When Susie Appleby grows tired of sitting at her desk, she wanders down a carpeted grand staircase and peers out the window of athick wooden door embellished with floral carvings and dark metalwork. She overlooks a spacious green lawn with a …
When Susie Appleby grows tired of sitting at her desk, she wanders down a carpeted grand staircase and peers out the window of athick wooden door embellished with floral carvings and dark metalwork. She overlooks a spacious green lawn with a backdrop of the mountain range.
“I know that every owner did the same thing,” said Appleby, 50, a historian. “They looked out that window and saw the same view.”
Ten owners, several renovations and countless stories later, that property, known as the Highlands Ranch Mansion, brings a lifetime of history to a community that is merely 30 years old.
What baffles staff of the Mansion, which is now used for public tours and events, is that many people are unaware of its existence. The historic property sets Highlands Ranch apart from other suburban subdivisons, said volunteer Todd Noreen.
“People get excited about history,” said Noreen, 66, “and this gem is in our backyard.”
Today, the Mansion attracts everyone from national and international visitors to elementary students looking for a lesson in history.
Lined with stone and brick, the castle-like building sits on a hilltop just below the iconic windmill, east of Gateway Drive betweenSouth Broadway and East Wildcat Reserve Parkway, surrounded by suburban neighborhoods and acres of a working cattle ranch.
Archives, newspaper clips, photographs, books and accounts of relatives have helped shape the story of the 126-year-old building that once belonged to oil tycoons, cattle barons, Denver socialites, politicians and businessmen.
“They all shaped Colorado in some way,” said Appleby, the Mansion’s administrative assistant and volunteer coordinator. “We had very influential people that spent time here.”
The Ranch’s early days
Imagine life before 16 square miles of suburban homes, schools, businesses and nearly 100,000 people. Before Town Center, a landmark of the community denoted by the stately clock tower. Before four recreation centers and dozens of parks and trails.
Highlands Ranch was nothing but vast open land.
Until one of the country’s first petroleum refiners, Samuel Allen Long, became interested in a 40-acre homestead.
Before moving to Denver from Pennsylvania in 1880, Long served on the board of directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He would later become involved in coal and gold mining, raising livestock, farming and politics and profiting off real estate.
The Mansion came to be in 1891, when Long built a farmhouse on his property atop the hill that sits north of what is now Mountain Vista High School. He named it Rotherwood, after a childhood farm. To this day, the name is faintly carved in white stone above the front entrance of the Mansion.
The next owner, businessman and politician John Springer, remodeled the small house and named it Castle Isabel after his second wife, who would often be left on the property when he traveled for work. Springer was active in the city of Denver and unsuccessfully campaigned for the mayor of Denver in 1904.
Following a scandal involving his wife and a love triangle with two other men, Springer sold the property to his first father-in-law, Col. William Hughes, and disappeared from the public eye, documents say.
Hughes, a cattleman and one of Colorado’s wealthiest men at the time of this death, operated the property as a working cattle ranch until his granddaughter inherited the property and sold it to oil tycoon Waite Phillips in 1920. Phillips renamed the property Phillips Highland Ranch after the type of cowsHighland Hereford he raised.
Next, the Mansion would be home to another oil tycoon by the name of Frank Kistler, who remodeled the Mansion to its current size and style.
Earlier this year, a relative of Kistler’s shipped a large, worn leather trunk found in the basement of an east coast home to Appleby. On it read “Diamond K,” which is what Kistler named the ranch, and inside was a white lace dress.
“It’s like it was returning home,” Appleby said. “It went on this long journey and now it is back.”
The mansion then became hometo Lawrence Phipps, Jr., son of a former United States senator and founder of Mountain States Telephone Co., which is now Century Link, who renamed the property Highlands Ranch, and to Marvin Davis, who eventually sold the 22,000-square-foot Mansion to Mission Viejo Co., the developer of the master-planned community that exists today.
The Mansion today
Today, the 27,000-square-feet building has 14 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a sandstone patio, a ballroom and renovated stone on the exterior. A few rooms, a narrow staircase, a chimney and the 18th century stone that covers the left side of the building are among many features that remain the same.
Downstairs sits a large antique clock. Vintage carpets cover the floors. There are leather couches, crystal and candle chandeliers, arched wooden doors. A step into the dimly lit building takes visitors into a past era.
Shea Homes donated the Mansion to the Highlands Ranch Metro District in 2010. A $6 million rennovation to the building started the following year, ultimately allowing the space to be toured by the public and used for private events, including weddings and corporate parties.
About 50 individuals, ages 60 through late 80s and from all walks of life, volunteer at the Mansion. They spend a couple of hours one or two days a week greeting guests or guiding tours during public hours. The opportunity is a means to socialize and learn.
“I love the expression of people when they see this place,” volunteer Martha Baker, 68, said. “And the children — I love to see the children and hear their remarks.”
Appleby, who lives in Highlands Ranch with her family, spends her days upstairs in what is now an administrative office. She describes the Mansion as a jigsaw puzzle. Though much of its history is known, some features remain unclear, like who built the rooms in the back of the building.
“There is still so much that we are learning,” Appleby said. “There are still a lot of mysteries here.”