Thousands of visitors each year see the Persse homestead at Roxborough State Park, but have you seen any of the others?
The restored, stone Persse homestead is on the Fountain Valley Loop Trail and it’s a treat to go inside. Henry S Persse (pronounced Purse), a native of New York, visited Colorado in 1882 after reading an article describing its mountains and mineral wealth. In 1889, he acquired this land south of Denver and renamed it Roxborough Park after his family’s estate in Ireland. Persse used Roxborough as a summer home and hoped to develop the land into a resort with a hotel, golf links and more. While his dream never came true, this area is home to the nearby Arrowhead Golf Club. (Read more on the Colorado Historical Society’s website.)
There are at least five other homesteads in the park. We’ll see three of them on this hike. Two of the homsteads can be seen along County Road 5 on the way to the Sharptail Ridge Open Space Trail, a third can be seen on the Sharptail Ridge Trail, on the way to the Swallowtail Open Space.
The hike starts at the Roxborough State Park Visitor’s Center (directions below). Turn right out of the Visitor’s Center, walk past the picnic tables and cross a road to a sign board. Behind the sign is a beautiful rock formation. Hike south through the trees and around the formation to a view of the valley east of the park. When you come to trail splits, follow the signs that say “Carpenter Peak.”
At 0.6 miles, the trail crosses a road. Stop here. Notice how a sign on the other side of the road says 2.6 miles to Carpenter Peak? We are not going that way. Take a good look around here, because this is a our turnoff on the way back. For now, turn left and hike down the wide, flat road. This is County Road 5. You shouldn’t see any traffic, but occasionally park rangers and local residents do drive this road.
As you walk, you’ll see some old farm equipment in the field to your left. Keep walking and keep looking on your left. See that first brick house? That was built by one of Persse’s sons in 1908. It started as a 26×26 home, but was added on over time. See the bricks? Those came from the Silicated Brick Company. The Brick Company was just outside the current entrance to Roxborough State Park. Look closely as you drive into the park and you may even see the kiln that is still there. (I didn’t see it on my first five visits, so you have to look for it.)
While you may be tempted to walk over the home, you have to stay on the main, country road. How close can you get to the homesteads? The ranger I took a tour with said “as close as the road.”
Continue hiking south on CR5 and you’ll quickly see a second building. This wood building was built by the Persse family as a possible bunkhouse for a possible business venture here, but it didn’t pain out. It was built in the 1950s.
Continue walking south. You’ll pass a sign (on the right) for Roxbrough Park Ranch. The park is working on a trail to a homestead above this area, but it’s several years away.
On your left, you may notice a road and a marble sculpture of an eagle. Look up into the nearby red rock formation. See a brick structure up there? Maybe two of them? They resemble granaries at Mesa Verde National Park. They are actually patios built by a man who had private property back here.
Continue on CR5 and you’ll soon notice a barn-like structure up against the red rock. That’s an old barn and shed that belonged to Lawrence Waterhouse. Continue walking south and you’ll see his house on the left. And you’ll notice it has something in common with the first house we saw — the same bricks from the Silicated Brick Company. Waterhouse worked there. He built his house around 1904. He left in 1916 after the brick company closed.
You can turn around here or continue up the hill and see the remnants of one more homestead.
After walking the road about 0.9 miles, you’ll come to a trail sign on your left. This is where the Sharptail Ridge Trail connects to the area. For this hike, turn right, and walk just another tenth of a mile on the road to the turnoff for the Swallowtail Loops.
After walking the road, you’re now back on a single-track, dirt trail. As the trail winds through some trees, notice a large, red rock monolith on your left. However, make sure you look carefully on your right as you hike. About 2 miles from the trailhead, you may notice a pile of wood. That’s William Waterhouse’s home. William was Lawrence’s dad. He moved here after Lawrence. If you get to the sign that says you’re entering the Nelson Ranch Open Space, you’ve gone too far.
Don’t go off trail, but look closely at the pile of debris, you may see more of those bricks that look like they may have come from the Silicated Brick Company. (I didn’t get close enough to see them, to double check.) After you spot William Waterhouse’s home, turn around and start walking back. On your left, in the vegetation, you may notice a rock wall, that was the chicken coop. The ranger suggested maybe Waterhouse quickly threw up his home with whatever he could find, but after moving in and having a roof over his head, he had time to slowly build the chicken coop using more sturdy materials.
There are more homesteads in the area and there are fascinating stories about the Persees, the Waterhouses and the others who lived here. To hear the stories and learn more, you’ll need to take a ranger tour. Call Roxbrough State Park to ask about the next homesteads tour.
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Details: The hike to the homesteads and back is about four miles with 400 feet of elevation gain.
Admission fee: The fee in 2014 was $7.
Directions: From C-470, take Wadsworth south past Chatfield State Park. Turn left on Waterton Road (just before the entrance to Lockheed Martin.) Continue on Waterton Road until it ends at North Rampart Range Road. Turn right (south) on North Rampart Range Road. After 2.3 miles, you’ll see the entrance to Roxborough State Park on your left, just before the entrance to Arrowhead golf course. Turn left, then turn right to go into the park. Just before the entrance, look for the old brick kiln on your right. Pay the entrance fee at the toll booth or the nearby self-service kiosk. Then take the main road to the parking lot and walk to the Visitor’s Center.