Holly Bidle and her former husband Jim Reed fell in love with the house on Mt. Zion Road in Golden the minute they learned about the mine entrance from the houseâ€™s laundry room. Never mind the buildingâ€™s peeling paint, the rusting elevator in the yard, or the creepy trophy mounts that covered the walls of almost every room.
â€œIt had been on the market for about 18 months without getting a single offer,â€ says Bidle (rhymes with â€œriddleâ€), recalling the day in 1990 when she first saw the house. â€œIt was out of our price range and it needed a huge amount of work, which we couldnâ€™t afford and had no time to do ourselves. We were running a business. We had a two-year-old and a four-year-old. It was totally impractical.â€
But it was the only house in the neighborhoodâ€”or anywhere elseâ€”with a back door that opened on a mine tunnel. And that cinched the deal. â€œWe had to have that house,â€ Bidle says, â€œbecause of the mine.â€
Their attraction to the property had nothing to do with the mineâ€™s ores, which were worthless, and everything to do with its history. Built in 1906, the mine was established by the Colorado School of Mines to serve as an instructional facility for mining students. Its purpose, according to a Colorado Transcript article announcing the mineâ€™s construction, was to conduct â€œcritical and comparative studies of processes and machinesâ€ and to â€œsolv[e] problems in mining engineering which the mining companies have neither time nor opportunity to investigate.â€
The mineâ€™s history proved irresistible to Holly and Jim, who were themselves innovators in the field of mining technology. In 1983 they founded RockWare, which developed one of the first commercially viable software packages for geological modeling. By 1990, when they bought the Mt. Zion house, their flagship product (RockWorks) was beginning to emerge as an industry standard for mineral and petroleum exploration.
The couple purchased the property from Louise Rohwer, who had built the home with her husband, Rolfe, in the late 1950s. Rolfe Rohwer â€™50 was a Mines graduate who made his living as a geological engineer. Itâ€™s not clear how he came to purchase the property, nor where he dreamed up the idea to attach a house to the front of the mine. But his unusual abode drew a brief mention in the June 1960 issue of Mines magazine:
Rolf Rohwer, â€™50, is the envy of all Miners, for he can boast of having his own private mine tunnel connected directly to his house. . . . The Rohwers built their home at the entrance of the old school mine which was used by Colorado School of Mines mining students before the Experimental Mine was established in Idaho Springs.
Holly and Jim may have elicited more sympathy than envy when they took possession of the rundown building in 1990. They gradually made the house livable, while fixing up the mine tunnel with new lighting, decorations, and artifact displays, and their two young sons enjoyed the coolest playhouse and hideaway any kids could ask for.
â€œWe had most of their birthday parties back in the mine,â€ Bidle says. â€œTheyâ€™d have all their friends over, weâ€™d lay down a tarp, and theyâ€™d roll out their sleeping bags and sleep overâ€”right there in the mine.â€ Holly also extended an annual invitation to her kidsâ€™ school classes, from kindergarten through high school, for field trips in the mine.
Well lit and just a few hundred feet long, the tunnel was perfectly safe for her children to explore on their own. Bidle can only recall one time when the mine posed any danger, and that was self-inflicted. â€œWhen one of my sons was in high school, he went back there with one of his friends and they tried to set off a Molotov cocktail,â€ she says. â€œLuckily, they didnâ€™t really know what they were doing. It wasnâ€™t much of an explosion.â€
A few years ago, with her boys grown and the house largely vacant, Bidle began renting out spare rooms to Mines students from overseas through a service called Interlink. That led to her decision in 2014 to open her home to tourists. She listed her home on the online booking service Airbnb, becoming the only property in the companyâ€™s vast database that includes a mine tour as an amenity.
â€œWe have a great view, too,â€ says Bidle, standing on her brick deck overlooking Golden and the Clear Creek valley. â€œBut so do lots of places. People donâ€™t stay here because of the view. They like to stay here because of the mine.â€
Bidle personally guides each guest through the mine, eliciting responses that vary from delight to curiosity to mild phobia. She points out the tunnelâ€™s ventilation tube and drainage features; a collection of safety gear (not vintage) that includes hard hats, lanterns, and utility belts; and a wooden beer barrel from the Coors Brewery. Visitors also get a quick primer on early 20th century mining as she points out drill holes, anchor points, and other features of the instructional mine.
Naturally, the tour includes some lessons on the tunnelâ€™s geology. â€œThatâ€™s one of the major things they used to teach the students back in the dayâ€”how to follow a fault,â€ she says. â€œThere are no precious metal veins here, itâ€™s just gneiss. But the principle is the same.â€
Word seems to have gotten around about the unique lodging. Earlier this year, Bidleâ€™s house claimed the top spot among Golden Properties listed in Airbnbâ€™s search engine. â€œPeople come from all over,â€ Bidle says. â€œSome of them are parents of Mines students. Iâ€™ve had people from the Western Slope who are over here on business. Iâ€™ve had hikers staying here. Iâ€™ve had people who are in town for concerts at Red Rocks.â€
Guests from as far away as Denmark and China have booked a stay in Bidleâ€™s home and toured the old instructional mine. Each time she opens the laundry room door to reveal the dark tunnel beyond, she enjoys a brief flash of her own excitement the first time she saw the house back in 1990.
â€œPeopleâ€™s jaws just drop,â€ she says with a smile. â€œTheyâ€™ve never seen anything like it.â€