Named for its location seventeen miles from the intersection of Broadway and Colfax Avenue in Denver, Seventeen Mile House operated in the 1860s and 1870s as a tavern and inn along the southern branch of the Smoky Hill Trail. After the arrival of the railroad ended stage travel along the route, the property became primarily a farm and ranch for much of the twentieth century. Now owned by Arapahoe County as part of an open-space park, it is one of only two “mile houses” in the Denver metropolitan area that still exist in their entirety.
Following part of what was originally known as the Cherokee Trail along Cherry Creek, the southern branch of the Smoky Hill Trail was developed for stage travel in 1865 as an alternative to less direct routes to Denver along the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers. Originally the route had six mile houses in the Cherry Creek Valley that offered travelers food, drink, and a place to stay: Four, Seven, Nine, Twelve, Seventeen, and Twenty. Aside from Seventeen Mile House, the only other original mile house still standing in the Denver area is Four Mile House.
Like many other mile houses and inns along stage lines, Seventeen Mile House was basically a farm or ranch house that also served travelers. George Schleier probably built the oldest section of the house in the early or middle 1860s. Later that decade the house was owned at different times by Mary Hightower and the brothers William and George Clayton. In 1870 the Claytons sold the house for $800 to Nelson and Susan Doud, who also owned Twenty Mile House in Parker. In 1874 the Douds moved to Seventeen Mile House. They enlarged the house and added a barn. Throughout these years, Seventeen Mile House served as a tavern and inn for travelers along the Smoky Hill Trail, though it was not a stage stop.
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 a feeder line rather than a main transportation route. In 1872 the original trail, which ran west of the house and barn, was replaced by Highway 13 in the same location.
In 1881 the Douds sold Seventeen Mile House to George Cummings. The Cummings family owned the property until 1906, when they sold it to Henry and Julia Blesse. In 1915 it was acquired by S. J. Lindholm. Over the next two decades the property saw several changes. Lindholm built a brick silo and added a bunkhouse to the west side of the main house. In addition, the highway through the farm was rerouted twice. Originally running west of the house and barn near Cherry Creek, in 1914 the road was renamed Highway 83 and rerouted to run between the house and the barn. In 1937 the highway was rerouted again to its current path east of the buildings.
In 1938 John and Dorothy Race bought the farm, which had been neglected for several years and was in bad need of repairs. The Races enlarged the property to 860 acres and operated a dairy farm on the land until the 1960s, when they shifted to raising beef cattle. About twenty-nine acres were planted with grains such as wheat, barley, and corn, with a small orchard of apple, plum, and pear trees near the house. In 1948 the property hosted a “Fitting the Farm for the Future” event that drew 15,000 people to see demonstrations of new farming and irrigation techniques.
After John Race sold the farm in the late 1970s, developers began to eye the property. All the potential development plans called for tearing down the house and barn. After a public outcry, the new owner backed down and placed the property in a protective easement. In 1983 the Cherry Creek Historical Society got the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some stabilization and maintenance work was performed on the house and barn in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
To secure the future of the house and barn, in 2001 a large group of local governments and preservation groups—Arapahoe County, Douglas County, Aurora, Parker, Great Outdoors Colorado, the Gates Family Foundation, the State Historical Fund, the Trust for Public Land, and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District—contributed money to acquire the property.
The house and barn are now administered by Arapahoe County as Seventeen Mile House Farm Park. The park is adjacent to other parks and open spaces, helping to preserve the open feel of the area when wagons still rolled along the Smoky Hill Trail. Visitors and school groups can take tours offered by the Cherry Creek Historical Society, and the park also provides access to the Cherry Creek Regional Trail.
In 2007 Arapahoe County developed a master plan for Seventeen Mile House Farm Park, which called for establishing a model farm at the site illustrating agricultural life in the early twentieth century. The plan also proposed a new multiuse building on one corner of the property that could be used for a museum and meeting space.