Bold women spearheaded Bill’s Ranch
Masontown Hiking Tour, Saturday, May 14
Museum staff will lead a historic tour of the former mining camp of Masontown, located halfway up Mount Royal. Participants will learn about the history of the area and of mining, while exploring this former community. This is a moderate hike of approximately 2 miles one way, with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet. Wear sturdy hiking shoes and layers, and be prepared for a variety of trail and weather conditions. Go to townoffrisco.com for more information.
On a crisp sunny morning in March, about a dozen people gathered at the elementary school in Frisco to travel through time. Wearing sturdy shoes and warm clothing, participants on the Women of Bill’s Ranch Tour were taken around the town, making stops along the way at several historic homes. The Frisco Historic Park & Museum offered the tour in honor of women’s history month in March, led by Jana Miller.
The history of Bill’s Ranch in general is seeped in interesting trivia, and the women who helped shape the area played a large role in its development.
Jane Thomas was born in Wales in 1853, moving to Georgetown in 1887, where she met and married John Thomas and had three children. Moving to Frisco in the early 1890s, the Thomases bought the Leyner Hotel on Main Street for back taxes of approximately $33, renaming it the Frisco Hotel.
During this time, mines were booming and multiple saloons graced the streets, including one next to the hotel. Jane, a women very small in stature, was known to march into the saloon next door to keep the peace.
It is told that on one cold and snowy night, a man from Masontown, located halfway up Mount Royal, showed up in Frisco in search of a doctor for his pregnant wife who had gone into labor, Miller said. With no doctor to be found, Jane herself trekked through the deep snow to his home, where she delivered the twins.
A pint-sized powerhouse, Jane was considered “Frisco’s Best Loved Lady,” Miller said. Jane was left to run the hotel and her family by herself in 1900, after John passed away. In 1910, due to the Homestead Act, Jane was granted around 145 acres in Frisco.
After a decline in mining, Frisco became a ghost town, and in 1930 had only 18 residents. The Thomas family owned a dairy farm, but without residents to purchase their product, the family realized they wouldn’t be able to survive. Jane’s sons, Bill and Walter, came up with an inventive way to get people to move to town — they offered up free land to those who would come up and build on it within a year, and Bill’s Ranch was formed.
After 32 years of running the Frisco Hotel, Jane sold it to Mrs. Evelyn Mix in 1931. The hotel was dismantled and moved piece by piece to its present location in Bill’s Ranch, and still stands today as The Ophir Lodge. Jane lived on the ranch until her passing in July 1937.
After receiving the general history of Bill’s Ranch, the first stop on the tour was the home of Grace Maddy, which still stands today, and was recently purchased by Miller, the museum coordinator at Frisco Historic Park & Museum. Miller’s adoration with the modest cabin was apparent as she spoke of its previous owners and the few changes that have been made since its original owners.
Born Estella Grace Cook, she married Cleo Maddy in 1924 after finishing college in Kansas, and the pair traveled with the Dexheimer family to Bill’s Ranch to investigate the deal. They decided to build on the property, and their cabin was located right next to the Dexheimer’s along Miner Creek.
Grace purchased a photography studio in Idaho Springs in 1936 after borrowing money from her uncle and ran the shop for 46 years until retiring in 1970 at the age of 73. The Western Photo Shop became a local institution as Grace took photos for the senior class at the high school, as well as commercial work and news photos.
After Grace and Cleo divorced in 1937, it was Grace who kept the Frisco cabin, along with her photo business and their main home in Idaho Springs.
Grace’s niece owned the “Maddy Cook Shack,” also known as the “Pick ‘n’ Shovel Inn” until 1992, and it was only then that plumbing was added in ’93.
“One of my neighbors told me she was invited to the flushing party,” Miller laughed.
The Dexheimer family owned one of the original five cabins. Roberta Fiester, daughter of Reverend Robert Dexheimer, traveled with her family and the Maddys to investigate the Thomas’ too-good-to-be-true deal.
It was Reverend Robert Dexheimer that brought news of the offering at Bill’s Ranch to his congregation, which helped bring others to the Ranch.
Roberta, after completing a college degree, went to seminary school in Naperville, Illinois, with dreams of becoming a missionary in Japan. It was there she met her husband Mark Fiester, although the first time he proposed, Roberta refused, saying God and Japan had to come first. When her trip was canceled due to the Sino-Japanese War, she went back to Mark and asked him to propose again, Miller said.
They married in 1937 and adopted two children, moving to Colorado in 1948.
After returning to Colorado, the family began spending more time at Roberta’s parent’s vacation home in Frisco, and they eventually, in 1949, purchased a lot close-by. Their home was called the Look-Up Lodge due to its views of Peak One, Buffalo, Royal and Wichita mountains, and it still remains today. The Dexheimer home was torn down in 2011 or 2012, Miller said.
In 1965, Mark came to live in Summit full time after taking over at the Father Dyer Church so it wouldn’t close. He served the church on a small salary of only $1,200, using their cabin as parsonage. Roberta, a teacher, continued at a school in Wheat Ridge to help support the family, and the couple had to commute over Loveland Pass for 10 years to see each other.
Roberta is known for the books she wrote after retiring in 1975. She moved to Look-up Lodge permanently at that time and wrote several books about nature, inspired by her surroundings. She passed away only a year after Mark, in 1997, and her children sold the lodge, which still stands today.
The Fiester Preserve, a 6.125-acre conservation easement between the County Commons and Bill’s Ranch, was named after Roberta and Mark.
JUDY DESELLEM ANDERSON
Right before heading to the Ophir Lodge for hot chocolate, the tour stopped at the DeSellem cabin, in its original location in Bill’s Ranch. Chuck DeSellem, a member of Reverend Dexheimer’s church, was also one of the pioneering residents to build a home on Bill’s Ranch, although they didn’t get in on the deal immediately. Chuck DeSellem spent the summer helping to build the Dexheimer cabin, and when Chuck’s father died suddenly, his older sister Mary thought Chuck should have his own cabin. In the summer of 1932, the family negotiated with Bill and bought a plot of land for Chuck to build a small one-room cabin, which still remains in the DeSellem family and in its original location.
Chuck’s daughter, Judy, who grew up vacationing at the cabin, purchased Marie Niemoth’s cabin with her husband Bob Anderson and they eventually donated the cabin to the Frisco Historic Park & Museum, where it remains today.
Judy helped found the Frisco Historical Society and also served on the Bill’s Ranch Neighborhood Association, becoming a vital voice to preserving the history of the area, Miller said. Before moving down to the Denver area to be closer to her daughter after her husband’s passing, she also served as a guide on the Bill’s Ranch Tour, offering personal stories of growing up on the property. She also worked to help maintain the Fiester Preserve with the Summit County Wildlife Council.
Although she currently resides in Denver, her legacy in Frisco lives on, and she was awarded the Summit Senior Citizen of the Year Award in 2015.
Historical information for this story came from the Frisco Historic Park & Museum.
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