a unique agreement with the city. It’s a bed and breakfast, also offering meals and special events including weddings of up to 150 people…with no parking lot (the entire oversized property is the building and gardens). A new business with that model on that type of property would never make it through the gauntlet of city permitting and community input today. Bryant said city agency staff have always been helpful in helping them keep their unique business model going and they in turn use that ability to keep one of North Denver’s iconic buildings open to the public. Perhaps the spirits have some pull with the city.
If you’re interested in making reservations for a room or meal, visit lumberbaron.com or call (303) 477-8205
If you’re interested in reading more about the building and it’s fascinating history, check out “The Lumber Baron Inn: Denver’s History Mansion” by Phil Goldstein, available at the recently reopened Denver Public Libraries or available at several local bookstores.