The historic Highlands Ranch Mansion has quite a long history in what is today Highlands Ranch. For many years, John Springer was thought to be the mansion’s first owner, but he was not. The site of the mansion originally passed from the United States government into the hands of Samuel Allen Long in the late 1800s.1 Even though Long spent almost four years trying to meet the requirements for free land under the Homestead Act, he ended up buying the 160-acre property outright in a $200 cash transaction.2
The federal government distributed publicly owned lands to private hands in a variety of ways. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave up to 160 acres to any head of household as long as they completed five years of continual residency on the property and made certain improvements. However, the act also allowed people to purchase properties for $1.25 per acre.
Long traveled to the Denver Land Office on January 15, 1885, and formalized his intention to homestead the land where the mansion now stands. Housing built on homesteads was often hastily constructed, as seen in the photograph here.3 These structures provided basic shelter while homesteaders worked on improving the land. Long’s improvements included turning his property into farmland on which he grew rye, barley, corn, sorghum, alfalfa and maize.4
The Highlands Ranch Mansion site wasn’t the only land in the area that Long received from the federal government. In 1884, he filed for 160 acres just south of the Highlands Ranch Mansion using the Timber Culture Act of 1873. The act required Long to cultivate trees on at least 40 acres of this property. Long complied, planting locust, maple and catalpa varieties.5
Newspaper notices indicate that Long was preparing to prove his homestead claim on October 17, 1888.6 This final act would have consisted of testimony from neighbors who could vouch in court that the applicant met the Homestead Act requirements. Instead, on October 18, 1888, the day after Long’s scheduled court date, he returned to the Denver Land Office and converted his claim to a cash purchase.
Long’s improvements to the property continued, including construction of a home on the property in 1891. The home, identified as “Rotherwood” in the stone above the entryway, still exists as part of the Highlands Ranch Mansion.
However, Long’s prosperity did not last. He sold 800 acres in August 1893 to Orin Waid for $12,000, including the site of the mansion. Nine years later in the 1900 census, he and his wife were living at the Ladies Aid Society, a refuge for the homeless elderly near Denver.
While the Archives & Local History department doesn’t have the original land patent for Long—the official document showing ownership—other original land patents for Douglas County properties going back to 1896 are being kept for long-term preservation in our archives collections.7
To learn more about the history of Highlands Ranch, contact Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History.
2 United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1800-c. 1955; https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99WS-Z78W?cc=2074276&wc=M7W7-YTL%3A356164301%2C356164002
3 Nickson Homestead Cabin, 1992.001.0XXX.0117; Douglas County Historical Society Collection; DCL Archives & Local History, Castle Rock, Colorado
7 Douglas County Land Patents, 1997.020