Locals were a bit skeptical last year when native Texans Mark and Meredith Powell purchased the 101-year-old Baldpate Inn in Estes Park, Colorado and began making improvements. By the time they opened for guests June 2 as the Seven Keys Lodge, even mountain oldtimers nodded their approval.
The couple met at Abilene Christian University after Meredith graduated from Lake Highlands High in 1998. Once married, they bought an abandoned dude ranch in Abilene and transformed it into a 30,000-seat music venue. Mark is a country singer and songwriter with 2 Song of the Year awards, 11 Texas Regional Radio top ten singles and one top five music video on CMT. Every March, they host Outlaws and Legends, an award-winning annual Texas country music festival, at the ranch.
Mark didn’t spend much time in Colorado as a kid, but Meredith learned to walk in a tent in the Rocky Mountains. She grew up coming to Estes Park for camping trips with her family, the Garners, and she felt the environment might be perfect for creating a more intimate music setting.
Newlyweds Gordon and Ethel Mace homesteaded in Estes Park and built a classic log cabin in 1917. They later built several small tourist cabins, and in 1920 construction of the Baldpate Inn began. The name came from Seven Keys to Baldpate, a novel and play in which frequent guests were gifted keys to the building. The Maces adopted this practice until World War I, when metal became too valuable. Loyal patrons then began bringing keys to leave at the inn, which now holds more than 30,000 keys in their famous Key Room. Keys from Frankenstein’s castle, Westminster Abbey, Mozart’s wine cellar and the Pentagon now hang from the ceiling along with notes explaining their history. There’s even a master set of keys for LHHS, procured by Spencer Adams around 2005 when the locks were changed and shared during one of his visits to the inn.
Mark and Meredith continue the tradition of receiving keys from guests and hanging them in the Key Room, which they’ve transformed from a kitschy museum to their new tasting room. The best part, they say, is hearing the memories of their owners.
“We had a gentleman whose mother passed away last year, and they had just sold her home. He wanted to leave her old house key,” recalls Meredith. “He took pictures of where it now hangs and had a drink at our bar so he could sit and tell us all about her. It was very sentimental, and we felt honored to be a part of their story. It has been very special to see what people want to leave behind.”
The Powells have made critical upgrades to lodge guest rooms and cabins since purchasing Baldpate from its second owners, the Smith family, but they were careful to keep the simple country feel which has attracted vacationers for more than a century. In addition to families, they draw outdoorsmen and hikers seeking to escape the high-paced summer crowds.
“We are incredibly rustic, which pushes you to relax, disconnect from your electronics and read a book or converse with others. Our beautiful hummingbirds are an attraction, with 10 feeders on the porch drawing people in year after year,” explains Meredith. “We want to keep the feel of the inn’s past, its authenticity, but tighten things up so that we can preserve what remains. I have loved finding things around the inn and underneath it that are from the past, and I’ve tried to display them so that others can enjoy. I have also enlarged on canvas photos from the past that highlight the inn and the Mace family.”
Over the weekend, Mark hosted “Songwriter’s Show” at the lodge, performing with Grammy-nominated country music artist David Lee. He envisions monthly events each summer, with artists taking time to share the backstories behind the music they create.
“We want to do some intimate, living room-style concerts, and maybe use the amphitheater for some shows,” Mark told Everyday Estes. “People seem to love the history behind the songs.”
The couple is also finding more opportunities for guests to relax and linger over a meal or a drink. The tasting room offers craft cocktails, honey-smoked salmon and charcuterie boards, and chef-inspired weekends are in the works for August.
Every new venture needs a hard-working crew, and the Powells say Seven Keys is an “all hands on deck” family operation. Sixteen-year-old Ella, fourteen-year-old Hayden and twelve-year-old Macy pitch in each day making beds, scrubbing potties, doing laundry and serving food.
Despite their hard work and financial investment, the Powells know patrons are drawn to elements which cannot be bought or built.
“I’m not sure how you could come here and not appreciate the beautiful views from our huge front porch,” says Meredith. “Guests are often found on the porch which overlooks Estes Valley below. At 9,000 feet we have quite the view of town and Estes Lake. Our backyard is the Crags and Twin Sisters Trailhead. If you want to get outdoors and explore then come back to a piece of history where you are treated like family, then Seven Keys Lodge is the place for you.”