Dolores Ebner’s road to ruin cuts through the Dakota Ridge hogback southwest of Denver and then veers north past pale limestone and ruddy sandstone slopes covered in Gamble Oak and Ponderosa Pine to an upscale Ken-Caryl Ranch neighborhood. Ebner has been driving this road for nine years now and preservationists should thank her for it.
Ebner’s route—otherwise known as Ken-Caryl Avenue and North Ranch Road—leads to beautiful Bradford Park, which features tennis courts, a playground, a swimming pool, and the ruins of an important pioneer’s home that burned down in 1967. Once listed on Colorado Preservation, Inc.’s Most Endangered Places List, this jumble of collapsing stone walls—known today as the Bradford-Perley House—has been stabilized and preserved as a picturesque reminder of the area’s heritage and as a gathering place for school-age and adult education programs focusing on early Colorado history.
Ebner and other members of the Ken-Caryl Ranch Historical Society convinced the Ken-Caryl Ranch homeowners’ association to make this site’s preservation a priority almost a decade ago. Since then, the association has worked with the historical society, the State Historical Fund, and other groups to save what is left of this fragile chapter of Jefferson County’s story.
The story began when Major Robert Boyles Bradford moved here in 1859 to set up a general merchandise store for the freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell. A full partner in the business, Bradford wanted to establish the area as a commercial and transportation hub for mountain mining districts. To facilitate his vision, he incorporated a company that built a wagon road from the banks of Cherry Creek in Auraria through his homestead in present-day Ken-Caryl Ranch, to the Blue River mines via South Park. The road operated for seven years and was eventually extended to Breckenridge, a town that Bradford helped to establish.
While nurturing these business ventures, Bradford also built a masonry house west of Dakota Ridge. His homestead certificate describes the building as “24 by 30 feet, 2 stories high and an el [an L-shaped addition] 20 by 40 feet, one-and-a-half stories high—board floor and shingle roof, with 12 doors, and 17 windows.” Patterned after a southern mansion, it featured eighteen-inch-thick walls made from locally quarried, hand-cut stones.
According to Ebner’s research, travelers abandoned the Bradford Wagon Road after construction crews built a newer, more direct route to the mines through Turkey Creek Canyon in 1867. Despite this economic misfortune, Bradford remained in the house until his death on December 29, 1876. After his wife died five years later, James Adams Perley purchased the property. Members of his family lived there until 1935, after which the home changed hands many times. A fire destroyed all of the home’s wooden elements in 1967, leaving only a crumbling shell of charred stones.
In 1971, the Johns-Mansville Corporation bought Ken-Caryl Ranch—which includes the Bradford-Perley House—and developed part of it as a residential neighborhood. Several years later, the company reinforced the home’s walls with steel bars, but left permanent stewardship measures to members of the community.
The Ken-Caryl Historical Society began the preservation process in 1997 by nominating the ruins to the State Register of Historic Properties. Then, after preliminary research and architectural assessment work indicated that the site was both significant and threatened by vandalism and weathering, members nominated the ruins to Colorado Preservation, Inc.’s Most Endangered Places List. Listing brought publicity and financial support for further architectural and archaeological investigations as well as sensitive stabilization work. The State Historical Fund, Gates Foundation, Ken-Caryl Ranch Master Association, and other groups and individuals supported the work. Ebner credits the success of these projects to dozens of volunteers and a host of preservation experts, including Chris Wolfe of Building Restoration Specialists, Kris and Tim Hoehn of Hoehn Architects, and Atkinson-Noland and Associates, Inc.