Built in 1874 by pioneer homesteader William Zane Cozens, Cozens Ranch was an important early ranch and stage stop in the Fraser River valley in north-central Colorado. The ranch also served for nearly thirty years as the area’s main post office. The Cozens family later donated the ranch to the Jesuits of the College of the Sacred Heart (later Regis College), who used it for much of the twentieth century as a summer retreat. Now the ranch is open to the public as a museum. Along with Four Mile House in Denver and Hildebrand Ranch in Jefferson County, it is one of the few planked log buildings remaining in Colorado.
Ranch and Stage Stop
Born in Canada and raised in New York, William Zane Cozens came to Colorado in the Colorado Gold Rush and made his way to Central City. He soon became sheriff of Gilpin County, married a devout Catholic Irishwoman named Mary York, and started a family.
In the early 1870s, the Cozenses decided to move their family from Central City to the Fraser valley. In 1872 Cozens paid a little more than $500 to buy George Grimshaw’s squatter’s rights to land on the west bank of the Fraser River north of Berthoud Pass. Two years later, he built a 1.5-story ranch house on his land near the recently completed wagon road over Berthoud Pass and through the valley (now US 40). The ranch house served as the first stage stop beyond Berthoud Pass, with Mary York Cozens and her two daughters providing hearty meals to travelers, and in 1876 it became home to the Fraser post office, with Cozens as postmaster. After additions for the post office and stage stop, the building measured more than 3,000 square feet.
Cozens Ranch prospered and grew. It housed the only post office between Empire and Hot Sulphur Springs and the main stage stop in the Fraser valley. By 1885 the ranch consisted of 320 acres of improved land and buildings worth $6,000, as well as $800 in livestock and $300 in farming equipment.
Cozens Ranch experienced several major changes in the early twentieth century. In 1901 a group of Denver Jesuits from Regis College camped at the ranch and struck up a friendship with Cozens and his wife. The Cozens family invited them back in subsequent summers. In 1905 the Cozens family sold the Jesuits eighty acres of land for use as a summer retreat. The Jesuits built a three-part building there and called the retreat Maryvale after Mary, the mother of Jesus.
In 1904 William Cozens died, and in 1905 the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway was completed over Rollins Pass to the Fraser valley. As a result, stage traffic over Berthoud Pass decreased, and the post office was relocated to the new railroad town of Fraser, just north of the ranch. Around the time of Mary York Cozens’s death in 1909, the family sold a few parcels of land. The three Cozens children (Will, Mary Elizabeth, and Sarah) continued to live at the ranch.
After Sarah’s death in 1923, Mary Elizabeth offered the ranch to Regis College, saying it had long been the family’s wish to give their land to the Jesuits. In November 1924, Mary Elizabeth and her brother, Will, signed the property over to the Jesuits of Regis College and High School. When Mary Elizabeth died in 1928, Will moved to Regis College as a guest of the Jesuits. He continued to spend summers with them at Cozens Ranch until his death in 1938.
The Regis Jesuits kept Cozens Ranch basically the same as they found it, with the exception that they converted the ranch house for use as a chapel for almost thirty years. In the 1980s, Regis deeded the site to the town of Fraser, which in turn gave it to the Grand County Historical Association in 1987. The original Jesuit retreat building collapsed during this period and was removed in 1989.
In 1988 the historical association succeeded in having the ranch listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The historical association also opened a museum, called the Cozens Ranch Museum, which has exhibits on Grand County history and a gallery featuring work by local artists and artisans.