Highlands Ranch History Spotlight: How to Implement a Master Plan

Forty-three years after it was first conceived, Mission Viejo’s dream has come to fruition. With more than 20,000 developed acres, Highlands Ranch is one of the largest planned communities in the United States. Starting with the first completed home in 1981, Highlands Ranch now comprises 35,510 houses with a population of around 100,000.

These figures align almost precisely with Mission Viejo’s 1978 vision of 30,000 homes, a population of 90,000, and two town centers with supermarkets, drug stores, professional offices, and commercial recreation built over a 25- to 30-year period.

After the Mission Viejo Company entered into an agreement to purchase the Highlands Ranch property, the company initiated a three-phase planning program. The program intended “to prepare a plan for a compact, balanced, new town that would be aesthetically pleasing, environmentally and socially responsible and economically viable,” according to Mission Viejo materials found at the archives.

By 1987, the company felt close enough to its goal to declare “Highlands Ranch The Pride of Colorado … No community satisfies both your needs and wants like Highlands Ranch.”

The master plan made realtor Teri Leonard’s job easy as she peddled Highlands Ranch real estate in the 1980s. “Because of the planning and effort that went into building Highlands Ranch, it was hardly any work selling it. Taking families through the recreation center to see what the community had to offer was often all the selling that was needed,” Leonard said.

That satisfaction, the company believed, came from the amenities Highlands Ranch offered, including pools, golf courses, neighborhood schools, community recreation centers, acres of greenbelts, and community events.

The events were central to building the sense of community Mission Viejo desired. Promotional materials advertised the Easter bunny leading children to an Easter egg hunt at Northridge Park, a kids’ bicycle parade on the Fourth of July, kite-flying contests, chili cook-offs, Santa’s workshop, apple pie baking contests, and softball games.

In 1982, the community celebrated its first Highlands Ranch Days, receiving permission from the county commissioners to serve beer at the hoedown from 8 p.m. to midnight. Julie Colby was one of the winners in the first bake-off, creating a Raspberry Layer Pie using Jell-O and cream cheese. At the 1983 Highlands Ranch Days a cheesecake sold for $47 at the live auction.

Ultimately, Mission Viejo’s plan was about more than infrastructure. The company wanted to create in Highlands Ranch a “sense of community,” “intimacy and a sense of true belonging,” “a place where people once again know their neighbors,” and “a feeling that makes the quality of life here very special.”

For those 100,000 citizens in Highlands Ranch today, do you think Mission Viejo’s aspirations were achieved?

To discover more about this topic or items in the archives, please check out the Archives & Local History digital collections or contact archives staff.

Douglas County 4-H Memories

4-H Memories

Douglas County has deep roots in agriculture and livestock raising. With the Douglas County Fair & Rodeo opening on July 31st, let’s take a closer look at one lively aspect of the fair – 4-H.

4-H stands for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. The organization is about as old as the Douglas County Fair (a century). Agricultural university programs nationwide partner to help youth build hands-on skills, responsibility, citizenship, and leadership. Many people associate 4-H with farming and agriculture, but today’s focus goes beyond that to include STEM education.

Footage from the Past

A boy stands with a black cow under the Castle Rock butte. A cowboy on a bucking horse leaves the gate to perform at the Douglas County Fair and Rodeo. A boy uses all his might to tug on his cow's lead at the Douglas County Fair. A 1950s Douglas County High School square dancing team of four boys and four girls poses together in their dancing costumes.
County and state fairs are a hot spot for 4-H programs, in which youths from ages 5 to 18 participate in contests from goat raising and gardening to cake decorating and handmade fashion. Douglas County 4-H even has a rocket contest! Historically, animal contests have been a popular choice. This footage dating to the 1950s and 1960s shows 4-H and Douglas County Fair events, especially livestock contents. You can also get a glimpse of a lasso spinning performance, a school band in the Douglas County Parade, livestock judging, bull-riding, and the Douglas County High School square dancing team.

Champion Dressmaker

Contests in sewing and dress-making and sewing were also front and center in 4-H. Darlee Mikelson won the Colorado State Fair Dress Revue in 1953 and got to travel the Douglas County Fair’s parade in style. These photos to the left show Darlee’s handmade outfit and her moment in the spotlight on the back of a Ford Sunliner convertible during the parade.

Skiing to Victory

Sometime between 1955 and 1960, Frances Bos and Carolyn Stricker were 4-H Dress Revue reserve champions (runners-up). Francis Bos, on the left, made her own skiing outfit! Fitting for a Coloradan. The woman in the middle is Elizabeth Larson, a teacher.

A Cowboy from Down Under

4-H was so popular in the early 1960s that International Farm Youth Exchange Delegate Peter Gill flew in from Spalding, South Australia to mentor Douglas County’s rural youth. He stayed with the Lowell family (Castle Rock), who have deep roots in Douglas County 4-H, and the Higby family (Greenland). By all accounts, he was a fun guy!

Summer Camp

In summertime from at least the 1940s to the 1980s, 4-H clubs sometimes met up at 4-H Club Camp, including at Camp Shady Brook near Deckers. A state camp was also held at Camp Tobin near Pueblo. 4-H members hiked, fished, made crafts, and danced the Conga line!
It was a great way for rural youth with shared interests to meet. Club members attended camp from across the county, and even the state.

Learn more, join 4-H, or visit the Fair!

Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History has plenty more historical records about the Douglas County Fair & Rodeo and 4-H. Our new display in the Archives & Local History reading room showcases some of our most interesting 4-H collections. Come and see it at the Philip S. Miller library through the end of August. Tag us @dclarchivists if you find the Christmas in July cameo!

4-H isn’t just a thing of the past. Youth can still participate today, with lots of county and state scholarships at stake. Enjoy this year’s Douglas County Fair & Rodeo from July 31st to August 8th at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

Highlands Ranch History Spotlight: One Sheep to Rule Them All

A sheep makes an unlikely candidate for ruler of the ranch—unless, of course, that sheep possesses “mental force” and “occult power” granting it dominion over all other beasts. In 1901, just such a magical animal enjoyed retirement on John W. Springer’s Cross Country Horse and Cattle Ranch, at the present-day site of the Highlands Ranch Mansion.

The sheep came from no particularly special breeding, it was just another lamb born on the Continental Land and Cattle Company property in Montana. Springer’s father-in-law, Col. William Hughes, served as president of the business.

Despite her conventional origins, the sheep demonstrated extraordinary powers: identifying sick or hurt animals, discovering unlocked gates, and herding cattle to shelter in the face of upcoming storms.

The Denver Post reported the sheep’s greatest accomplishment in December 1901.1 The hero sheep subdued a bull, nicknamed “Devil” because of his attempts to gore farmhands, by rubbing her nose against his “panting nostrils” and leading him peacefully around the pasture and through the chute.

The sheep’s prowess earned her an early retirement at the Springer ranch in the gentler Colorado climate. The animal’s presence caused a stir in the Denver media, which theorized her supernatural abilities originated from the reincarnated spirit of some great, departed person.

The sheep’s uncanniness continued upon its arrival in Colorado. On the Springer ranch, she developed a special bond with a swine, raising the possibility that the two farm animals’ affinity for each other began in another life.

Before the sheep’s arrival, local dogs bullied, bit, and scared the pig. The sheep’s company established a paranormal circle of protection, preventing further attacks on her friend. As a result, the pig and sheep devoted themselves to each other, eating, sleeping, and roaming the ranch hoof in hoof.

The “sheep with the lost soul now acts the protector of the pig with the meek soul, and together they will go through life seemingly counterbalancing each other,” read an article in the Denver Post on December 29, 1901.

The mysterious sheep is lost after these 1901 records. Perhaps she witnessed the passing of Springer’s wife, Eliza Hughes, in 1904. Maybe, in 1911, she observed as Mr. Springer’s scandalous second marriage ended in a web of adultery, murder, and divorce. Possibly she passed, along with the ranch, into the hands of Col. Hughes and then his granddaughter Annie Clifton Springer.

No matter her final fate, in her lifetime she soothed a devil and befriended a pig—not bad for a sheep.

1 Spiritualism; Topical Files; DCL Archives & Local History, Castle Rock, Colorado