Saving history |

Saving history

The 4 Bar 4 Ranch, located in an innocuous spot along County Road 5 near Fraser, stands humbly quiet yet its lengthy history and the mission to save it are significant and persistent.
Sawyer D’Argonne/Sky-Hi News |

If you’ve never seen the 4 Bar 4 Ranch before, it may not seem like much. Take a drive down County Road 5, off Highway 40 in Fraser, and you’ll stumble upon an unassuming pair of derelict buildings.

To an outsider, it’s a couple of old houses, perhaps best left to return to into the picturesque landscape that surrounds them. To someone who knows better, the buildings represent an important piece of Grand County history.

Historic Fraser, Inc. has been spearheading an effort for the past year to restore the 4 Bar 4 Ranch.

“I think it’s important for our young people, specifically in the Fraser Valley, to understand their history,” said Ronda Dorchester, president of Historic Fraser, Inc. “They may or may not appreciate it at this time in their lives. But if we don’t preserve this now, it’s not going to be standing by the time they’re grown.”

“They really started collapsing in 2015. Once that began happening, water was getting inside, they were sinking into the ground and logs began to blow and buckle. The rate of deterioration accelerated significantly.”— Ronda DorchesterHistoric Fraser Inc. president

The 320-acre ranch was homesteaded by Dick and Jessie McQueary in 1895. It was used as a cattle farm as well as a stagecoach stop on the Georgetown Stage Line., which traveled from Idaho Springs through Hot Sulphur Springs and over Berthoud Pass.

The homestead also includes a two-story barn adjacent to the house, and a hay barn located a considerable distance away.

A hotel and the first Ford dealership

The two-story house acted practically as a hotel, housing six guests as well as the McQueary family. It housed visitors until 1913, as automobiles and railways had begun to make the stagecoach line obsolete.

In 1913, the ranch was purchased by Fred Feltch, who converted the barn into the first Ford dealership in Grand County.

“He would go to the train, pick up a Model-T and he had to finish assembling it himself on the second floor of the horse barn,” said Dorchester. “Then he would drive it back down to sell it for $525.”

At that point, the 4 Bar 4 Ranch had also become an integral point on the Midland Trail, the first transcontinental auto trail in the United States, according to Dorchester.

In 1917 the homestead was bought by Harry Larkin, who turned the property back into a cattle ranch.

It remained a cattle ranch into the 1980s, but has been vacant since. Decades of neglect and brutal weather conditions have all but destroyed the property. The house and barn are slowly sinking into the ground, ready to collapse.

“They really started collapsing in 2015,” said Dorchester. “Once that began happening, water was getting inside, they were sinking into the ground and logs began to blow and buckle. The rate of deterioration accelerated significantly.”

Cue Historic Fraser, Inc..

In 2014, the 4 Bar 4 Ranch was designated as an endangered place by Colorado Preservation, Inc.. Last year, homeowners at Stagecoach Meadows, which owned the property, voted to give the land to Historic Fraser for the purpose of preservation.

The hay barn still belongs to the Stagecoach Meadows homeowners, and has already undergone a renovation through HistoriCorps.

Grant rejection doesn’t stop process

The 4 Bar 4 Ranch in October was then placed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties, but it was that same month when Historic Fraser Inc.’s request of a $200,000 grant from History Colorado was rejected. Historic Fraser applied again for a $265,000 grant this year, but will not know if they have been awarded the grant until fall.

Unfortunately having to wait on the grant means having to wait on the bulk of the restoration. If restoration begins on the Ford Barn, the 4 Bar 4 would no longer be eligible for the grant, according to Dorchester.

“You can’t do anything to the structure at all,” she said.

Historic Fraser reached an agreement with History Colorado, however, that allows them to begin work on the house this summer. The plan is to completely deconstruct the house and rebuild it, though the construction must adhere to the National Park Service and U.S. Department of the Interior’s stringent standards for historic restoration. Empire Carpentry is handling the construction work.

The standards for restoration are 10 rules covering everything from using period construction techniques to how to handle chemical or physical treatments and the standards for photo documentation.

The second rule is key to the 4 Bar 4 Ranch’s restoration, which states that materials and features from the restoration period will be retained and preserved. The removal of materials or alteration of features, spaces and spatial relationships that characterize the period will not be undertaken.

This means that any material that can be salvaged from the original structures must be used in its same function during the reconstruction.

“Every single piece that is reusable is labeled and stored,” said Dorchester. “And those logs that are labeled will be replaced exactly where they were when Dick and Jessie McQueary originally built it.”

Restoration underway

The process of labeling and storing the materials from the house has already begun. Both the barn and the house’s roof have been removed, and the buildings were tarped to prevent further degrading while they await restoration.

The restoration process for the barn will include lifting the structure to pour a new foundation. Pieces of the buildings that cannot be salvaged will be replaced by similar logs.

The goal is to preserve the buildings for exterior interpretation only. This means that once the restoration is complete, the structures will act as monuments. There will be interpretive signage and information about the property outside, and guests will be able to walk around the buildings, but not inside.

Dorchester said the restoration could be finished within the next five years, but the timeline is heavily dependent on fundraising and whether or not Historic Fraser Inc. is awarded the Historic Colorado grant.

In order for Historic Fraser to qualify for the grant they must be able to match a certain percentage of the grant amount, which could be as high as 50 percent, according to the State Historical Fund Grants Application Guide for spring 2017.

Worst-case scenario, Historic Fraser Inc. would have to raise over $130,000.

Historic Fraser held its first fundraiser, a barbecue, in July. They are also selling photos of the property complete with frames constructed from otherwise unusable pieces of the buildings.

Dorchester said that they receive donations from around the country, coming from history buffs and second-home owners in Grand County.

“It’s people in Wisconsin, Texas and Idaho,” she said. “It’s people who just want to come and love our history. People want to be a part of saving that for future generations.”

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