December 4, 2011

A visit to Beckwith Ranch

We are fortunate to live in an area that has a rich cultural heritage.  In addition to the Gold Rush boom, our mountain area has seen the likes of Spanish Conquistadors, German colonists, and explorers Zebulon Pike, Kit Carson and John Fremont. A couple of weeks ago, we attended an open house to celebrate the restoration of The Beckwith Ranch (Waverly House), a local ranching icon that had fallen to the wayside over the years.

The 2,300 acre ranch was granted to the Beckwiths in a document signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1874. With their prosperity, they built a magnificent mansion complete with a port cochere.  I had no idea what a port cochere was, so I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, a port cochere is a "coach gate", also called a "carriage porch".  It is the architectural term for a porch or portico-like structure at a main or secondary entrance to a building through which a horse and carriage (or motor vehicle) can pass in order for the occupants to alight under cover, protected from the weather.

The original structure, which has been uncovered during the ranch restoration process, was built of logs about 1869.  By 1880, many additions had been added and the main house was described in the Denver newspaper as “one of Colorado’s Mansions in the hills. We had not seen the house prior to renovations, but we were told it was really a mess.  It looks really lovely now, and I can imagine what a spectacular gathering place it must have been back in the day.

There were so many attendees at the Open House that it was difficult to get photos, but Neal managed to get poses from some of the period characters such as Mr. and Mrs. Beckwith and Annie Oakley.

All the interior walls, floors, and ceilings had been remodeled.  One very interesting characteristic was how the contractor chose to frame around a portion of the old wall paper in the upstairs hallway, preserving a bit of history.  It reminded me of truth windows that are sometimes found in straw bale houses.

There was also a portion of wall downstairs left opened to reveal the copper pipes that were once used.

During our tour to The Beckwith Ranch, we found out that both Beckwith brothers and one Mrs. Beckwith are buried at a local cemetery, just a couple of miles from the original home place.  So, after we left the Open House, we stopped off at the cemetery to see if we could find their graves.  The cemetery is not too heavily populated, so it wasn't very difficult to spot headstones from the early 1900s.

So, whatever became of the Beckwiths and their ranch?  According to their website, the Beckwith Ranch was sold in 1907 to Baker & Biggs of Canon City, Colorado with Elton and Elsie retaining the right to live in Waverly House.  Six months after the sale, Elton Beckwith died in a sanitarium in Pueblo, Colorado from injuries incurred from a fall (jump?) from the second floor of the Beckwith Ranch (Waverly House).  It was rumored that he had contracted syphilis and it had driven him mad!  A likely true story as many prominent and not so prominent men frequented the “bawdy houses” during this straight laced Victorian era.  After Elton’s death, Elsie Beckwith sold all of the property in the Wet Mountain Valley and moved permanently to Denver where she lived in a suite of rooms at the Brown Palace Hotel until she purchased a home.  Elsie died in 1931 and as far as is known, never visited The Wet Mountain Valley again.


cousin Arnetta said...

It sure looks like my visualization of the Old West,
and sounds like a really interesting tour.

Lilla said...

Arnetta, it was a great tour. I could envision lots of great ballroom dances and gatherings on the lawn going on there.