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Westcliffe: A True Railroad Town – Beckwith Ranch
64159 Colo. Hwy. 69
Westcliffe, CO 81252
National Register 5/20/1998, 5CR.26
The property is associated with the development of large cattle ranches in south central Colorado during the late 19th century. Elton and Edwin Beckwith were leaders within the ranching and political realms of the Wet Mountain Valley. The expansive main house includes a porte cochere and tower. Associated buildings are representative of vernacular wood frame agricultural outbuildings.
The Beckwith Ranchhouse: Log Cabin to Crown Jewel
Originally published November 2004
Looking at the Beckwith Ranch’s sprawling Victorian main house today, one might suppose its original owners enjoyed lives of luxury and ease. Nothing could be more distant from the truth. The Wet Mountain Valley home’s fifty-foot porte-cochère evokes scenes of well-dressed couples emerging from immaculate Concord coaches for a lawn party while guests sip sun tea on wicker rockers scattered about the covered wrap-around porch. But underneath its fanciful gabled roof, this mansion is nothing more than a simple log cabin furnished with hard work and ambition.
Edwin Beckwith came to Colorado for its healthy climate and stayed for the business opportunity provided by a growing demand for beef from area mining camps such as Rosita and Silver Cliff. In 1869, he drove a herd of Texas cattle to the picturesque valley west of Pueblo with pioneer trailblazer Charles Goodnight. Edwin’s brother Elton abandoned a Philadelphia flour and grain business and joined the new cattle operation sometime during the early 1870s. Together, they built one of Colorado’s largest ranches by focusing on land and herd acquisition while foregoing the construction of a large or comfortable home. U.S. General Land Office records show that the brothers built their first home, a 24 by 22–foot cabin, almost as an afterthought while assembling the first parcels of a Custer County ranching empire that eventually ran 7,000 cattle and 200 horses on more than 60,000 acres.
The brothers built additions to their humble cabin as their fortunes improved. Owning half of all the cattle in Custer County, they were financially stable enough to spend some money on the main house. Sometime in the 1880s—just prior to or during Elton’s term as a state senator—they converted the original one-and-a-half-story log cabin into a two-story house with a stairway tower and drop siding. Next, they added a ballroom and a kitchen wing with a pantry, cooler, and mud area. Finally, they added the wrap-around porch and porte-cochère. In the 1890s, they improved the ranch headquarters by adding a bunk house, servant’s quarters, carriage house, and barns.
All of the changes were complete by 1899. Unfortunately, Edwin died the year before and was not able to enjoy his hard-won golden years. Elton became less involved with the ranch’s day-to-day operations after his brother’s death. According to one source, his own health and financial position deteriorated so much that he felt inclined to take his own life. In 1907, he jumped—so the story goes—from a second-story window of the house that came to symbolize his family’s dramatic rise from obscurity to wealth and notoriety. He died two days later.
After Elton died, the ranch changed hands several times. Recent owners remodeled the home’s interior and covered its wooden siding with stucco, but left it structurally intact. Over time, the buildings fell into disrepair but local residents still recognized them as precious reminders of the region’s ranching heritage. Recognizing the place’s significance, owners Paul and Phyllis Seegers donated a portion of the ranch, including the main house and outbuildings, to a nonprofit group in 1996. The Friends of Beckwith Ranch, led and inspired at that time by Linda Kaufman, agreed to maintain the site as a heritage center and to restore its deteriorated structures.
After listing the ranch in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, the Friends group committed to a multi-year, multi-phase restoration and rehabilitation project supported in part by the State Historical Fund. They started by completing a historic structure assessment that identified and prioritized future work items. The next phase addressed the most pressing problems. Elder hostel volunteers removed the stucco from the mansion, exposing the original siding. Then contractors raised the entire home and built a new foundation underneath. The Friends group also re-roofed the mansion, two guesthouses, and the bunkhouse. Workers repaired the main house’s siding and trim, restored windows, restored the porte-cochere and porch, rebuilt a bathroom, and painted the exterior. The State Historical Fund has contributed a total of $479,342.
The Friends will complete a “finishing and furnishing” study and restore the exteriors of all of the remaining outbuildings. A final phase will restore the main house’s interior. All of the work will be complete within two years.
Today, the Beckwith Ranch looks very much like it did during its best years. Mike Hess, the past president of the Friends of Beckwith Ranch, says that although more work needs to be done in order to open it to the public as a house museum and living history center, it has regained its status as the “crown jewel” of the Wet Mountain Valley.
By Ben Fogelberg, Editor
Westcliffe: a True Railroad Town
(Excerpted from – http://legacy.historycolorado.org/archaeologists/westcliffe-true-railroad-town)
On May 27, 2010, the Westcliffe Denver & Rio Grande Depot was officially listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. A true railroad town, Westcliffe came into being when the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad decided to build the standard gauge line to the land they owned west of Silver Cliff. This combination-style depot — housing the passenger and freight areas, the station office, and station agent residence — operated from 1901-1938. During that time the depot stood as a landmark at the edge of town and served as the gateway for all forms of commerce.
When the railroad closed operations in 1938, the station agent transformed the former depot into a residence and workshop. During this time, the owner changed the look of the building from the classical D&RG yellow and brown to a white with green-trim color scheme. For over half a century, residents and visitors to Westcliffe simply knew this building as a home at the edge of town. In an effort to reclaim and share the town’s railroad heritage, a community group called All Aboard Westcliffe (AAW) created a railroad museum a block away from the depot, hoping one day that they could acquire the former railroad station.
Working with a new owner, AAW prepared the State Register nomination and began a process of discovering the depot’s hidden history. Under layers of vinyl and aluminum siding they found historic windows and wood siding, including wainscoting that encircled the building. After learning that the building was listed on the State Register, they forged ahead with repairing decayed wood and covered the exterior with primer in preparation for a return of the traditional D&RG signature colors.
Their preservation work has helped to spread the word about the building’s State Register status, piqued interest in Westcliffe’s railroad history, and highlighted their efforts to raise funds and purchase the building. Concealed beneath contemporary construction materials, AAW was able to uncover and resurrect a historic building while also creating community and tourist interest in a piece of the past that had been hidden in plain sight. By saving a building, they’ve also saved a powerful part of the story of Westcliffe.
Heather L. Bailey, Ph.D.
State & National Register Historian
(Excerpted from – http://cozine.com/2011-april/the-beckwith-ranch/)
Located A few miles northwest of Westcliffe off Colorado Hwy. 69, the historic Beckwith Ranch has been undergoing restoration by a group of dedicated volunteers in recent years. This spring a new phase of the restoration will begin when work starts on the interior of the main house.
The ranch was first established in 1874 by brothers Edwin and Elton Beckwith, the sons of a wealthy shipbuilder from Maine. In 1869 they, along with Western legend Charles Goodnight, brought cattle up from Texas for Colorado miners. Construction began on the ranch after Elton married Elsie Chapin Davis and had a daughter, Velma. They started with a simple 24 by 22-foot cabin which was added on to over the years and eventually became the foundation for the New England-style Victorian mansion which is the centerpiece of the ranch. During its peak it was considered one of the largest cattle operations in Colorado with over 7,000 head on 3,000 fenced acres. The main house features a fifty-foot porte-cochère to create shelter for arriving coaches as well as a stairway tower and a wrap-around porch. The ranch property included guest cottages, outbuildings, manicured lawns and even a ballroom for formal dances and was completed in 1899, one year after Edwin died.
Elton Beckwith also served one term as a Colorado State Senator and owned a home on Capital Hill in Denver as well. He died in 1907 (it is said he took his own life, possibly due to health and financial issues, by jumping from a second-story window of the house). Elsie Beckwith then sold the ranch and moved to Denver where she passed away in 1931. Elton, Elsie, and Edwin are all buried in the Ula Cemetery located a few miles southwest of the ranch.
In 1996, then-owners Paul and Phyllis Seegers donated three and a half acres of the ranch, including the main house and outbuildings, to the non-profit group, Friends of the Beckwith Ranch who began restoration after listing the ranch in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. The exterior was completed in 2009 at a cost of over $700,000, much of which was needed to raise the entire house off the ground to replace a large portion of the foundation. Most of the restoration funding came from the State Historic Fund with additional funding coming from private donations and grants. The Friends removed stucco, repaired siding and trim, restored windows, rebuilt a bathroom and painted the exterior of the buildings. The mansion was re-roofed, as were the bunkhouse and two guesthouses.
Eight rooms inside the ranch house are scheduled to be restored to 1900s splendor, which is projected to take about a year to complete.
After completion, the Friends hope to make the facility available for events such as wedding receptions, meetings, private parties as well as partnerships with area schools, 4H Clubs and other youth groups. For more info visit: www.beckwithranch.org
– by Mike Rosso