Highlands Ranch is now model suburban community complete with all the amenities a growing family could want. The schools are great. Trails to wildlife areas, two golf courses, 3 indoor/outdoor recreation centers that rival any athletic club and tons of shopping nearby help make this the top destination for folks relocating to Colorado.
But was Highlands Ranch ever really a ranch. You know, complete with the three C’s known as cows, crops and cowboys?
You betcha. Today Dad Clark Drive runs east and west just below the Interstate C270. It’s named after the founder of what is know know as Highlands Ranch. Dad Rufus Clark filed for a homestead in 1859 in the same location where Highlands Ranch Golf Club now stands. They called him “Potato” because that was his crop. In 1871, he sent the entire proceeds from the sale of his crop to victims of the Chicago fire. He also gave property and money to what is now the University of Denver.
Many people think the old ranch house which has been preserved belonged to Dad Clark. Not so. It wasn’t until 1891 until a newcomer, John Springer, began construction on the ranch. But, he only complete a little more than half of it before his wife passed away and he sold it to his wife’s father, Colonel Hughes in 1913. It was then named Sunshine Ranch and became a working ranch. The original windmill still stands today and is the logo for Highlands Ranch.
The ranch house itself still stands today with 14 bedrooms, 11 baths and over 22,000 square feet. It is owned by the Highlands Ranch Community Association.
The ranch was sold by the Hughes family to Waite Phillips who part of the oil company with same name in 1920. In 1926 the ranch was then sold to Frank Kistler who introduced dairy and breeding cattle to the ranch. In season, a few head of cattle still graze near the odl ranch house and the windmill.
Now here is where the story gets interesting. In 1937 Kistler came on hard times. He had befriended Lawrence Phipps. Kistler has previously invited Phipss to move his Arapahoe Hunt Club to part of the ranch. But, when hard times resulting from the Depression forced Kistler to sell, it was Phipps who bought it. Kestler had bought the property $425,000 11 years earlier. But, he sold it for $250. That’s right, he lost nearly his entire investment.
Phipps had made his money in steel manufacturing and went on to be one of the “leading citizens” in Colorado. He was active in construction, banking and even owned the Denver Broncos. By the way, Phipps sold the 250 acre ranch in 1976 to Marvin Davis for $13 million.
In addition to the ranch there also was also the “The Big Dry Creek Cheese Ranch” located on what is now Highlands Ranch. It was so called because of the dairy cows and cheese production. But, it also produced alfalfa, beets, corn, barley and even local fruit.
Yes, Highlands Ranch really was a ranch. Now, it is 90% built out with homes, shopping centers and office buildings plus a few churches. The remaining phase is going to be devoted to luxury patio homes and custom homes in BackCountry. The old ranch house and windmill are pretty much all that’s left of its heritage…except for coyotes and other wildlife that live in the nearby wildlife refuge and occasionally come to visit their neighbors on Highlands Ranch.