Tales from the Tread: Celebrate the Brown Ranch centennial | SteamboatToday.com
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Tales from the Tread: Celebrate the Brown Ranch centennial

If you go:

What: Open house and tours of the Brown Ranch

When: Saturday, June 27, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: The Brown Ranch is located in Clark. Drive 16 miles on Routt County Road 129, turn left just past the 16-mile marker and go one-fourth mile down the dirt road across the meadow to the log house. If you reach the Clark Store on C.R. 129, you’ve gone about one mile too far so just go back and look for a dirt road.

One-hundred years ago this summer, my great-great aunt, Margaret, and her husband, Thornton Brown, came up to Routt County from their home in Cripple Creek to look for a small ranch to purchase. In their mid-30s, my Aunt Madge and Uncle Dick sought a more relaxed and down-to-earth lifestyle away from the hustle and bustle of the mining world where Uncle Dick was an assayer for a bank.

As they looked for a place to take a break from their search and do some fishing, a two-story vernacular log house on the banks of the Elk River near Clark literally caught their eye — much as it still does to this day for many day-trippers, anglers, cyclists and Sunday drivers.

If you go:

What: Open house and tours of the Brown Ranch



When: Saturday, June 27, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: The Brown Ranch is located in Clark. Drive 16 miles on Routt County Road 129, turn left just past the 16-mile marker and go one-fourth mile down the dirt road across the meadow to the log house. If you reach the Clark Store on C.R. 129, you’ve gone about one mile too far so just go back and look for a dirt road.



The McPhee family had built the picturesque log home in 1909. There are many houses in the area that have tried to emulate its style. But no one, in my opinion, has been able to replicate the pleasing visual effect and perfect proportion of the distinctive three-dormer windows in relation to the rest of the house. Built on the high-side bank only a few feet from the Elk River, the house has never suffered the ill effects of any of its “100-year floods;” it truly is, as Aunt Madge described it, a sturdy fortress.

My Aunt Madge would write in her journal of that day that Mrs. McPhee told them that she had dreamed that someone would come to buy the house. In any case, a deal was quickly made on the house and an accompanying 160-acre parcel, and Aunt Madge and Uncle Dick relocated from Cripple Creek a couple of months later.

Three years later, in 1918, Uncle Dick died at Thanksgiving after contracting the Spanish flu during a business trip to Colorado Springs. Aunt Madge stayed on the ranch, increasing its size to 700 acres over the years, until she died in 1965.

Having not had children, Aunt Madge always thought of my grandmother (Aunt Madge’s niece) as her own. Four generations of my family and hundreds of friends and relations have enjoyed the ranch, its incredible history and beautiful landscape and Aunt Madge’s most special “aura” around the place.

Aunt Madge is well known locally for her 50 years on what became known as the Brown Ranch, her copious journals and diaries that were partially compiled after her death for the book, “Shepherdess of Elk River Valley,” and for her unique decision of the time period to live and ranch alone after her husband’s death.

One-hundred years later, the Brown Ranch is still in agricultural use — thanks to the Fetcher family, surely one of the West’s most honorable stewards of its agricultural heritage, who has leased the productive land of the Brown Ranch from my family since Aunt Madge’s death in 1965.

Many of the original outbuildings are no longer standing — the huge barn and several work sheds. But one of Aunt Madge’s homestead cabins still stands. It was orginally built to increase her holdings and was later moved, log by log, from Round Mountain back down to the homesite and used as her sheep hospital. As does an ice house originally used for storing large blocks of ice from the river encased in saw dust, and a bunkhouse for the seasonal field hands who she hired to assist with the summer work around the ranch.

The Brown Ranch is a unique and important part of our Routt County and Colorado heritage. In celebration of its centennial, the Tread of Pioneers Museum and I invite you to stop by on Saturday, June 27 anytime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for a closer look and tour of the house.

For more information contact Tread of Pioneers Museum at 970-879-2214 or http://www.treadofpioneers.org. No RSVP required.


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