Frisco acquires historic 1930s cabin from Bill’s Ranch
The town will put together a Historic Resources Plan next year to guide preservation efforts for historic properties
Frisco has a new historic property in its possession: a cabin believed to be built in 1932 by Bill Thomas, the namesake for the community that would later form into the Bill’s Ranch neighborhood near the southern tip of Frisco.
The Frisco Town Council agreed to take on the cabin during a regular work session meeting Tuesday, April 13, after a detailed presentation on the cabin’s past from Frisco Historic Park & Museum Manager Rose Gorrell. The cabin’s owner, community member Craig Mansfield, approached the town earlier this year saying that he had other plans for his property, and he would like to see the cabin gifted to the town for historic preservation in lieu of its demolition.
“I don’t want to see those logs dragged off to a dump,” Mansfield said at the meeting. “… Put this in your historical archives, use it, and it will just make me smile, our families smile.”
Gorrell said very little was known about the cabin when they were first approached about the project, and she and her team have been working over the past few months to dig up as much information as possible to help contextualize its significance in the town’s history.
“As far as we can tell, this cabin has not been researched before,” Gorrell said. “We were not able to find any written records, so everything we did for this report is fresh. … The cabin we’re talking about today is located within Bill’s Ranch, and that particular neighborhood has this really strong connection to Frisco’s history because it is, to be blunt, the savior of Frisco.”
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The Thomas family moved from Georgetown to Frisco in 1887, where they promptly purchased the Leyner Hotel on Main Street. John Thomas, the family’s patriarch, died shortly after the move and left the operations of the hotel primarily to his wife, Jane, according to Gorrell. In 1910, Jane acquired 145 acres of local land through the Homestead Act, where she would open a dairy farm with her three children: Walter, Nellie and William, or “Bill.”
By 1930, the local mining industry had faded, and Frisco’s population dwindled to just 18 residents.
“That created a big problem for the Thomas family,” Gorrell said. “They had all this dairy milk, they had this dairy ranch, but they had no market. They had no way of getting this product to a better space to sell it. So they sat down, and they brainstormed, and they came up with kind of a crazy idea.”
The idea was sending out a “Mr. Man” letter — what Gorrell described as a 1930s equivalent of a cold call — to 100 socialites in the Denver area offering land on which to build cabins. Five families immediately took them up on the offer and created a small community of summer cabins that today has become known as the Bill’s Ranch neighborhood.
Gorrell said the cabin was one of several erected in the area over the following years, with a construction date recorded in 1932. Based on the cabin’s proximity to historic outbuildings — including an icehouse and milk house — along with an archived letter detailing Bill Thomas’ work around the area, Gorrell said she believed Bill himself built the cabin. The cabin’s architecture and materials also closely mirror other structures in the area, including Bill’s Ranch House, which is currently displayed at the Frisco Historic Park.
“You can see the same type of architecture, the same type of vertical logs, the same type of vertical post for the corner and even the same kind of window shape — the same space and the same feeling,” Gorrell said. “So we felt pretty confident in saying that this was a 1930s cabin built by Bill Thomas, and it was likely used for rentals or for some other entertainment.”
Gorrell said there were records of the cabin’s first sale in 1941 to the Hatzis family, which still runs the Columbine Cafe near the Coors Brewing Co. factory in Golden. The property changed hands a couple more times before being purchased by Mansfield in 1982.
With regard to the cabin’s historical significance, Gorrell said it was important to demonstrate the Thomas family’s efforts to establish and expand the summer cabin community in Frisco.
“We know that this community drew people from all over the Front Range, and we know that some of these people made Frisco their heart home,” Gorrell said. “Whether they were full-time residents, whether they stayed part time or even casually, this became a very special place for those people.”
The cabin will be disassembled and placed in storage, likely at the Frisco Adventure Park’s boneyard. Mansfield’s donation includes $5,000 to help fund the cabin’s move, though the disassembly and storage of the cabin could end up costing the town up to $30,000, and additional funds will be required when the cabin is ultimately rebuilt at its permanent location, which hasn’t been determined.
The Town Council was split on whether to accept the cabin as a donation, with Mayor Hunter Mortensen and council members Andrew Aerenson and Jessie Burley all against the move. With budgetary constraints and an unclear plan of what to do with the structure, Mortensen said he was hesitant to take it on, especially as the town has yet to come up with a permanent solution for the Excelsior House, which remains at the boneyard.
“I know its historic significance, but we have the Excelsior cabin we don’t have a plan for. We have, unfortunately, lots of budgetary pressure in a lot of places,” Mortensen said. “And right now, I think as much as I’d like to have it as part of our historic culture and our portfolio there at the Historic Park, I just don’t see the timing is right unfortunately.”
Aerenson said if the plan was to disassemble the cabin until a permanent home was found, the historical significance of the structure would be lost.
“Had we had a place to put it and we can keep the integrity of the building in tact, I’m all in,” Aerenson said. “As long as we have to just take sticks and put it in a box and rebuild it someday later, I’m out.”
But the rest of the council was swayed by Gorrell’s presentation on the cabin’s historical consequence and voiced that they’d rather keep it in storage than lose the opportunity to keep it altogether.
“I’m typically one who is very sensitive to historic spends because I’ve always maintained for a long time we have a tendency in Frisco that’s more toward hoarding and less of a real design in terms of accrual of these historic artifacts,” council member Dan Fallon said. “… But as I got invested into the reading and the history … I really see the value in this. The lineage is very clear. The house itself tells a very fascinating story.”
Council members also voiced a desire to put together a more comprehensive plan for the town’s historic inventory, hoping to keep properties like the Mansfield cabin and the Excelsior House from slowly wasting away at the boneyard. The council ultimately decided to move forward with a Historic Resources Plan next year.
The plan will likely cost about $30,000 to complete and would essentially serve as a guiding document to help officials take action with the cabin and other properties identified in the town’s historical resource survey completed earlier this year.
“It would simply address and execute the recommendations in the historic resource survey,” Gorrell said. “It would allow us to better understand the challenges and opportunities of each historic resource, and it would guide staff and council on future historic resources for preservation, relocation and reuse.”
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