Willowcroft Manor was built in 1884 as the home of Littleton-area pioneer Joseph W. Bowles. Designed by early Colorado architect Robert S. Roeschlaub, the two-story stone house was on Bowles’s property near the southwest corner of what is now West Bowles Avenue (which was named for Bowles) and Middlefield Road. The Wolf family bought the house in the 1940s and lived there until the 2000s, when it was sold to a developer and torn down to make way for a new subdivision.
Originally from North Carolina, Joseph W. Bowles came to Colorado in the Gold Rush of 1858–59. He worked in Gilpin County mines for three years before deciding that farming and ranching offered an easier path to prosperity. In 1862 he moved to the west side of the South Platte River, about ten miles south of Denver, where farmers were using the flat land near the river to grow wheat, oats, corn, potatoes, barley, fruits, and vegetables for sale to prospectors in mining camps. In 1867 he worked with other local farmers—including Littleton founder Richard Sullivan Little—to establish the Rough and Ready Flour Mill on the east side of the South Platte near what is now the intersection of South Santa Fe Drive and West Bowles Avenue.
Bowles proved successful as a farmer and gradually accumulated roughly 2,000 acres of land stretching from the South Platte River to the Rocky Mountain foothills. He also owned a ranch near Wray for grazing cattle in the spring and summer as well as a ranch in the San Luis Valley. Active in local politics and civic affairs, he served as president of the Littleton Farmers Club and helped develop early irrigation projects in the area such as Harriman Ditch, Harriman Lake, and Bowles Lake. He was elected to the Colorado Territorial Legislature in 1868, later served two terms in the state legislature, and was an Arapahoe County commissioner.
During his first two decades along the South Platte, Bowles lived in a two-story log house. In 1884 he hired prominent Colorado architect Robert S. Roeschlaub—probably best known for his work on the Central City Opera House (1881)—to build him an elegant new house. Like many other well-appointed rural farmhouses at the time, the Bowles residence was designed in the Queen Anne style, with steeply pitched gables. Built using pink sandstone from Castle Rock, the two-story house featured high ceilings, hot water on every floor, and a large living room with a stained-glass window above an Italian fireplace. The estate became known as Willowcroft after the five black willow trees that Bowles planted on the property.
After Joseph Bowles died in 1906, Willowcroft passed to his youngest living son, Walter, who owned it at least until the 1930s. In the 1920s, the main house served as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, with a two-story stucco and wood addition that supposedly housed a dance floor. In the 1930s, the two-story addition was detached and moved east of the house, where it became known as the “Big Building” and served as a mechanic’s shop. Other outbuildings on the property dated back to the Joseph Bowles era, including a one-story stucco caretaker’s house, a brick smokehouse, and a clapboard horse barn.
Walter Bowles and his brothers gradually sold off most of the 2,000 acres that their father had accumulated, eventually including the main house and farmstead. The ownership of Willowcroft during the late 1930s and early 1940s is uncertain, but by 1948 Paul and Cynthia Wolf acquired the property. They added a screened porch and an extra bathroom to the main house and converted the Big Building to a barn for their horses and livestock.
Meanwhile, the growth of Denver and Littleton after World War II surrounded the property with shopping centers and subdivisions full of high-priced houses. Eventually the Willowcroft property, which had shrunk to only nine acres, became part of the suburban town of Columbine Valley, although it still maintained a rural feel and agricultural zoning. In 1993 the Wolfs’ son Bruce, a local real estate agent, worked with Historic Littleton Inc. to list the house on the State Register of Historic Properties.
Cynthia Wolf moved away from Willowcroft before her death in 2005. The property passed to Bruce, who planned to fix up Willowcroft and retire there with his wife. But after Bruce died in 2008, his half-brother, David Owen, became executor of the family estate. Owen had little interest in the old house and quickly sold the land for $1.43 million.
In 2010 Colorado Preservation Inc. named Willowcroft one of the state’s most endangered places to spur interest in saving the property from demolition and redevelopment. The organization hoped to convince the new owner to preserve the main house and other buildings as part of an urban farmstead, but strong financial incentives to place a subdivision on the property prevailed. In April 2013, the town of Columbine Valley approved developer Taylor Morrison’s plan to demolish Willowcroft—one of the town’s only significant historic sites—and erect more than forty houses on the property. The house and other buildings were torn down later that year. After town residents approved the development plan in a referendum, construction on the new subdivision started in early 2014. Houses in Willowcroft Manor at Columbine Valley were ready for purchase that fall.