Thousands of people zip daily along Interstate 25 past Schweiger Ranch, but in the 1890s, life there was hard and lonely – the only sounds often the lowing of cows and the creak of the windmill, the nearest neighbors at least 20 miles distant.
The historic ranch, owned by the Schweiger Ranch Foundation, likely will open to the public in June, though a specific date has not been set. A team of partners has already spent years on the project. While more work is planned, they are ready to swing open the gate.
The farmhouse and outbuildings have carefully been restored to near turn-of-the-century condition, with reconstruction of corrals and another small building planned as money becomes available. Visitors will peek back to a time when indoor plumbing was a luxury of the rich and urban, breakfast and dinner were as close as the chicken coop and keeping a house warm required feeding wood to an always-hungry stove.
Though the foundation owns the property, RidgeGate Investments donated the 38 acres on which it sits. The spacious, climate-controlled homes in the company’s nearby RidgeGate development are filled with conveniences that would have befuddled ranch dwellers John and Anna Schweiger.
Modern-day notions of love likewise would have confused the two. John was one of three brothers who agreed after their parents’ passing that one must marry. They drew straws, with John drawing the short one.
“He built the house and went out looking for a wife,” said Barbara Darden, an architect with Parker-based Scheuber and Darden Architects, who has helped research and restore the ranch.
John chose the niece of neighboring rancher George Engl, who homesteaded near Castlewood Canyon. The Schweigers raised seven children in the white ranch house.
The family was self-sufficient, raising or growing everything they needed for the family and selling the excess. But that independence came at a cost. Daughter Rose, who kept diaries, recorded that ranch life was hard for the family, especially for her shy, often-ill mother.
Some members of the family lived in the house until the 1950s, and descendants of John and Anna Schweiger live today in Sterling and Golden.
RidgeGate Investments bought the property in 1972, and could have developed the land into home sites or commercial property. But company leaders decided against it, said Darryl Jones, president of the Schweiger Ranch Foundation and a manager for Coventry, RidgeGate’s developer.
“We felt preserving history was the right thing to do,” he said. “We also saw great potential in this being a community asset. We felt it would be a shame to lose that.”
Among the largest donors are the State Historical Fund, City of Lone Tree, Douglas County and the Rampart Range Metropolitan District.
Historic restoration is not a quick or easy process. Darden sent slivers of paint to an analyst to determine the original colors in the house, and then repainted the walls and ceilings in those shades of green and brown. Workers stripped carpet and linoleum from the floor to reveal the original wood, then cleaned and waxed it to glossy perfection. A room added to the side of the house during renovations in the 1950s and 1970s was torn down to again open the back porch to the sun. Walls torn down during those same renovations were reconstructed. A toilet and other modern amenities were removed.
Upstairs, the process was only partially the same. While contractors restored the master bedroom, they also built an apartment for a caretaker who will live there full-time and help visitors learn about the ranch.
Future possibilities include the addition of historic reenactments, such as butter churning; a pump that would allow children to pump water as the ranch’s original residents once did; replica furniture; interpretive signs; a bike trail; picnic tables along Happy Canyon Creek; and a store that could offer visitors applesauce made from ranch orchard apples, cinnamon rolls created from Anna Schweiger’s family recipe and honey taken from the ranch’s beehives.