History

A rich and colorful history of the place we call home!

For many people, the history of Highlands Ranch begins when Mission Viejo Company acquired an option on the property that has become the Highlands Ranch we know today. The truth is Highlands Ranch has a history that is much deeper and more colorful than people could imagine! A history that includes the ‘rugged west’ mentality, royalty, oil tycoons, cattlemen, pioneers, and much more.

Highlands Ranch was once prime hunting grounds for the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute Native Americans. In the mid 1500’s Spain declared the land Spanish territory. That territory was passed back and forth between Spain and France several times between the years 1540 and 1700.

Did you know: Highlands Ranch was part of the Louisiana Purchase?

It wasn’t until 1803, when Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon Bonaparte, that the area we know as Highlands Ranch became part of the United States. The United States essentially paid $15 million dollars for 828,800 square miles of land. That is less than 3 cents per acre!

Did you know: The Highlands Ranch Golf Club was once a 160 acre homestead site of Rufus “Dad” Clark?

Colorado has always been known for its farming and ranching. In the mid 1800’s Colorado farmers were having great success with their potato crops. In 1859 Rufus “Dad” Clark filed the 160 Acre homestead where the Highlands Ranch Golf Club is now located and decided he would grow potatoes as well. His first crop was so successful he quickly became known as the “Potato King.” Dad Clark is ultimately remembered as a philanthropist. He donated land and $500 to a Methodist college that went on to become the University of Denver at University Park.

Did you know: Jewell Park and Overland Park in Denver were acquired by the City of Denver in a purchase from Dad Clark?

David Gregory became the first homesteader to live on Highlands Ranch land. He filed for and received an 80 acre homestead/land grant in 1867. The 1860’s was a time of great change for the entire Colorado Territory not to mention the area we now call Highlands Ranch.

Did you know: A large dairy ranch once stood just north of today’s
Highland Heritage Park

In 1879 Austrian immigrant Johanne Welte and his brother in law Plaziduo Gassner established the Big Dry Creek Cheese Ranch. The Ranch consisted of the main farmhouse, a barn, and many other out buildings. The ranch was most known for its brick and Limburger cheeses. However, Welte also planted fields of alfalfa, corn, barley, beets, and eventually cultivated a 10 acre fruit tree orchard. The ranch continued to grow and be successful despite Gassner’s death in 1883.

The Highlands Ranch Mansion takes shape!

In 1898, John W. Springer, a wealthy man with a background in politics, banking, and law, along with his ailing wife Eliza (daughter of a highly respected cattleman named Colonel William Hughes), moved to the future Highlands Ranch area. Springer quickly became the largest landholder in the area through a series of land acquisitions beginning in the 1890’s. Springer acquired a total of 23,200 acres! It was here John W. Springer established the Springer Cross Country Horse and Cattle Ranch. He also began construction on a large home that is known today as the Highlands Ranch Mansion. Springer built roughly 60% of the mansion as it is known today!

In 1904, Springer’s wife Eliza died. Five years later he married Isabel Patterson, a beautiful, audacious young woman who developed an addiction to nightlife, narcotics, and adventure. While Springer tried desperately to earn his new wife a position among Denver’s high society, and even named his elegant Cross Country Ranch home “Castle Isabelle,” his beloved “Sassy” proved difficult to tame. On May 24, 1911 her extra-marital exploits resulted in the highly publicized murder at Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel, where of one of her alleged lovers was murdered by yet another alleged lover. Humiliated, Springer divorced Isabelle five days later. He sold the Cross Country Ranch to his first father-in-law, Colonel William Hughes, and disappeared from the public eye.

The name Highland Ranch!

When Colonel Hughes died in 1918, the property, which had been renamed Sunland Ranch, passed to his granddaughter, Annie, daughter of John and Eliza Springer. In 1920, Annie sold the ranch to Waite Phillips, an Oklahoma oilman whose brothers founded Phillips Petroleum Company. Phillips christened his new home Highland Ranch, and lived there for six years before selling it to Frank E. Kistler, president of Wolhurst Stock Farms.

Under Kistler’s ownership, the property became known as Diamond K Ranch. Frank Kistler, Mrs. Kistler, and architect JB Benedict began extensive to the mansion including: a west wing in English Tudor style, a one lane bowling alley, hardwood floors, various fireplaces, and more. In 1929 Kistler divorced his wife Florence. When his first wife, Florence, moved out with the Kistler children, daughter Julia, who adored her father, stayed behind. Sadly, Frank Kistler did not return Julia’s devotion and she spent many lonely, sorrowful days weeping in her bedroom at the mansion’s far western wing. The distressed sobs of her ghost are still rumored to drift among the empty mansion’s halls today.

The Great Depression brought about great changes, difficulties, and financial setbacks for Mr. Kistler forcing him to sell the ranch in 1937 to Lawrence Phipps Jr. Phipps was  the son of a former Colorado Senator and he used the property as a working ranch eventually renaming it Highland Ranch. Highland Ranch was also home to a group of hunters known as the Arapaho Hunt Club. The club frequently hunted coyotes on horseback with the help of bloodhounds.

The Highlands Ranch we know!

Shortly after Phipps death in 1976 the land was sold to Marvin Davis. Davis created the Highlands Ventures Corporation to market the property. In 1978 Mission Viejo Company entered into a 2 year option agreement and in 1979 became the official owners of Highlands Ranch. Residential construction began in 1980 and by 1981 the first families were moving into Highlands Ranch. Shea Homes acquired the property in 1997.

Today the Mansion still functions as a working ranch and is open to the public during select days of the year. If you get a chance to see the mansion, I highly recommend it. Who knows, maybe you will hear Julia’s heart-broken sobs!

 

The next time you visit: Highlands Ranch Parks  you will know how some of them got names like: Kistler, Welte, Cheese Ranch Historic Area, Diamond K, and Springer.

 

Did you know: Today the population of Highlands Ranch is 91,300+ with over 29,300 homes and over 3,300 apartments?

Did you know:  It is believed that Union General Kit Carson built his last campfire near Highlands Ranch?

 

Douglas County

Did you know: Douglas County originally stretched from the Rockies to the State of Kansas border?

The pioneer spirit, accompanied by the beauty of the mountains, foothills and plains, is gloriously evident in Douglas County.  In 1861, the Colorado Territorial Session Laws created Douglas County, named after Stephen A. Douglas. Known as the “Little Giant,” Stephen A. Douglas battled his own Democratic Party, as well as the Republican Abraham Lincoln, over issues of slavery, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and popular sovereignty. Douglas County originally stretched from the Rockies to the State of Kansas border?

Today, Douglas County is virtually the geographic center of Colorado.  The County is approximately 844 square miles, 71 square miles of which are permanently protected land through the Douglas County Open Space Program.  Recreational areas include more than 146,000 acres of Pike National Forest, Roxborough State Park, Castlewood Canyon State Park and the Chatfield State Recreation Area.