This 1901 building, referred to as the Main Lodge, originated as a hunting lodge for the burgeoning Elkhorn Lodge guest ranch in Estes Park. Soon after the James family arrived in 1877 and their establishment of a cattle ranch, the family (William and Ella along with children, Homer, Howard, and Eleanor) began boarding tourists for extra cash. They quickly enlarged their ranch house as more summer visitors found Estes Park a preferred vacation spot. The lodge joined other buildings on the several thousand-acre guest ranch including Estes Park’s first school (with one room for the teacher), a small chapel, a large horse barn, and an 1890 casino and coach house.
Construction of the 1901 Main Lodge provided the core of the lodge. Elkhorn’s overwhelming popularity prompted the family to expand the lodge twice creating over twenty guest rooms with six suites. When neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park opened in 1915, the family built additional accommodations in the way of twenty-five one to three-room cabins southeast of the lodge. A large area in front of the lodge gave campers a place to pitch tents. The James family entertained their guests by providing guided hikes, hunting excursions, a trout pond, horseback riding, and outfitting campers for overnight stays in the mountains. One of Colorado’s first golf courses appeared at the guest ranch, along with a swimming pool, and tennis courts.
The James family owned the property until 1959 with continued popularity. Overstuffed chairs and hunting trophies continue to adorn the Main Lodge lobbies, where fireplaces create focal points. Included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, today the Elkhorn Lodge still has 65 acres and over 35 historic buildings, sites, and structures. Colorado Preservation Inc. added the property to its most Endangered Places list in 2010.