Elizabeth Matthews grew up in Parker and remembers when there wasn't much in the way of living history in Douglas County.
“If we ever wanted to visit a historic site it was the Littleton History Museum,” Matthews said.
In 2000, Schweiger Ranch was annexed into Lone Tree. The ranch was part of the 3,500 acres of RidgeGate and had plans to be preserved.
Four years later, Schweiger Ranch received its own historic landmark status, thanks to the efforts from RidgeGate Investments. It is now one of Lone Tree's most treasured areas, giving patrons a glimpse into the past, a place to escape the big-city bustle and a gathering spot for down-home events like the Fall Festival and Austrian Christmas Market. It has turned into a go-to spot for families and history buffs to get a first-hand look at what life was like in the late-19th century.
Matthews is the board executive director of the Schweiger Ranch Foundation, a foundation made up of developers, archaeologists and a member of the Schweiger family, dedicated to preserving the land and its history, and has been involved in the project since 2006.
“It's exciting to see how it went from buildings almost falling over to something that is functioning as a ranch, with chickens and goats,” Matthews said. “It's a little bit of bright spot and a place where (people) can relax and take a breath, and it takes them down to earth and gives them roots.”
Everything at the ranch, from the color of the wall paint to the type of wood-burning stove the Schweiger family used, is intricately researched to provide the most authentic experience.
Schweiger Ranch is in an almost hidden part of Lone Tree. Just east of I-25, below the interstate a good 100 feet on Havana Street, the ranch is just south of the end-of-line light rail station in RidgeGate, which opened in May.
Keith Simon, excecutive vice president for Coventry, noted the juxtaposing view of the parking structure for the station through a window of the ranch house, viewable from a kitchen stylized to fit 1890s taste, during a Nov. 7 tour of the ranch.
“There you have modern-day parking and rail transit next to the past,” Simon said. “To have the old right next to the new, and people can come here via the rail and schoolkids can come here via the rail. As a planner and a city builder, we just thought there's a lot of opportunity to create something here that's very unique to the community and people don't find very often.”
The city released a sub-area plan for the 38-acre ranch in October, mapping out its future as RidgeGate East sees budding development in the form of Kiewit, an engineering and construction firm, constructing its regional headquarters north of the ranch on the other side of the highway. The plan provides insight into how the ranch will be preserved, specifically the two chunks of land to the north and south of the core area. The eight-acre core area, where the two-story ranch house and barn are located, will remain relatively untouched and maintained for events.
The plan was designed to lay the groundwork of Tall Tales Ranch, a community for people with developmental disabilities. None of the 38 acres will be used for for-profit development.
Schweiger Ranch will eventually be surrounded by residential development. Plans for RidgeGate East mark the area just north of the ranch as the soon-to-be home to Lone Tree's city center. RidgeGate Parkway, the road that provides access to the ranch from the north, is being widened in expectation of it being a main arterial road in Lone Tree, which is already feeling the impacts of rapid growth.
“The Schweiger Ranch is important to the City of Lone Tree as it is its single most important historic resource,” said Jennifer Drybread, planning manager for the City of Lone Tree.
Schweiger Ranch partnered with Tall Tales Ranch and donated the four acres in the northern section. Simon said the addition of Tall Tales will bring Schweiger Ranch “more to life.”
“It's really nice when two nonprofits who are noncompetitive come together and do more together,” Simon said. “Together we can do more than we can by ourselves.”
Susan Mooney, co-founder of Tall Tales Ranch, is sparking a capital fundraising campaign in January to cover its goal of $12 million for the project. She hopes to break ground on the project by 2022.
Coventry donating the land "has really been critical to our mission because rather than having some isolated location, we really are at the heart of RidgeGate and Lone Tree,” Mooney said. The light rail station so close by is a “game changer” for the ranch, Mooney said, because some of those with disabilities — the “ranchers” — will still have access to come and go freely. The ranchers can help with taking care of the animals and give tours of the ranch. A coffee shop will open on-site as well, which will be run by the ranchers.
The idea behind Tall Tales Ranch is to provide a safe, comfortable and independent place to live for ranchers and to educate the public on people with disabilities.
“The most exciting thing about Tall Tales Ranch is there are so many opportunities to bring people together … while providing opportunities for people to work,” Mooney said. “It's really just this great point of connection for the whole community and that's what were really excited about.”
The fate of the southern section of the Schweiger Ranch property is still up in the air. Simon hopes it can be used to expand its use as a historical site by possibly recreating an old schoolhouse — a missing piece of the ranch seen in photos and diary entries, which has since been demolished.
It's all part of the plan, to keep the place as an educational and cultural centerpiece for the city. The ranch is expected to host 6,000 people in 2019.
“If we can build that schoolhouse," Simon said, "it expands our storytelling possibilities for people to learn how people lived 150 years ago.”
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