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Preserving the Historic Pines Ranch—One of Colorado’s Oldest Summer Resorts
Near the town of Westcliffe, Colorado, at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, lies the Historic Pines Ranch, a staple of the Wet Mountain Valley for over 130 years. Originally known as “The Pines,” the area was settled by English and Irish immigrants coming to the area for health reasons.
Over its long history, the site has been a summer resort and, later, a dude ranch. Currently, the Historic Pines Ranch Preservation Association manages the ranch. A nonprofit focused on preserving and cultivating the heritage and legacy of the ranch, the organization oversees the site’s preservation and offers visitors—specifically, individuals in the helping and service-oriented professions—a place of respite and the ability to experience the site’s history and natural environment.
As the association’s co-founder, Kyle Schlafer, puts it, “The Historic Pines Ranch has played a unique role in the history of Custer County and Colorado. European immigrants established the area for those seeking a healthy environment for respiratory ailments. They utilized a Dutch Colonial home (built in 1898) as a hotel for a summer resort where guests could restore their health and enjoy the Colorado mountains. Our organization's motto is Save it/Share it. We want to preserve the historical structures, natural environment and stories of the Pines Ranch in order to share this rich history with modern audiences.
“The Pines Ranch has other cabins visitors can stay in currently, but ultimately we'd like the original Dutch Colonial home to be restored and again be used for overnight guests as well as house a museum of the area. Modern visitors may not visit Colorado as much for asthma and TB as in the time the ranch was founded, but rest is needed more than ever before, and it is our desire that the Pines Ranch can be a restful retreat where visitors can learn about history as well as find a sanctuary from the demands of modern life.”
After a tour of the property in the summer of 2019 with State Historical Fund and National and State Registers staff from History Colorado, the Schlafer family set in motion the first phase of their plan to preserve the site: the designation and listing of the historic lodge building in the National Register of Historic Places.
Often misunderstood or even seen in a negative light, the designation of a property as historically significant actually brings many benefits—and not just to the owners. As State Historical Fund Survey Specialist Jennifer Deichman explains, “The National Register of Historic Places is an excellent tool for documenting historic properties and sharing with the public how they are significant to our history; it is crucial to historic preservation, as a nomination identifies how a property's physical characteristics convey important historical themes, which, in turn, informs future physical work. Beyond the recognition it provides, historic designation supplies opportunities for property owners—such as access to tax credits and eligibility for SHF grant projects—and helps move forward preservation efforts.”
Knowing these benefits, the Schlafers went to work, starting the process of applying to the State Historical Fund for a competitive grant to help hire a consultant to research and write a National Register nomination for the lodge. They submitted their application to the Fund on April 1 of this year. After an expedited 30-day review process to provide critical funding to Coloradans during the economic challenges of the current pandemic, the State Historical Fund awarded the Historic Pines Ranch Preservation Association a mini-grant of $3,705 to create a National Register of Historic Places nomination.
This designation grant represents the first project awarded in Custer County since 2013 and is a new project for the State Historical Fund. The nomination will be completed and ready for review by the National and State Register Review Board in January 2021. Once approved by the review board, the nomination then goes to the Keeper of the National Register for listing. The Historic Pines Ranch will be the eleventh site in Custer County to be listed in the National Register.
The beauty of this site cannot be understated, and it’s clear why it became a mecca for so many people looking to enjoy the health benefits of the natural world. The lodge itself is a good example of a Shingle-style residence built in rural Custer County during the late nineteenth century. The effort to nominate it also puts into motion a phased plan to preserve the overall site—actualizing the Schlafers’ vision of the restful, healing qualities of nature for those who serve others, and ensuring that the legacy of the ranch lives on.