The early history of Bill’s Ranch in Summit County
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Contact or visit the Frisco Historic Park & Museum
120 Main Street, Frisco
It started out simple enough: An annual tour for 20 people of the Bill’s Ranch neighborhood — but then word got out. And then the phone calls started. By the time the Frisco Historic Park and Museum had fielded 85 calls from folks interested in the adventure, the tour had expanded to twice its original size moving from 20 to 30 and eventually to 45.
We all gathered in the parking lot at Frisco Elementary School and passed around historic photos of the varying cabins as our guides Jana Miller and Paul Murphy explained just how this neighborhood got started.
The head of the Thomas family was Jane, who received the original 147 acres via the Homestead Act. The Thomas family were dairy farmers in Frisco when the mining boom — and bust — swung through town. When mines first started popping up in Summit, it left the community in a unique position with access to supplies via the railroad and even electricity long before many larger towns had such luxuries. However, once the downswing started it hit hard, and these once coveted commodities became bygone luxuries — Summit lost electricity in 1913 and wouldn’t again see the light for 30 years. I know when the power goes out for even a brief outage, I still flip the light switch in every room I walk into — imagine that feeling for 30 years.
The losses were more than many could take and by the 1920s the great majority of mines had closed. The Thomas family was one of only five farming families who remained. When the population of Frisco dipped to 18, Jane’s son, Bill, knew it was time to act if he wanted to have anyone to sell milk to. He put out an appeal to some of the wealthier families in Denver, making them a very sweet offer: Free land and a cabin to anyone willing to move to Frisco. Keep in mind, at the time it was nearly impossible to live here in the winter, so these cabins were almost exclusively summer homes or belonged to “weekend widows” as our guide so aptly phrased it. This meant there wasn’t a huge commitment for some free land. After his initial push, only two men accepted Thomas’s offer and moved to the county.
One of the first to move was Reverend Dexheimer, who claimed one of the five original cabins in the Bill’s Ranch neighborhood. After falling in love with Summit, the Reverend returned to his congregation and implored them to join him on the adventure. A convincing man, the Maddy, McKee, Mix, Ninneman, Niemoth and DeSellem families all joined the cause and found new homes on the 147-acre Summit property.
These families would form a cast of characters who gave Bill’s Ranch a certain flare for generations. Les Gordon McKee — the proud owner of Mack’s Shack — became the unofficial caretaker for the neighborhood and kept keys to everyone’s homes. In the winter he would go by and make sure everything was copacetic at the properties, but in the summers he took his nurturing nature even a little further. McKee would move his rounds to the early morning hours, just after the parties all broke up, and check to make sure everyone had managed to stumble home.
Margaret and Joe Posey still call Bill’s Ranch home with all its rustic charm — they’ve snowshoed to their cabin on previous Thanksgivings, pulling a turkey on the sled behind them. The cabin is largely a summer home for the Poseys, however, as it has always been for the family. Margaret’s parents purchased the land originally from Bill Thomas for $100 in 1946. Again, a pretty sweet deal, but as Margaret explained, coming out of World War II $100 was still hard to come by, and so her father and Thomas agreed to a payment plan. Margaret still has Thomas’ journal showing payments of $5 or $10 whenever the opportunity existed. At the time the land was purchased, it was part of a working ranch, and the Poseys worked to build a cabin on the site.
One nice thing in Bill’s Ranch is the lack of a strict homeowners association, meaning a variety of architecture throughout the neighborhood. When the Poseys set to making their cabin, they used many logs from the nearby town of Tiger and the house took on a heavy Swedish influence with vertical logs instead of horizontal — still a point of pride in the Posey household.
It wasn’t until 1987 that the Poseys added a well to the property. Before that, Margaret’s father had buried an old whiskey barrel near an underground spring, which met all their needs for a few decades — including holding trout. To this day, the Poseys have to board up the windows in the back to ensure the snow doesn’t come barreling through in the winter, and though the drive from Denver to Frisco no longer takes five to eight hours, they still mainly call the cabin home in the summer.
THE OPHIR LODGE
Another prime property in Bill’s Ranch is the Ophir Lodge. Its history is a little different from the surrounding cabins.
The Lodge was originally a two-story hotel built in 1879 on Main Street Frisco. In 1931 Evelyn Mix purchased the Ophir Lodge and moved it to the Bill’s Ranch neighborhood. This was no simple task as the entire building had to be broken down first, and each log numbered so that it could be assembled in the exact same manner.
Jim and Marcia Little purchased the lodge from the Mixes in the 1970s and went through a labor of love in restoring the building. When you stroll into the lodge off of the deck, the first rooms you come to have all been painstakingly restored to as close to the original feel as possible.
Even the modernized side of the lodge still received a highly detailed makeover to match. A fireplace in the more updated side of the lodge was made to match the original fireplace, with Marcia and Jim traveling to the King Solomon Mine on a regular basis to pull rocks for the hearth.
The Lodge is still operational, and the Littles are happy to host guests who are interested in a little trip through history. After all, the neighborhood was built by adventurers willing to take a chance on the High Country, it only makes sense that they are still a part of the community.
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