McGraw Ranch, Estes Park, Colorado

Last month I got to visit a really cool preservation project completed by the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a class trip for my Preservation Theory & Practice class.

The McGraw Ranch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places “under criterion A for its association with the development of the resort industry (1884-1948) and under criterion C for its rustic architecture.” – from the listing

View from the front porch of McGraw Ranch

Some history about the McGraw Ranch from the listing:

“McGraw Ranch is significant for its association with the growth of the resort industry in Colorado. Like many parcels in the Estes Park vicinity, McGraw Ranch evolved from a cattle ranch to a guest ranch in the early part of the twentieth century. The McGraws provided the ideal western vacation: horseback riding, steak fries, and trips into Rocky Mountain National Park.

The earliest known resident was Henry “Buckskin” Farrar, one of the earliest hunting guides in the region. In 1875, he built the first house on land that would become Estes Park. Farrar sold the land to Peter J. Pauley, Jr. who established the =Y Ranch, erected a barn in 1884, and ran more than 2,500 head of cattle. In 1897, the Pauley family sold the 160-acre homestead to Hugo S. Miller. Miller and Henry C. Rouse purchased extensive lands adjoining the ranch in the 1880’s. When [Rouse] died in 1907, Miller inherited his ranch.

In 1907, Philadelphians John J. and Irene McGraw honeymooned in Estes Park where they met Hugo and Mary Miller who invited the newlyweds to visit the =Y. The McGraws were surprised to find an elegant, comfortable house. They returned the next summer and leased the property from the Millers. And the following May, the McGraws purchased the ranch (changing the brand to the =X). They continued cattle ranching, unprofitably. The McGraws had four children, James, John, Frank, and Dolly, before John, Sr.’s death in 1917. Irene originally intended to sell the ranch, but she decided it would be the ideal place to raise her children. The McGraws converted the cattle ranch to a guest ranch in 1935-36. The McGraws built several cabins and converted others for guests. McGraw Ranch’s motto was “Rough It with Ease,” and the family made sure guests were comfortable as they experienced the beautiful setting. Three generations of the McGraw family tended the ranch until 1973. The property changed hands several times until 1988 when the National Park Service purchased it. The park originally intended to raze the structures and restore the natural landscape, but the residents of Estes Park insisted the park reconsider. A new plan for the guest ranch–converting it into a research facility–saved the complex. The Keeper of the National Register made McGraw Ranch a historic district in 1998. The historic district also includes several landscape features such as the balm of Gilead trees and spruce trees, the “liars bench,” the hitching rail, the stone planter, the roads and walkways.”

The main house
Front porch seating
Detail of the wood on the main house
inside the main room of the main house
rear view of the main house with dinner bell
View of the creek from the main house. Some of the erosion is visible from the floods of 2013.
This little house sits behind the main house is the ice house, or basically used as the refrigerator. It has been dug out and lifted onto a concrete foundation for preservation.
Looking west towards the cabins

side view of the caretaker cabin
path to the cabins

Interior view of one of the larger cabins
Fireplace in the cabin

A little bit about the McGraw Ranch’s new use:

“Rocky Mountain National Park’s largest historic preservation project was complete in the fall of 2003. Since 1999, Rocky Mountain National Park had been rehabilitating the McGraw Ranch for use as a research facility. The park partnered with the Rocky Mountain National Park Associates and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to accomplish the $2 million project. Your gate fee contributed $1.2 million for the project. Another $350,000 came from Colorado’s State Historical Fund. Private individuals donated money and time to the project as well.

The ranch has overnight accommodations, a small lab, kitchen facilities, and work space for researchers. It is the goal of the park managers to bring science to the park so that they can make better decisions to protect the park’s resources. Rocky’s research program is the fifth largest in the National Park Service. Current research projects include elk studies, a butterfly inventory, rare plant studies, fire history, and glacier monitoring.” – from the National Park Service¬†

Looking back towards Indian Head and the cabins
Once an outhouse and now holds telephone equipment
chicken coop & barn

I also found this blog that has some older historic photos and advertisements of the ranch:


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