Originally established in 1863, Churches Ranch, also known as Long Lake Ranch Park, stands at 17999 West Sixtieth Avenue in Arvada. It is a typical example of a Ralston Valley farming and ranching operation. Churches Ranch is now owned by Denver Water, which maintains Ralston Reservoir and allows visitation of the historic structures. A well-preserved example of a prominent Granger family’s home, Churches Ranch was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 as a district featuring sixteen total structures.
The Churches in Colorado
John C. Churches and his wife, Mary Ann, immigrated to the United States from England in 1855 and settled in Missouri. Churches first visited the Ralston Valley by ox-team during the Colorado Gold Rush in 1859. He returned to settle the area in 1862 after becoming an American citizen. Churches was the first person to hold water rights on Ralston’s Creek, where his innovative lake-and-canal irrigation system allowed him to plant fruit orchards in addition to wheat, beets, oats, and potatoes.
Churches built a residence in 1863 to obtain a patent for the land claim. The home was occasionally used as a halfway house for travelers and their livestock. It was a masonry building standing one-and-a-half stories tall and featuring a shed-roofed enclosed porch and a prominent gabled dormer. Another house, known as the secondary residence, was constructed around 1900 for the Churches’s daughter and her husband. It features overhanging eaves and exposed rafters with a south-facing gable end. The rural vernacular styling of the Churches residence and its locally sourced building materials is a typical example of the methods used by the area’s early settlers. The wood-frame outbuildings are representative examples of turn-of-the-century outbuildings, and the clay-tile silo reflects the historical move away from combustible building materials in storage facilities.
The Churches barn remains the district’s most prominent and most significant contributing structure. With its stall-flanked central passage and gabled roof, the barn is representative of the English barn architectural style and is one of the only surviving examples of it in Colorado. John Churches constructed the barn by 1868. Built primarily from scrap sandstone, the barn is rectangular and features a gabled roof. The barn’s upper story used wooden pegs rather than nails and serves as an example of post-and-beam construction.
The barn has two additions: a northern wood frame addition and a southern tile-walled addition that was installed some time before 1880. Other notable structures in the district include a granary, privy, well house, milk house, and a red clay-tiled silo built prior to 1937. The Churches Ranch presents a pattern of spatial organization characteristic of early Ralston Valley farming operations: trees and hedgerows shelter the buildings from severe weather, and a sophisticated irrigation system allowed Churches to successfully raise pigs, horses, and cattle. Churches Ranch maintained this historical spatial organization after the Denver Water Board leased the land for agricultural uses in 1937.
The Grange and the Churches
In the wake of the Civil War, agricultural conditions worsened amid corporate price gouging from railroads, concern over lingering currency debates, and growing dependence upon single-crop farms and ranches. In 1867 farmers in the Midwest and the East organized into local Granges and formed a National Grange in an effort to present a united front in Washington, DC, and to act collectively in their best interests. In 1874, the Colorado State Grange organized in the Colorado Territory as the twenty-third Grange established in the United States. Just seven years after the organization of the National Grange, the Colorado State Grange comprised forty-six subordinate Granges across the territory.
The Churches were politically active and formed Enterprise Grange #25 in 1874, with John serving as the chapter’s Worthy Master. Both John and Mary Ann Churches served on the Colorado State Grange and in Garden Pomona #1, and remained politically active throughout their lives in the Ralston Valley. In 1881 Mary Ann Churches was active in the burgeoning women’s suffrage movement in Colorado and attended several high-profile meetings to discuss the political and social status of women in the state.
After the Churches
John Churches worked the ranch from 1862 until his death in 1910, with the property remaining in the family until 1919. The ranch was later purchased by the Denver Water Board in 1937. The water board promptly leased the space for various agricultural purposes and started to build Ralston Reservoir. Completed later that year, Ralston Dam and Ralston Reservoir were both crucial components of the Denver Municipal Water System’s Moffat Water Tunnel Project. Undertaken by the City of Denver to facilitate the capital’s growth, the Moffat Water Tunnel Project collects water from the Fraser River and Jim Creek on the Western Slope, siphons it through the Moffat Tunnel, then transports it via South Boulder Creek and numerous canals to Ralston Creek. Ralston Creek terminates at the site of Ralston Dam, six miles north of Golden and roughly twelve miles from the Denver city limits.
Because Ralston Reservoir sits at a higher elevation than Golden and Denver, the water held behind Ralston Dam flows to Denver by gravity alone with no pumping necessary. Rising 200feet from its foundations, Ralston Dam consists of more than 2 million cubic yards of earth and weighs approximately 4 million tons. Behind the dam, Ralston Reservoir contains more than 4 billion gallons of Western Slope water, resulting in a lake approximately a quarter-mile wide and one-and-a-half miles long. The reservoir’s 12,000 acre feet of water could supply all of Denver’s water demands for several weeks during peak periods in the summer.
Churches Ranch was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Denver Water still owns the property and allows for visitation of the historic structures while still pursuing irrigation and agricultural development at the site. Despite predictable deterioration over time, Churches Ranch maintains sufficient integrity to accurately represent Ralston Valley’s history of ranching and farming.
In 2006 the City of Arvada restored the 1903 farmhouse, and in 2009 Arvada finished restoring the barn with the help of several State Historical Fund grants. Today the Horse Protection League, a nonprofit horse rescue organization, uses the land and barns at the old Churches Ranch site to house rescued horses.