Click though the timeline below to learn more about the different living history sites at Rock Ledge Ranch
Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site’s story begins with the American Indians. The Ute’s oral tradition says that Colorado is their homeland and they have no migration story. After the Ute people acquired horses from the Spanish around 1630, they became skilled horsemen. In Camp Creek Valley, which today includes Rock Ledge Ranch, provided the Ute a temporary home or base camp where they found abundant water and diverse plant life. The Ute Trail passes through Garden of the Gods and the Ranch site. In the mid-19th century, gold discoveries and further Westward expansion and settlement brought the U.S. government and the Ute into conflict. As a result, the Ute people were removed from this area to reservations in Southwestern Colorado and Utah in the 1870s. At the American Indian Interpretive Area, we interpret the period between 1775-1835. These were good years for the Ute; they had horses with which to travel and hunt, and had little competition for the use of their land. As a result of the abundant natural resources in Colorado and the extensive trade networks that they developed, the American Indian peoples of this area could obtain a wide variety of foods, hides, building materials and manufactured goods. They used these resources to support their families and to honor their cultural traditions. Although many American Indian groups traveled through the Pikes Peak region, we primarily tell the Ute story. Today, many American Indians live, work, and go to school in the Pikes Peak Region, including Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne people.
The Homestead Act was passed by President Lincoln in 1862 and is one of the most impactful laws in American history. It allowed the federal government to sell land from the public domain to individuals, assisting farmers to acquire good land at very low prices. Farming and settlement were restricted because shipment of supplies, equipment, and crops was difficult and expensive until the arrival of the railroad to the Pikes Peak Region in 1871. Walter Galloway, an immigrated U.S. citizen, originally from Scotland, arrived in Colorado Springs sometime in 1867, at age 37. He built the original homestead cabin but could not file for his 160 acre homestead until the land was surveyed- in 1871. He was a day laborer in Colorado City and lived on the property for the next three years. In November 1874, he travelled to Pueblo County Land Office and purchased the 160 acres outright for $200 ($1.25/acre). Right away, he sold the land to Robert Chambers for $1,400. At the Galloway Homestead, we show visitors what the daily routine would have been like for those pre-railroad settlers. Food was cooked over an open fire because stoves were too heavy to transport in a wagon, laundry washed by hand with homemade soap, and gardening was accomplished without the assistance of large farm equipment. Every member of the family had essential work that they were responsible for completing. Children would have spent their little free time learning school lessons and playing with simple, handmade toys.
The Chambers Family
Seeking to improve his wife’s health, Robert Chambers traveled with Elsie and their children, Ben, Eleanor, and Bessie, from Pennsylvania to Denver, by train in 1874. Robert was persuaded by a friend to visit the new community of Colorado Springs along the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. He loved the land he was shown and purchased Walter Galloway’s 160-acre homestead, nestled between Camp Creek and the Garden of the Gods. He paid $1,400 in cash for the property. The Chambers built a house from stone, constructed a reservoir, and dug irrigation ditches to carry water to their crops. Mrs. Chambers named their new home “Rock Ledge Ranch.” Between 1874 and 1900, Robert and Elsie Chambers raised their children Ben, Eleanor and Mary (Bessie died in infancy shortly after their arrival in Colorado) at Rock Ledge Ranch. They were also active members of the growing Colorado Springs community. Mr. Chambers served as school board president. Mrs. Chambers started a school in the Rock Ledge House and was active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The Chambers also found creative ways to increase the output of their farm. They built steam-heated greenhouses adjacent to the house in which they grew vegetables and flowers to sell during the winter. Because of their extensive irrigation system and reservoir, the Chambers developed quite a prosperous fruit orchard and vegetable farm. These are crops which do not grow easily in an arid climate. Some of their produce, along with Mrs. Chamber’s jams and jellies were sold to the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs. The Chambers also earned money by boarding tuberculosis patients on the second floor of their house. In 1900, Robert and Elsie decided to retire to California and sold their property to their Northern neighbor, General William J. Palmer, for $17,000. Rock Ledge Ranch then became a part of the Glen Eyrie Estate. Our interpretation of the Chambers farm and Rock Ledge House focuses on the changes and progress that were seen both in Colorado Springs and at Rock Ledge Ranch at the end of the 19th century. Traveling through time raises the questions: How was life easier for the residents of Colorado Springs after the railroad’s arrival? What challenges did people like the Chambers still face?
Located south of the Rock Ledge House, is the 1890s Blacksmith Shop. During this time in history, blacksmiths spent most of their time repairing commercially manufactured tools and implements. You may see an apprentice hard at work with the master blacksmith. Apprentices typically lived with the family and the only compensation they received was room and board, but most importantly an invaluable education in a trade. You may also see the journeyman blacksmith honing his skills at the forge. The journeyman blacksmith would travel or journey to the shops of master smiths were he would perfect his trade under their guidance, thus giving him the name journeyman. Please stop by the General Store and purchase an item hand-forged here at the Ranch.
In 1900, Colorado Springs’s founder General Palmer, whose own estate, Glen Eyrie, was just North of the Chambers’, began buying additional land in the Camp Creek Valley. He paid the Chambers $17,000 for their 240-acre farm, but most importantly he purchased their water rights to Camp Creek. Palmer rebuilt and expanded the Chambers’ irrigation system that diverted Camp Creek’s water. He also built additional reservoirs. General Palmer did all of this to carry the life-giving water to the many acres of hay fields that he cultivated in the valley. William and Charlotte Sclater In 1906, General Palmer, invited his sister-in-law, Charlotte, and her husband, William, to move to Colorado Springs from their home in Cape Town, South Africa. William Sclater was a well-known British ornithologist, and during his brief stay in Colorado Springs, Palmer encouraged him to write a book on the birds of Colorado. Sclater accomplished the task while directing the natural history museum at Colorado College. Charlotte Sclater, who had previously lived in Colorado Springs as a young woman, spent much of her time caring for General Palmer, who was by this time, paralyzed, as the result of a riding accident in 1906. In 1907, Palmer commissioned the construction of a country estate, called Orchard House, on the Rock Ledge Ranch property expressly for the Sclaters. The house was designed by architect, Thomas MacLaren, who was at the height of his career crafting villas and resort homes for the wealthy new residents of the city. The Orchard House was a modern country home in the Cape Dutch or South African Colonial style valued at $20,000. The interiors were uncluttered and tastefully decorated in Mission and American Colonial styles. The home had the most modern conveniences such as electricity, plumbing, coal heating system, and running water. Mr. & Mrs. Sclater lived in the home until the Palmer’s death in 1909, when they returned to England.
After the death of General Palmer in 1909, Rock Ledge Ranch historic homes were sold as a part of the Glen Eyrie estate. In 1916, a group of Oklahoma businessmen purchased the Glen Eyrie Estate for $150,000, with the hopes to turn the property into a golf resort with luxury homes. By 1917, the United States had entered World War I, and their plans had folded. Alexander Smith Cochran then purchased the property for $450,000 in 1918. Cochran soon found the Glen Eyrie castle was far too expensive to maintain and it fell into disrepair. After Cochran’s death in 1929, the property was left neglected and on the real estate market for another nine years. The economy saw improvements in 1938, and the Texas oilman, George W. Strake, bought Glen Eyrie castle estate for $200,000. Around the same time in the 1940s, the Chambers Ranch, as it had been called, was acquired by the Dent family. In the 1950s, the Vrooman family acquired the Rock Ledge Ranch property. The Orchard House was occupied by the Vrooman family, with additions of a pool house and an outdoor pool, West of the home. The Rock Ledge House was converted into a duplex. The renovations of the buildings around the Ranch included a white coat of paint with green trim, giving the surrounding area the moniker “White House Ranch.” It wasn’t until 1968, when the historic homes were at risk of demolition and the property was going to be subdivided, that El Pomar and the Bemis Foundation joined forces to assist the City of Colorado Springs purchase of the Ranch and land to add to the preserve the area surrounding the Garden of the Gods. In 1993, the preservation of the Rock Ledge House ensued. By 1995, the Ranch name was changed back to ‘Rock Ledge Ranch,’ which was the name that the Chambers family had used to describe their land in the 1880’s. The Ranch underwent a total restoration to honor the mission to: preserve, protect, restore, and maintain the natural and historic integrity of the site. As a living history museum, the Ranch provides a safe, educational and experiential program that interprets the social, agricultural, and economic development of the Pikes Peak region. Visitors can escape from their modern day lives to experience history with all 5 senses and make memories for a lifetime.