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Tradition is key at historic Estes Park lodge

seven keys lodge
Posted at 5:49 PM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 20:35:12-04

ESTES PARK, Colo. — When visiting the mountains in Colorado, it’s mandatory that if you pack it in, you pack it out. But an old lodge in Estes Park has a claim to fame because of what guests have left behind.

Tucked in front of Twin Sisters in Estes Park sits the Seven Keys Lodge, formerly the Baldpate Inn, which was developed in 1918 in the early days of the Estes Park Valley.

In 2020, new owner Meredith Powell and her family brought the 100-year-old property looking to unlock the potential of the historic inn.

“In the main lodge, we have 12 rooms and then four cabins outside of the main lodge to rent out,” Powell said.

And one tradition that started in the 1920s with famed lawyer Clarence Darrow, who in 1923 left the first key at the inn. The tradition grew with each guest as generations passed.

“From what we were told, it’s the world’s largest key collection,” Powell said. “I haven’t seen it written in the Guinness Book of World Records, but we have well over 20,000 – close to 30,000 – keys that hang from the ceiling and the walls.”

Tradition is key at historic Estes Park lodge

The central piece of decoration here is actually tens of thousands of them: The key to the royal chapel in Westminster Abbey. The key to the first United Airlines mainliner that flew through Denver. The key to the old alarm box that was part of the Great Chicago Fire. Keys to an ocean liner from the 1930s. Keys to submarines, airplanes, and telegraph keys.

And yes – they get asked the question you’re likely thinking: What is the coolest key in the collection?

“One of our most notable keys – we have a key from Hitler’s side table,” Powell said. “So, I know. Not the best character to recognize history, but it’s fascinating. We have a couple keys – one to his side table; one to his home.”

They “key room” is also where the lodge’s bar is located – serving up a smoked version of an Old Fashion that’s aptly named “The Keyhole.”

“It’s amazing how many people over time would leave a key and how many people think it’s a cool thing to be a part of – this Baldpate history,” Powell said.

As is knowing that each piece of metal opened a door, started a vehicle, was a piece of someone else’s life story – at some point in time.

“These are more than just keys, these are part of peoples’ families and their stories. It’s fascinating,” Powell said.

There may be 100 years of history in these walls, but there is plenty more hanging from the ceiling.