The Hayden Ranch

The Hayden Ranch is pictured here pretty much as it appears today.

The Hayden Ranch, located 10 miles south of Leadville, included over 3,000 acres at its peak.

The earliest records show that portions of the ranch were obtained by John Foster from Benson and Co. before 1861. The ranch was transferred to John L. Dyer, known as the Snowshoe Itinerant, and a Methodist minister. He gave half interest to his son Elias.

The ranch was then transferred to Willard Felton and back to Elias in 1869. Elias transferred it to Charles Mater in 1871. In 1872, Mater transferred this portion of the ranch to Olive Hayden, a sister to Louis Hayden.

Louis Hayden and his sons had a house and a 20-acre placer claim in what was then called Hayden Gulch. The mineral certificate granted them is signed by president Rutherford B. Hayes’ secretary, B.L. Long. Francis or Frank Hayden, son of Louis, acquired part of the ranch from Olive and eventually regained all of the ranch acres.

Molly Hayden, later wife of Frank, was brought west by her father after the Civil War. She was a young widow and met Frank in Leadville where they married. They ran the ranch until their deaths.

They had one daughter, Nellie. Nellie married the ranch hand, John W. Wier. Molly loved nice things and on trips to Denver after the trains came, purchased entire sets of silverware, china, crystal and furniture for her house.

John Wier and Nellie inherited the ranch and he was appointed receiver of the ranch when it went into bankruptcy in about 1914-16. It was later sold to Callahan Construction, a California Company in the 1930s.

The ranch house in the photo is a long one-story building with an outside door for every room. This is because Frank Hayden had been trapped in a fire.

There were bunkhouses, sheds, hay barns and cattle barns on the ranch, along with a large three-hole outhouse. From 1888 to 1891 there was also a one-room school house, called the Hope School.

During the mining boom in Leadville and the area, over 2,000 cattle were raised on the ranch. These cattle provided meat for the miners.

Hay from the ranch was exceptionally high in nutritional value, and was shipped to Kentucky for race horses after the trains came. For many years you could still see the huge hay barns in the ranch meadows. There were four or five of them at one time.

Local high-school boys came to bale and haul the hay in the 1940s. One was Axel Swanson. Because of pollution from the mines and their drainage, growth of the hay was affected. The pollution started showing up in deformed calves. This contributed to the necessity of cleanup of the mines in the Leadville area.

Peat moss was dug and shipped from the many bogs on the ranch. The Grafe Construction Company that worked the bogs retained the mineral rights to all the bogs.

Wood from the ranch was burned to make charcoal for the smelters before train tracks reached Leadville. An article in an 1889 magazine tells about the haze in the valley from the charcoal kilns. The buildings were all heated with wood stoves and cook stoves in the bunkhouse and main house.

Nellie Wier and her husband John moved to Buena Vista after the ranch was sold in 1936. They built a house on Princeton Avenue. It is said John would not have a toilet in the house as he thought they were unsanitary and so they had an outhouse. When he died, Nellie hired Ronnie Crymble and another young man to remodel and add a bathroom. Ronnie told me that they converted a large closet to a bathroom and had to tear out the floor and dig down to install the plumbing.

Halfway through the job, Nellie remembered that John had hid small cloth bags with gold dust in the floor of the closet – gold they had mined on the ranch. It was scattered all over the backyard. Ronnie said they did find bits of cloth in the dirt.

Sadly, Nellie and her friend Addie Luzie were killed in a car wreck coming home from Denver in about 1956.

After Callahan Construction bought the ranch, it was managed by two different men. First it was Charlie Patton and later his wife Marianne whom he married in 1940.

Marianne told me about the well at the kitchen entrance which froze so thick that the bucket couldn’t break through.

She said there was another well inside the guest house which was protected enough that it didn’t freeze, and water had to be carried from it to the bunkhouse kitchen. The living quarters would get just as cold inside as it was outside.

The Patton’s son Marion (Jake) was born on the ranch in 1942. After the Pattons moved on, the ranch was managed by Bill Farrington and his wife Betty. They had two children, a son and daughter. They left the ranch in about 1952. Betty had many stories about living and cooking for the hands on the ranch.

In October 2005 there was a dedication of the Hayden Ranch. The 36 acres of the headquarters is on the National Register of Historic Places. The other 1,400 acres were to be a wildlife habitat and public land. Six hundred or more elk can be found on the ranch and over 200 species of migratory birds.

The ranch was to be used by Colorado Mountain College as a learning center for students seeking to obtain a degree in historic preservation. The property received a grant to protect and preserve the historic ranch and its structures; interpret the ranch’s history for the public; return the property to productive use; develop an economic generator for Lake County; create a model for historic preservation and generate public interest in historic preservation.

This plan to use the ranch headquarters for education and training has not been successful. The program did not attract enough student enrollment to keep it going, despite support from CU and CSU, and was discontinued after about three years.

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