Cherokee Ranch includes more than three thousand acres of land along US 85 near Sedalia in Douglas County. In the late nineteenth century, the land was homesteaded by the Blunt and Flower families. Denver businessman Charles Alfred Johnson acquired the Flower land in 1924 and hired Burnham Hoyt to design a striking castle atop one of the ranch’s bluffs. In 1954 Tweet Kimball bought Johnson’s ranch as well as the Blunt ranch to form the present Cherokee Ranch, which she used to raise Santa Gertrudis cattle. In the 1990s, she established a conservation easement on the land and started a cultural and education foundation to manage the property.
In 1971 the Mountain and Plains Archaeological Organization identified and excavated two prehistoric rock shelters on the side of a mesa on Cherokee Ranch overlooking East Plum Creek. One shelter was above the other, with the upper shelter containing only a hearth, some burned bones, and scattered flakes. The lower shelter was considerably larger, measuring about thirty-five feet wide and twenty-four feet deep with a ceiling of up to fifteen feet high. It also contained many more cultural artifacts, including stone projectile points and knives, ceramic pottery shards, and some fragmented bones. In their report on the excavation, Charles Nelson and Bruce Stewart argued that the artifacts were evidence of a Shoshone occupation dating to about 1250–1590 CE.
Starting in the sixteenth century, the land that is now Cherokee Ranch was occupied by Ute people, who established winter camps near present-day Denver and Castle Rock after spending the summer and fall tracking game in the mountains. By the early nineteenth century, the Cheyenne and Arapaho had migrated to the area, often wintering along Plum Creek and the South Platte River.
In the early nineteenth century, mountain men and trappers started to use the Mountain Man Trail to pass through the land that is now Cherokee Ranch. The trail followed the ridge north of the ranch (using the route of what is now Daniels Park Road), then turned south toward East Plum Creek. Around 1847 someone in the area, presumably a trapper, built a log cabin and dug a well near the trail.
Homesteaders arrived in the late 1860s, about a decade after the Colorado Gold Rush of 1858–59 brought a wave of speculators to Colorado. What is now Cherokee Ranch was formed from two adjacent homesteads. The first was the Blunt Homestead, settled by a former Union soldier named John Blunt in 1868. In 1873 Blunt built a two-story wood-frame house that featured clapboard siding and a front gambrel roof, giving it a Dutch Colonial flavor. Three generations of Blunts—John, Elmer, and Ray—lived on the ranch, gradually acquiring adjacent parcels until their property encompassed more than 1,500 acres. The Blunts called their land Sunflower Ranch and used it to grow wheat and sorghum and raise cattle.
The second homestead was the Flower Homestead, claimed by an English immigrant named Frederick Flower in 1894. Flower settled on the north side of Cherokee Mountain, just uphill from the Blunt family, eventually acquiring nearly 2,400 acres. In 1895 he built a four-room house made of local rhyolite stone, where he lived with his wife and his sister. Located on a saddle with wide-open views, the one-story house had a side-gable roof and a linear plan with several exterior doors, making it look vaguely like old Hispano residences in southern Colorado.
Charles Alfred Johnson’s Ranch
In the early 1920s, Denver businessman Charles Alfred Johnson took a trip to Daniels Park, which had recently been established as the first (and only) Denver Mountain Park in Douglas County. As president of the Denver Chamber of Commerce, Johnson had played a role in getting the Mountain Parks system started a decade earlier.
Johnson was so impressed by his trip to the Daniels Park area that he decided to buy a large ranch nearby and build a hunting lodge. In 1924 he acquired the 2,380-acre Flower property. (He wanted to get the Blunt family’s ranch, too, but they would not sell.) He hired Denver architect Burnham Hoyt to build a small lodge on the property, then prepared to leave for a long European tour. Before departing, however, he changed his mind and told Hoyt he wanted a year-round residence. He gave Hoyt complete freedom to build whatever he wanted.
Hoyt designed a twenty-four-room mansion meant to resemble a Scottish castle originally constructed in 1450 and modified continually up to 1920. Located on top of a mesa near the Flower house, the castle was built using local stone and pieces of petrified wood, making it look like a natural extension of the land. Hoyt hired thirty experienced Cornish masons to do the work. The masons lived on-site for more than two years to construct the castle, which had a rubble stone foundation, rock-faced stone walls, a slate-tile roof, and a variety of towers, turrets, gargoyles, and chimneys.
The arched front doorway stood below an Elizabethan bay window and led into a foyer with inner doors made of eighteenth-century Italian wrought iron. The first floor had a great hall, dining room, library, terrace, two bedroom suites, and service areas such as the kitchen, pantries, staff bedrooms, and staff dining room. The largest and most impressive room was the great hall, which featured a minstrel balcony and two of the castle’s eight fireplaces. Two circular stone stairways led upstairs to the second floor, which had four bedrooms and a small library.
The castle was completed in 1926. Johnson named it Charlford after his son, Charles, and stepson, Gifford.
In addition to the castle, Johnson also made a variety of other changes to the property. He turned the stone quarry pits near the castle into covered cisterns that held 36,000 gallons of water for the ranch. North of the castle, he added a picnic house and tennis courts. He built a wood-frame addition onto the Flower house and erected a barn nearby for his thoroughbred horses. Near US 85, he constructed a ranch complex with a house, two barns, and a silo for the property’s cattle and chicken operations. Finally, he hired his neighbor Elmer Blunt and his son, Ray, to build two roads to Charlford Castle, one from US 85 and the other following the old trail from Daniels Park Road to the Flower house.
Johnson and his wife, Alice Gifford Phillips, lived at Charlford Castle until 1949, when they moved to California. For the next five years, the castle was occupied part-time by Charles Johnson Jr. and his family.
In 1954 a wealthy Eastern woman named Mildred Montague Genevieve Kimball bought Johnson’s land as well as the adjacent Blunt property to form a roughly 3,400-acre ranch. She called the property Cherokee Ranch, after the Cherokee Indians of her native Tennessee, and renamed Johnson’s Charlford Castle after the Cherokee as well.
Known to everyone as “Tweet,” Kimball came to Colorado after divorcing her husband, who had been posted to London as a diplomat after World War II. She used her large ranch to raise Santa Gertrudis cattle, the first distinct breed of beef cattle produced in the United States. The breed had never been raised in colder climates until Kimball brought thirty-eight cows and one bull to Cherokee Ranch in 1954. She used the old Blunt Homestead to manage the cattle operation, moving most of the Blunt-era buildings close to the main house to make a central ranch headquarters.
The cattle thrived, and in 1961 Kimball founded the Rocky Mountain Santa Gertrudis Association. Five years later, she succeeded in getting the National Western Stock Show to hold its first Santa Gertrudis exhibition and sale. Kimball became the first female member of the National Western Stock Show Association, and in 1980–81 her bull Cherokee Little Governor was named Grand Champion.
Conservation and Education
As she neared the end of her life, Kimball wanted to ensure that Cherokee Ranch and Castle would be preserved. In 1994 she got the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1996 she worked with Douglas County and the Douglas County Open Lands Coalition to protect the ranch from development through a conservation easement. At the same time, Kimball created the nonprofit Cherokee Ranch and Castle Foundation to manage the castle and grounds as a center for conservation, education, and the arts.
Kimball passed away in 1999. Today the Cherokee Ranch and Castle Foundation uses the property to host a wide variety of events, including hikes, summer camps, concerts, art workshops, teas, lunches, and brunches. The foundation also offers regular tours of the castle, which is filled with artwork and antique furniture that complement its distinctive architecture as well as a library full of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century books. The castle can be rented for conferences, weddings, and other private events.
The ranch still maintains a Santa Gertrudis cattle operation, while its thousands of acres of protected open space are home to ample mule deer and coyotes as well as occasional elk, brown bears, and mountain lions. The ranch forms part of a larger 12,000-acre open space—which also includes Highlands Ranch Backcountry Wilderness and Daniels Park—that is bounded by Castle Pines to the east, Highlands Ranch to the north, and US 85 to the west and south.