A Living History in the Heart of Highlands Ranch
In the heart of Highlands Ranch, abreast almost 50 acres, sits a hidden gem, the Highlands Ranch Mansion & Historic Park. More than 100 years of living history is palpable in this majestic 27,000-square-foot castle, grounds and gardens. The views are also remarkable. From the second story veranda, the visitor experiences the trifecta – Pikes Peak, the Front Range and downtown Denver.
Some of Colorado’s most notable citizens lived on the property and left indelible marks and pieces of yesteryear in their wake. “A historic tour through the Mansion is a tour through Colorado’s growth and history,” stated Susie Appleby, historic programs coordinator for the Mansion.
For decades, it was thought that John Springer was the first owner. In fact, and only in the last 10 years, it was discovered that Samuel A. Long was actually first. In 1884, Long filed a 40-acre homestead and eventually expanded it to 2,000 acres. By 1891, Long built a stone farmhouse and named it “Rotherwood,” after his boyhood home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During the modern rehabilitation of the Mansion, beginning in 2010, “Rotherwood,” “S. Allen Long,” and “1891,” were discovered carved in stone and buried under the façade of the Mansion, proving that history had to be rewritten.
Prominent businessman, lawyer and politician, John Springer, was the second owner. He bought the property in 1897 and renamed it “Springer Cross Country Horse and Cattle Ranch.” Springer transformed the farmhouse into a German castle, adding the turret, large living room and second-story master bedroom suites. He even added an outdoor, one-lane bowling alley. It is to be restored and opened to the public this summer.
In 1913, a former confederate officer from Texas, Colonel William Hughes, was the next owner renaming the property “Sunland Ranch.” Hughes grew the ranch into one of the largest cattle operations in the U.S. at the time.
Waite Phillips, part of the Phillips Petroleum empire, bought the property in 1920. He renamed it “The Phillips Highland Ranch” because he raised Highland Hereford cattle from Scotland.
In 1926, Frank Kistler bought the ranch and remodeled the German castle to an English Tudor manor. He renamed it “The Diamond K.” His wife commissioned the building of the solarium in Art Deco style, popular for the period. The fireplaces, German clock, terrazzo flooring and sconces are original and on display today.
The last owner, Denver businessman Lawrence Phipps, Jr., purchased the property in 1937. Phipps reused Phillips’ “Highland Ranch” moniker except he added the “s” in “Highlands” to name the ranch. This is likely where the city of Highlands Ranch gets its name. Phipps was an avid hunter and established the Arapahoe Hunt Club, headquartered on the ranch, a sport he enjoyed with friends for several decades.
The Mission Viejo Company and Shea Homes managed the Mansion from 1978 to 2010 and then it was conveyed to the Highlands Ranch Metro District with a $10 million endowment. The money was used to rehabilitate the house to modern standards, to include building a “Great Hall” for weddings and other events. Shea withheld 250 acres of the property and currently leases it to a cattle company.
The Mansion is open most days and is free to the public. Some of the community events take place on Mother’s Day, Halloween, and during the holidays. Historical tours are done on Tuesdays and Thursdays and although not required, it is recommended to make an online appointment in advance.
“Our mission at the Mansion is to make it as easy and pleasurable as possible for the public to enjoy our historic building,” added Appleby. For more information, visit highlandsranchmansion.com.
By Hollen Wheeler; courtesy photo