The Story of John Campion

The Story of John Campion

In the early 1960s, one of Denver’s most celebrated homes sat empty, dark, vandalized and strewn with trash and dead birds. This was the former home of John Campion, mining tycoon and empire builder who was known and revered throughout the state. Born in Canada in 1848, he soon moved with his parents and siblings to California where his father had found work. He was sent back to school at his birthplace, along with his brother, to continue his education. The boys, however, had other ideas, and ran away from school to enlist in the navy. John was accepted, while his brother was rejected and returned to school. When his enlistment was up, he joined his parents in Sacramento and took up the mining trade, at the time of a major mine discovery. He rapidly advanced to management, but very early on found himself in a reversal of fortune and lost practically everything he had made. He packed up his belongings and left for Eureka, Nevada where he developed and sold numerous mining properties, and again was amassing a considerable amount of money. He became a major investor in the Pioche Phoenix silver mine, a venture that brought in an even larger fortune. He soon got news of a carbonate discovery in the Leadville, Colorado area, and was one of the first to invest in and develop those properties.

Campion was also a pioneer in the sugar beet industry along with Charles Boettcher, and became a major investor in the Great Western Sugar Company. He had interests in the Tabor Grand Opera block at 16th and Curtis St., and the Ideal Cement Company, in partnership with Boettcher, who was another enterprising Colorado pioneer. Campion was a principal owner of Leadville Little Jonny mine, a strike that brought untold wealth to others, as well, including J. J. Brown, husband of Margaret “Molly” Brown of Titanic fame. He was a founder of the Museum of Natural History in City Park, now the Museum of Nature and Science, and his donated collection of gold specimens can still be viewed there. Now a man of great personal fortune, Campion made plans to build a mansion befitting a man of his stature. Of course, Denver’s exclusive Capitol Hill was his neighborhood of choice. Built in the early 1890s, the house at 800 Logan St. was a landmark for six decades. Designed in the Italian style of grey stone with a red tile roof, it featured the latest conveniences, including its own powerhouse, adjacent to the mansion.

Campion’s death in 1916 set in motion a chain of events that gave the home the nickname “House of Sorrows.” In 1917 his oldest son, John Jr., who had secretly married a year earlier, lost his wife as she gave birth to their daughter. In 1921, Mrs. Campion’s beloved brother suddenly died. In that same year, Roland Campion, her youngest son, was found dead in bed of heart failure while staying with a schoolmate while on break from Philips Exeter Academy. The shock broke her health and she died less than a year later at the age of 48, leaving her eldest son and two daughters, Helen and Phyllis, to survive her. Very soon afterward, Campion Sr.’s close associate in the Little Jonny mine, J. J. Brown, died unexpectedly. Then Phyllis was stricken with a serious illness and was hospitalized. It was during her recuperation that the only surviving son, John Jr., was killed in an auto accident in October, 1923, at the age of 28, after having been on a duck hunting trip to the family lodge at Twin Lakes, south of Leadville. He was interred in the $50,000 marble and granite family mausoleum at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, finished just months before his death. Phyllis Campion was not told of her brother’s death until after she was fully recovered, and then she fell into a state of severe depression. And that was not the end of the heartbreak. The following year Dr. J. F. Nagle had motored from New York to Denver to announce his engagement to Helen Campion. Running late, he changed places with his chauffeur, stepped on the gas, and lost control of the car and wrecked it. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

A cold gloom hovered over the mansion and the sisters were left with only each other. The house was put on the market and the now-very wealthy sisters set about traveling as an escape from their distress. But it was to shadow the family still. Helen soon met and married Harry Mulvihill, a Denver real estate man. Their wedding was the social event of the 1927 season, and they decided to move back into the mansion on Logan St. together, the house that had been her home since childhood. They lived there until 1941 when they built a new home at 222 Gaylord St. in the country club district for themselves and their three young sons. But all was not happy in the Mulvihill household. The couple separated briefly in 1931 when it became public that Harry Mulvihill was an abusive husband. In May 1942 Helen Mulvihill obtained a restraining order to keep her husband from entering their house, and filed for divorce, charging extreme cruelty.

Harry Mulvihill had packed two suitcases, left the house, and the next day was found slumped in the front seat of his car, 54 miles east of Denver, dead of an accidental drug overdose . Found in the car was a bottle of whiskey, a bottle of sleeping pills and a prescription box of what was believed to be sedative tablets. Harry Mulvihill’s entire estate was less than $4,000.

Helen Campion Mulvihill was married again the following year to George Cook, a childhood friend of Helen’s. She died at the age of 48 in November, 1947, survived not only by her husband, but her children.

The Logan St. house was purchased by Claude K. Boettcher, who lived across the street at 400 E. 8th Ave., and was donated to the American Red Cross. They used the house as its Denver headquarters until moving to south Denver in the early 1960s. The Campion mansion was torn down, under protest from preservationists, in 1963 and replaced with a high rise apartment building, removing one of the last reminders of an illustrious mining career.

Compiled and edited by James Bretz ©2003