Holzwarth history: 1920s-era dude ranch celebrates centennial in RMNP
Get a glimpse at 1920s-era Rocky Mountain living inside Rocky Mountain National Park’s Holzwarth Historic Homestead.
The Holzwarth Historic Homestead celebrated its centennial anniversary Tuesday, treating visitors to tours of the site and providing a chance to converse with members of the Holzwarth family.
“The Holzwarth Historic Site is a great place here at Rocky Mountain National Park for visitors to get a chance to glimpse into the past of the human story, and of homesteaders here in the Colorado Rockies,” said Maci MacPherson, a park ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park.
German immigrants John and Sophia Holzwarth opened the site, located in the Kawuneeche Valley of Rocky Mountain National Park, in 1917. Over the ensuing few years, the Holzwarths built a series of small cabins for guests, expanding the homestead to what it is today.
In 1879 John Holzwarth left his home in Germany and traveled to the United States when he was just 14 years old. He began working as a baker’s apprentice in St. Louis before taking off around the country working on ranches, a saloon and as a Texas Ranger. But his journey would eventually lead to Colorado.
He began working at the Tivoli Brewing Company in Denver in 1893, where he met his future wife and fellow German immigrant Sophia Lebfromm. The two were married a year later, and began running a saloon. But the early 1900s would bring trouble for the Holzwarth family.
In a flash the United States had entered the First World War, and American opinion of German immigrants turned cold. At the same time prohibition laws were hitting Colorado, effectively ending the Holzwarths’ status as saloon owners.
The Holzwarth family took off west, and homesteaded 160 acres in the Kawuneeche Valley.
“They were seeking a new life from Denver,” said MacPherson. “They decided to come up to the mountains to homestead, and the plot they homesteaded on was still open even though it was right on the edge of the National Park here.”
In the 1920s the Holzwarths converted the property to a dude ranch, inviting guests to take part in fishing, hunting and horseback riding. The Holzwarth’s son, Johnnie Jr., continued to make improvements to the land throughout the 1950s.
In 1974, Johnnie Holzwarth Jr. sold the land to the Nature Conservancy, under the condition that the original structures be preserved. The following year, the property was transferred to the National Parks Service and opened as the Holzwarth Historic Site.
“All of the family heirlooms are still there, and guests get to see what life was like in the 1920s,” commented MacPherson. “There are a lot of things to see up there.”
Today visitors are able to take tours of the Mama Cabin, the oldest building standing at the site, which is filled with artifacts that the Holzwarth family used in the 1920s. Guests can also explore the site’s taxidermy shop, ice house and more.
Rangers and volunteers from the park put together several activities for the centennial celebration to bring patrons into a 1920s state of mind. Children were greeted with turn-of-the-century games, such as marbles and sack races, and could try their hands at an old-fashioned hand cranked washing machine.
There were also photo albums from the Holzwarth family, rangers discussing the park’s wildlife and even a campfire with living members of the Holzwarth family.
“I’m just excited to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Ken Kopperl, a volunteer tour guide at the site. “Not only to share this history with everybody, but to actually have the family here and to be a part of that is very exciting.”
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