What is Colorado’s ‘Jewel in the Rockies?’
Many Coloradans might not know that a rare example of a 15th-century castle sits high on a hill in Douglas County, overlooking the entire Front Range.
But what's the story behind this massive stone castle?
The Early Years
In the 1890s, the land where the castle sits belonged to two separate homesteads: the Flower Homestead and the Blunt Homestead.
When the prominent Johnson family moved to Colorado from the east in 1924, they purchased the Flower homestead. Patriarch, Charles Johnson, originally wanted to build a simple country home for his kin on the acreage, but that plan changed based on the family's needs. To help with the project, Johnson hired renowned architect Burnham Hoyt, who also designed Red Rocks and the original Denver Public Library.
The medieval-inspired structure was built with locally sourced rhyolite and petrified wood. Cornish stonemasons were brought in to help complete the construction, which took two and a half years to finish. The detailed architecture features multiple gargoyles and intricate stonework.
Once it was finally done, the Johnson family moved in and ended up using the 1450s Scottish-style castle as their main residence from 1927-1939.
Then Came Tweet Kimball
Once the last of the Johnson family members moved out of the castle, it was put up for sale and bought by a woman named Tweet Kimball in 1954. Kimball was a Tennessee heiress looking for somewhere to raise her children, following a divorce from her husband. He told her he'd buy her anything she wanted west of the Mississippi, and when she found the castle, she felt it was meant to be. Additionally, Kimball purchased the adjacent land that had been the Blunt Homestead. She renamed the entire property, Cherokee Ranch.
Kimball had a passion for history and a massive appreciation for animals and incorporated both into the Colorado ranch. While living at Cherokee Castle, the heiress built up a collection of world-class art, antiques, and rare books. She further allowed the public to tour the 11,000-square-foot structure and view these artifacts up close and in person.
In 1996, Kimball's love for wildlife led to working with Douglas County and a citizen’s group to protect Cherokee Ranch through a conservation easement. With that in place, the land and animals would remain protected from encroaching development. The grounds are now home to all kinds of creatures, including elk, deer, antelope, birds, mountain lions, bears, coyotes, bobcats badgers, and raccoons.
During her time in Douglas County, Kimball also raised award-winning Santa Gertrudis cattle and was the first to introduce this breed to Colorado. The beautiful setting provided the perfect home for these purebred animals. Additionally, she started the Rocky Mountain Association of Santa Gertrudis Cattle and served on the National Western Stock show board of directors.
Kimball also created the Cherokee Creek Ranch Foundation, a non-profit organization that still manages the 3,400 acres of property, along with the castle, to this day.
With all that she gave to the state of Colorado, Kimball's spirit will forever be a jewel in the Rockies.
Nowadays, Cherokee Creek Ranch is used to host all kinds of events, such as weddings and retreats. The castle sits on private property and is only able to be accessed by reservation or appointment. However, public tours are offered inside the Colorado landmark. The grounds are also used for important environmental education and scientific research.