Cherokee Ranch and Castle

History of the Site

Cherokee Ranch is located in Douglas County 20 miles south of Denver in the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, mid-way between Denver and Colorado Springs. It is situated in an absolutely extraordinary setting with a variety of landscape themes across 3,200 acres of open space with exceptional views from several locations on the property of the natural landscape and extensive mountain range. The property boasts numerous examples of outstanding archaeological and historic resources that reflect Colorado & Western History and Heritage including 13th century Indian caves where the Woodland Indians lived for about 100 years, a 1840s mountain man trail used by trappers and traders, mid-1860s homesteads, 1920s farming, and a purebred cattle ranch begun in 1954.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, Cherokee Ranch is a highly significant rural cultural landscape. The National Register district contains 26 contributing buildings, structures and objects and 10 non-contributing resources. The majority of resources represent ranch building construction from 1873 through the 1920s. A few buildings and other structures, associated with the cattle operation, were constructed after 1954. Separated by hilly terrain and pastures, the ranch landscape contains four main historic building group linked by historic roads including the Cherokee Castle (originally Charlford Castle), the Flower Homestead, the John Blunt Homestead, and the Johnson Farm.

Cherokee Castle is the distinct focal point of the property. Designed by prominent Denver architect Burnham F. Hoyt, the Castle was built (1924-1926) as the ranch owner’s residence for Charles Alfred Johnson, a Denver businessman. The Castle appears to be part of the rock formation on which it is grounded; its walls are made of stone quarried on a bluff east of the site. Original in design, the Castle emulates a 15th century Scottish castle and features four towers, turrets, battlements, tall chimneys, gargoyles, copper down spouts, and a Vermont slate gabled roof. The Castle has 24 rooms and a complex and irregular plan. Many interior features are notable such as the eight fireplaces, Portuguese tile, iron window grills, and large stone corbels in the Great Hall. Paintings, furniture, and other accessories are of historical value and on public display. The Castle building group includes the detached garage, picnic house, and guest house. The building is known for its outstanding architectural merit, including the skill of the stonemasons and its highly regarded architect, and recognized for its association with some of Denver’s more prominent individuals.

The other three building groups, the Flower Homestead (Chickamanga) (1880), the Blunt Homestead -Ranch Headquarters (Sunflower Ranch) (Amnicola) (1873) and the Johnson Farm (Wauhatchie) (1925) are also important historically. The Flower Homestead complex contains a one-story homestead house with a side gable roof. It is constructed of local quarry-faced stone laid in random ashlar and contains animal sheds, a series of small connected wood buildings, and a handsome gambrel roofed barn (1925). The Blunt Homestead – Ranch Headquarters (Amnicola), contains a two-storied wood and clapboard main house with a front gambrel roof that was constructed by homesteader John Blunt in 1873. The Blunt Homestead also has two small wood frame house/storehouses (both 1898) and the Alamo and Brazos barns, constructed in the early 1900s by the Blunts. Both barns are wood-framed with lap siding. Lastly, the Johnson Farm (Wauhatchie) contains a one-story wood frame house faced in lap siding and a large wood frame gambrel barn. The design of these buildings represents 1920s rural architectural styles and building types found on Colorado farms of that period. Collectively, these three historic sites represent a variety of types, periods, and methods of construction that each tells their own story of local exploration and settlement, specifically the homesteading and development of early ranching in the 19th century in Douglas County.

Project Description

As a conscious steward of the property, the Cherokee Ranch and Castle Foundation (CRCF) wishes to expand its current public education programming to include historic preservation and reuse of the historic buildings. This project will update historic structure assessments on the Castle and the 3 building groups, create an over-arching Preservation Development Plan for the entire property, and investigate and create construction documents for two critical building deficiencies – the Castle’s roof drainage system and foundation cracking on the south wing. Collectively, these documents will provide the CRCF a solid plan from which to strategically develop its mission-driven educational programming that will better incorporate the historic preservation and environmental stewardship of Cherokee Ranch’s archaeological and historic resources.

Project Support

The project is supported by the Cherokee Ranch and Castle Foundation (supported by the Scientific Cultural Facilities District), the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, the Denver Center Theatre Company, the University of Denver Lamont School of Music, and The Denver Brass, Colorado Preservation, Inc., and the State Historical Fund.

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