Author: joan

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.

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

 

Highlands Ranch History Spotlight: Digging for Treasure Past & Present

Modern-day Highlands Ranch is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, yet the stories of industry, entrepreneurship, and community in the area date back more than a century. Luckily, you only need a smidgen of pioneer spirit and the slightest bit of gumption to discover those history lessons along trails that likely are just a stone’s throw from your own backyard.

During a break in the cold this winter, I embarked on an exploration of the trails around the historic Cheese Ranch in Highlands Ranch. And since every explorer needs a treasure to seek, I aimed to learn more about local history while discovering my first geocache.

Only 100 yards from my parked car, I stood at the base of a towering windmill facing an empty field once covered by buildings belonging to one of Douglas County’s successful dairy farms. Only the windmill, built in 1927, proved salvageable. Standing there, I could imagine the flurry of activities that must have taken place daily at the farm’s bunkhouse, chicken house, outhouse, icehouse, barn, well, main home, cheese factory, and corrals that once stood.1

Johann Welte and his brother-in-law Plaziduo Gassner grew the business from the first seed, relying on Johann’s experience working in cheese factories before he crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1867.2 The two men shared their knowledge with Johann’s son-in-law, Philip Renner, who embraced the family business with his wife, Ida Welte. Years before the community comprising the residences that now surround this modern trail existed, ranchers would drive washtubs filled with beer and pop from farm to farm, helping each other brand cattle, according to the oral history of siblings Rodney Cole and Deborah Cole Hunter.

Today, the informational signs near the windmill are a deep well of factual information that I drank dry before turning my attention to the second part of my treasure hunt. Like any good pioneer, I whipped out my smartphone, pulled up the geocaching app, and followed the blue line pointing me to the Rainbow Bridge. My tennis shoes sank into the muddy mixture of melting snow and bare ground.

As the distance between me and my goal closed from 1 mile to 5 feet, I slipped on a particularly slick patch of ground. Word of advice to modern explorers: Don’t wear your favorite pair of jeans. Five minutes later and with muddy knees, I added my name to the list of geocachers who came before me and placed a couple of ALH stickers inside the silver tin and then headed back to my car.

Connecting the past to the present is difficult. We can only imagine the historical experiences described on a sign. Later at home, I pulled out a plastic-wrapped wedge of Limburger cheese that I bought before my hike—the same kind once produced at the Big Dry Creek Cheese Ranch. Descriptions of this cheese range from pungent and funky to something similar to foot odor. Not exactly the appetizing snack a person craves after a hike in the Colorado sun.

Summoning my pioneer spirit, I popped a slice of that stinky cheese into my mouth and appreciated the connections between myself, the Welte family, the community of ranchers, and the other geocachers—all of us, past and present, who have trekked across Cheese Ranch.

Citations

1 Cheese Ranch Site Survey, 1986, Douglas County Libraries, Archives & Local History, Castle Rock, Colorado.

2 Welte, John, Biography Files S-Z, Douglas County Archives & Local History, Castle Rock, Colorado.