Ranch History

Part of the Louisiana Purchase, Highlands Ranch has a rich history. Learn more about our community which is still a working cattle ranch.

Historical Timeline  |  Highlands Ranch Mansion  |  The Ranch

A Modern History of Highlands Ranch - The Last 30 Years

1978: Mission Viejo Company acquires an option on the property now known as Highlands Ranch.

1979: The Board of Douglas County Commissioners approves Planned Community District Zoning for the property, and Mission Viejo Company purchases the property.

1980: Construction of the first phase of Highlands Ranch begins.

1981: The first families move into new homes in Highlands Ranch. The first family was the Phil and Kaye Scott family. The first baby born here is Jennifer Dani.

1982: Northridge Park, Northridge Recreation Center and Northridge Elementary open. The community’s first businesses also open.

1983: Centennial Water & Sanitation District / Highlands Ranch Metropolitan Districts office building opens.

1984: The Convenience Center opens at S. Broadway and Springer Drive.

1985: C-470 opens, providing easier access from Highlands Ranch to the rest of the metro area. Expansion of the Northridge Recreation Center is completed.

1986: Sand Creek Elementary and The Links Golf Course open.

1987: Highlands Ranch Junior / Senior High School opens.

1988: Highlands Ranch’s first fire station – Fire Station No. 17 - opens.

1989: The first RTD park-n-Ride is dedicated.

1990: Bear Canyon Elementary School and Highland Heritage Regional Park open.

1991: Highlands Ranch celebrates its tenth anniversary. The population at this time is nearly 17,000 people. Falcon Park and the Crestridge Pool open. Cresthill Middle School and the Highlands Ranch branch library open.

1992: The Highlands Ranch Regional Post Office and Summit View Elementary School open.

1993: More than 4,000 people are employed in Highlands Ranch in nearly 360 businesses.

1994: Highlands Ranch is recognized as the best-selling, master-planned community in the United States by Arthur Andersen Real Estate Advisory Services. Albertson’s, the community’s first grocery store, opens. The second fire station serving the community – Fire Station No.16 – is completed.

1995: The HighWoods, Highlands Ranch’s newest custom home neighborhood, celebrates its grand opening. Fox Creek and Coyote Creek Elementary Schools open. Cherry Hills Community Church opens.

1996: Groundbreaking is held for Trailblazer Elementary School, Highlands Ranch’s first elementary school built completely from contributions by Highlands Ranch builders. Cougar Run Elementary School and the combined Ranch View Middle School/ThunderRidge High School open. James G. Toepfer Park is dedicated. The library mill levy passes, permitting the construction of a regional branch library in Highlands Ranch. An agreement is signed to convey a county regional park within the Wildcat Mountain Reserve. Safeway celebrates the grand opening of its Safeway Marketplace in Highlands Ranch’s Town Center. Red Rocks Federal Credit Union moves its headquarters to Highlands Ranch.

1997: Shea Homes, a division of the J.F. Shea Company, acquires Mission Viejo Company and Highlands Ranch. Highlands Ranch celebrates its Sweet Sixteen Anniversary. The population at this time is 39,000 people. Construction began on Highlands Ranch Boulevard, (renamed Lucent Boulevard), the fourth interchange that provides access from Highlands Ranch to C-470. Trailblazer Elementary School opens. Construction begins on the community’s second golf course, Highlands Ranch Golf Club. The third outdoor pool facility, Westridge Pool, and second recreation center, Eastridge Recreation Center opens. AMC Highlands Ranch 24 Theaters opens.

1999: Shea Homes/Shea Properties launches the Highlands Ranch Business Park with the construction of the Shea Center. Lucent Technologies announces its decision to move company headquarters to the Highlands Ranch Business Park.

2000: The Highlands Ranch Library celebrates its grand opening.
The Chamber of Commerce of Highlands Ranch is founded.

2000: The 55-acre Redstone Park, the community’s largest park, opens.

2001: Highlands Ranch celebrates its 20th Anniversary. The population is approximately 70,000. The Recreation Center at Westridge opens.

2004: The first businesses open in the Highlands Ranch Town Center.

2005: Civic Green Park opens in the Highlands Ranch Town Center. The Recreation Center at Southridge opens.

2006: Highlands Ranch celebrates its 25th Anniversary! The population is 86,000.

2008: Highlands Ranch celebrates it 90,000 resident.

2011: 30th Anniversary of Highlands Ranch | Population 92,600. With 29,638 homes and 3,305 apartment units.

Highlands Ranch Mansion

Among the most architecturally unique structures in Colorado, the Highlands Ranch Mansion is a true treasure with a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains. The Mansion itself comprises 22,000 square feet and features 14 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, 5 fireplaces, a great room, a ballroom, a dining room, a billiard room, a library, a butler’s pantry and kitchen, a private courtyard, and an elegant staircase. The property functions today very much as it did in the past, as a working cattle and horse ranch.  The Highlands Ranch Mansion, and the land on which it stands, is an area with a rich and colorful history from its many owners. Between the years of 1540 and 1700 the land changed ownership between Spain and France several times. As part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Thomas Jefferson negotiated the land from Napoleon Bonaparte to become part of the United States. The Highlands Ranch land was also once the hunting ground for the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Native Americans.

In 1859, Rufus “Dad” Clark, “The Potato King of Colorado" filed a 160 acre homestead where the current Highlands Ranch Golf Club now stands. In 1871, “Dad” Clark, a philanthropist, auctioned off a crop of potatoes in Denver and sent the proceeds to assist the Chicago fire victims.

The 1860’s brought great changes for this area when David Gregory in 1867, under the Homestead Act, filed for 80 acres and acquired a land grant, becoming the first homesteader to live on Highlands Ranch land.

In 1879 Austrian immigrants, John Welte and his brother-in-law Plaziduo Gassner, began the Big Dry Creek Cheese Ranch. They started the dairy ranch with 21 cows and produced butter and brick and limburger cheese. After the death of Plaziduo in 1883, the ranch continued to grow and be successful.

John W. Springer, a wealthy man with a background in politics, banking, and law moved to the area with his family. Starting in the 1890's, Springer acquired many of the surrounding homesteads to a total 23,200 acres and became the largest landholder in the area. He established the Springer Cross Country Horse and Cattle Ranch and began constructing the castle-like home we know as the Highland Ranch Mansion in 1891, building about 60% of the present structure.

In 1909, five years after the death of his first wife, Springer met and married his second wife, Isabelle Patterson, and named his mansion Castle Isabelle. Isabelle had an addiction to nightlife, drugs, and adventure. In 1911, her extra-marital exploits resulted in a highly publicized murder of an alleged lover at Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel by another one of her alleged lovers.

Following a scandal-ridden divorce and the custody loss of his child from his first wife, Springer sold the Cross Country Horse and Cattle Ranch to his former father-in-law. Springer’s daughter inherited the land, renamed it Sunland Ranch and held the property until 1920 when she sold it to Waite Phillips, who named the land Highland Ranch from 1920-1926.

In 1926, Frank E. Kistler purchased the ranch and with the help of architect J.B. Benedict, Kistler and his wife began extensive renovations to the mansion which included - The west wing in the English Tudor style (shake-shingle roof, gables, and carved wood trims) various fireplaces, hardwood floors, two secret panels and an unusual one-lane bowling alley

In 1937, during the mist of the Great Depression, Kistler had to sell the ranch due to financial difficulties. Lawrence Phipps, Jr., a son of a former Colorado Senator, bought the property for horse and cattle ranching. The property was known as Phipps Ranch from 1937-1976. Between 1937 and up until his death in 1976, Phipps sold some of the original land holdings and acquired the East Ranch and the Cheese Ranch properties, expanding the property to an accumulated 22,009 acres of the present day land. During this time, the property was also headquarters for a prestigious group of horse back hunters known as the Arapahoe Hunt Club. The Club frequently hunted the land for coyotes using bloodhounds.

Marvin Davis purchased the land in 1976 shortly after Phipps death. Davis formed the Highlands Ventures Corporation to market the property, and in 1979, Mission Viejo Co. become the official owners. Mission Viejo Co. began residential construction in 1980 and the first residents, the Phil and Kaye Scott family, moved into Highlands Ranch in September 1981. Shea Homes purchased the property in 1997.

Today the Mansion property still functions as a working cattle and horse ranch. The property includes two cottages, numerous barns, stables, bunkhouse facilities, a carriage house and a windmill.

Highlands Ranch Mansion Web Site

About the Ranch

The ranch encompasses 250 acres. While the main purpose of the ranching operation has been beef production, the ranch also included a dairy operation, which was located in the northern barn. The brick silos connected to the barn provided storage for cattle feed during the winter. The bunkhouse west of the dairy barn afforded lodging for many of the ranch hands who worked on the property. The next barn was used for general maintenance activities within the ranch. The corrals to the south and east of the barns were typically used during the calving and branding operations.

The windmill south of the mansion is the site of the primary well used for the ranching headquarters and mansion. The well is still in operation, however, the pump is now powered by electricity. There were quite a number of wells drilled throughout Highlands Ranch so that water would be available for cattle in each pasture.

The Highlands Ranch Historical Society maintains information on this valuable piece of the community's history. The Metro District of Highlands Ranch owns and manages the property.

Visit the Highlands Ranch Historical Society Web Site for more history on our community  

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