The Bradford-Perley House was originally built in about 1860 to serve as a station house along Robert Bradford’s wagon road to mining areas in the Rocky Mountains. Located in what is now Ken-Caryl Ranch southwest of Denver, the house later became the headquarters of the Perley family’s ranching operation in the early twentieth century. The house was largely neglected after the end of the Perley era in 1926 and gutted by fire in 1967, but the ruins were preserved during the development of Ken-Caryl Ranch and have now been stabilized. In 2015 the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1859 or 1860, Denver dry goods merchant Robert B. Bradford settled in what is now Ken-Caryl Valley between the hogback and the foothills. There he established Bradford City, which served as the last outpost for travelers on his Bradford Wagon Road before they entered the mountains on their way to the mines near Fairplay. Probably in 1860—the year the road was surveyed—he built a one-and-a-half-story, rectangular stone house in Bradford City, just north of Dutch Creek. He and his wife lived in the house and also offered rooms and meals for travelers. The wagon road probably approached the house from the north, passed along its east side, then turned west toward the mountains. Bradford’s road was rough, but it proved popular until 1867 when a new road in Turkey Creek Canyon drew traffic away.
Bradford City withered without traffic from the wagon road, but Bradford and his wife remained. At some point Bradford added a one-story stone ice house just northwest of the main house as well as a stable, smokehouse, milk house, hen house, blacksmith shop, and apple and peach orchard. Over the years he also made two major changes to the original stone house. In 1870 his homestead filing showed that the original rectangular house had an L-shaped addition to the east. In 1872 this structure was replaced by a new two-story addition, which shared an interior stone wall with the original house. Built of sandstone in the Colonial Revival style, the addition was larger than the original house and gave the Bradfords plenty of space for hosting relatives.
When Bradford died in 1876, he left his widow in debt. She eventually lost their house and 219-acre ranch, which changed hands several times over the next two decades before being acquired by James Adams Perley in 1895. Perley lived in the former Bradford house with his wife, Charlotte, and some of their six children, making it the center of a ranch that raised steers and milk cows. The ranch was mostly self-sufficient, but sometimes the family rode to Littleton to buy supplies.
James Adams and Charlotte Perley stayed at the ranch until 1920, when they moved to Golden. One of their children, James Henry Perley, raised his own family at the ranch, and the younger Perley family continued to live in the stone house (6 Killdeer Ln, Littleton, CO 80127) and work the ranch until 1926.
In 1926 James Henry Perley sold his family’s property to John C. Shaffer for $1,000. Shaffer already owned most of the rest of the valley, which he had purchased in 1914 and named Ken-Caryl after his sons, Kent and Carroll. He used the old Bradford-Perley House for parties and dances, enlarging the house’s front porch and remodeling the interior to accommodate a large dance floor on the second level.
Shaffer lost the property during the Great Depression, and the house was neglected under later owners. In August 1967 a fire destroyed all the wooden parts of the house. The heat was so intense that the interior stone wall separating the original house from the 1872 addition crumbled and fell, leaving only the roofless exterior stone walls still standing.
In 1971 the Ken-Caryl Valley was acquired by insulation and roofing company Johns-Manville, which built a large headquarters at the southwest end of the valley and moved there in 1974. In the rest of the valley, the company continued the existing cattle operation. It also stabilized the Bradford-Perley House ruins by bracing the walls with steel beams. In 1980 Johns-Manville started work on a new residential development on its land in the northern portion of Ken-Caryl Valley. The Bradford-Perley House was saved as part of an open space, with a picnic area and volleyball court built nearby.
Serious preservation work at the Bradford-Perley House started in 1996, when Jonathan Kent of Metropolitan State College (now Metropolitan State University) initiated an archaeological survey of the site. The next year the house was listed on the State Register of Historic Properties.
In 2002 the nonprofit Colorado Preservation, Inc. named the house one of the state’s “Most Endangered Places” to spur interest in saving the building. Soon the State Historical Fund and the Ken-Caryl Ranch Master Association funded a structural assessment. In 2004 a large group of funders—including the Ken-Caryl Ranch Master Association, the State Historical Fund, the Gates Family Foundation, the Boettcher Foundation, and the Holmes Foundation—supported a stabilization project at the house, which earned History Colorado’s Stephen H. Hart Award in Historic Preservation.
In 2015 the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It now functions as an interpretive education center and has been used as an archaeology lab by students from local universities.