There’s something timeless about this photo of a sprawling old mansion, probably somewhere in the West, that made me think this picture could have dated from the late 19th or early 20th century. Actually it was taken in 1982 (some sources say 1962) but the timeless quality is no accident. This is the Highlands Ranch Mansion, one of the great stately homes of the American West, located in Highlands Ranch, Colorado not far from Denver. Though today it is a conference center and locale for weddings and other events, it was, as you might expect from its appearance, once the home of one of the families who became wealthy in the boom era of the West; in fact several such families have lived here over the years.
The history of this house is interesting and convoluted. It began as a simple homestead built in 1891 by farmer Samuel Allan Long, who named it Rotherwood Farm. Pieces of this original structure were incorporated into the building as it grew. In 1897 Long sold Rotherwood to the Springer family, who in 1897 combined it with other nearby lands they owned to create a large cattle ranch. The Springers and Hughes (same family) expanded the old farmhouse and added onto it. By 1926, when the property was owned by oil man Frank Kistler, the house had assumed the massive castle-like shape you see in the above photograph and which it still has today. After various other owners occupied it, the giant ranch house sat virtually empty from 1976, upon the death of its owner Lawrence Phipps, Jr., until the late 2000s, when it was acquired by a metropolitan district devoted to renovating the old treasure and opening it to the public. During this long period of fallowness, Highlands Ranch Mansion was known principally for being one of the locations of the 1978 TV miniseries Centennial, which is–you guessed it–about a series of families who became wealthy in the boom era of the West.
There is something about Western architecture and the development of places like this that’s quintessentially American, and closely tied to the development of the United States as an economic, cultural and political power in world history. Highlands Ranch Mansion is emblematic of many things about American society in the 19th and 20th centuries. Though it’s probably still a few decades away yet, I could see places like this eventually becoming UNESCO sites, assuming they survive. But if they don’t, photos like these will suffice to show us this side of the West, and of America.