Festive birthday for ranch’s Orchard House
More than 100 people, including Mayor Lionel Rivera and two dozen or more dressed in turn-of-the-19th-century attire, joined a noontime birthday ceremony for the
Orchard House's centennial July 21 at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site.
The full-day “party,” lasting about seven hours in all, was attended by about 350 people, according to ranch admission info, and included cake, tours, a bird walk, speeches, a new exhibit, games, bagpipers, historical reenactments and a “Legacy Tree.”
In the 1960s, the 230-acre Rock Ledge property had been proposed for a housing development. “How lucky we are they didn't do that,” Rivera said, describing the Orchard House as “part of what makes Colorado Springs so unique and authentic.”
Others involved in the ceremony were City Parks administrators Matt Mayberry, Kurt Schroeder and Gene Smith; and Morey Bean, a local architect.
“We had a good day,” ranch manager Andy Morris said afterward. “And it was nice to have the dignitaries there.”
The day unveiled a new ranch exhibit in honor of Thomas MacLaren (1863-1928), the Scottish-born architect who had designed the Orchard House (along with more than 200 other buildings, including the Westside's West Middle School and Sacred Heart Church). The exhibit in the ranch's Carriage House includes a work station, modeled after MacLaren's long-time office at the El Paso Club, plus photos of many of his buildings.
Dressed in a Scottish kilt such as the architect had been known to wear on formal occasions, volunteer Alex Sherer portrayed MacLaren during an exhibit-related presentation and, later, in a croquet tournament on the Orchard House lawn - which, fittingly, he won.
The historically dressed people consisted of volunteer junior and adult ranch docents and the umbrella-sporting Ladies of Evergreen, a society that helps raise money for Evergreen Cemetery.
The Legacy Tree effort, in which children were encouraged to create colorful “leaves” for a handmade wooden “trunk” and “branches,” was led by volunteers with Concrete Couch, a nonprofit foundation that organizes participatory art projects around the community. The tree is meant to “symbolize the legacy of Colorado Springs” in terms of planting trees and working together to build a community, explained Robin Jones of the group. More leaves are being added at other park commemorations this summer.
The Orchard House was built by Colorado Springs founder William Palmer for family members moving to the area in 1907. After a later owner painted it white in the 1940s, the property was known as White House Ranch until about 1990.
This bit of history prompted Smith, who has helped guide the ranch's progress over the years, to quip toward Rivera, “Mr. Mayor, I'll bet you never thought you'd get to the White House so soon.”
The city bought Rock Ledge in 1968 and has been gradually upgrading it ever since. The latest project, funded with private donations and a state grant, is refurbishing the second and third floors of the Orchard House. Expected to be complete in September, the work will also allow house tours to expand beyond the first floor, according to City Parks.
Westside Pioneer article