Four Mile House served in the 1860s as the last stage stop before Denver along the Smoky Hill Trail. It was named for its location four miles from the intersection of Broadway and Colfax Avenue in Denver. When railroads replaced stagecoaches in the 1870s, the property became a farm operated for many decades by members of the Booth and Working families. Preserved since the 1970s as part of Four Mile Historic Park, the house is now the oldest residential building in the Denver area.
House on Cherry Creek
The brothers Samuel and Jonas Bratner built four Mile House in 1859. In 1858 Jonas had come to Colorado from Ohio to look for gold. He did not find any, so he staked a farming claim along Cherry Creek. His land was at a spot where various Indian groups had camped occasionally since the 1600s.
The property was along the Cherokee Trail, which had linked Santa Fé to the Fort Laramie area since the 1810s. It also connected with the Smoky Hill Trail that led from Kansas to Denver. The house might have acquired the name “Four Mile House” in 1860 when part of the Cherokee Trail began to be used by mail carriers traveling between Denver and Colorado City (now part of Colorado Springs).
In August 1859, Jonas’s brother Samuel arrived in Colorado, and they built a two-story log house on Jonas’s land. Samuel, his wife, and their infant daughter occupied the house in October 1859.
Smoky Hill Stage Stop
In 1860 the Bratners sold Four Mile House to Mary Cawker, a widow from Wisconsin. Cawker moved into the house with her two children that September. She operated it as a stage station with a bar downstairs and a tavern that held dances on the second floor.
Over the next decade, stages regularly stopped at the house to change horses and to allow passengers to change clothes and freshen up before their arrival in Denver.
The Cherry Creek flood of May 1864 left Four Mile House undamaged but shifted the course of the creek much closer to the house. Cawker must have had no desire to stay next to a stream that could wreak such destruction. Three weeks after the flood, she sold the house to Levi Booth for $800. An attorney originally from Wisconsin, Booth moved into the house with his family in August 1864. He continued to operate the house as a stage stop and tavern for the rest of the decade.
After the end of the Civil War in 1865, traffic increased from the east and the Smoky Hill Trail was developed for regular stage travel. It served as an alternative to less direct routes to Denver along the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers. Originally the trail had six “mile houses” in the Cherry Creek valley leading into Denver. In addition to Four Mile House, there was Seven Mile House, Nine Mile House, Twelve Mile House, Seventeen Mile House, and Twenty Mile House. The only other original mile house still standing is Seventeen Mile House.
The nature of travel along the Smoky Hill Trail changed rapidly after the Denver Pacific and Kansas Pacific Railroads reached Denver in 1870. The Smoky Hill Trail became less important, and many of the mile house owners, including Levi Booth, began to focus on ranching and farming.
Booth had already started to increase his landholdings in the 1860s. In 1866, he filed for a 160-acre homestead. He eventually acquired about 600 acres. To water his crops, he dug the First Attempt Ditch, which introduced irrigation to the Cherry Creek area. Over the next four years, he added two additional irrigation ditches and planted a ten-acre apple orchard.
Members of the Booth family owned Four Mile House for more than eighty years. In about 1883 the Booths expanded Four Mile House, which by that time had acquired board siding over its original logs. The family took down a lean-to that had been used as the kitchen and dining room, and in its place they built a brick addition. After Levi Booth’s death, the property passed to his daughter, Grace, and her husband, Daniel Working, who lived there for the first half of the twentieth century.
In 1946 the Booth family sold Four Mile House to Glen Boulton, who stayed there for nearly thirty years.
Four Mile Historic Park
During those years, the house was surrounded by development as Denver spread southeast and Glendale became an enclave of businesses and bars. In response to encroaching development, preservationists worked to ensure Four Mile House’s survival. In 1968 the house became a Denver landmark, and in 1969 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1975 the city of Denver bought the house and twelve acres of surrounding land from Boulton. Archaeological investigations starting in 1976 revealed the foundations of several lost buildings, including the Bee House, an 1860s building that was later used for beekeeping but burned down around 1940.
In 1977 the nonprofit Four Mile Historic Park Inc. was formed to care for the property, which was opened to the public the next year as a museum. The nonprofit has restored the house, built two new barns near the original barn locations, and built a new Bee House, which serves as a gift shop and offices.
Over the past four decades, Four Mile Historic Park has won a variety of historic and community awards for its preservation work and other programs. It hosts special events and educational programs on Mondays and Tuesdays and is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday throughout the year.