Rock Ledge Ranch

Today I will add to the lore about General William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs. Based on numerous testimonies, he was a generous man. Only a few years after his marriage to Mary Lincoln “Queen” Mellen, his father-in-law died. Mr. Mellen had married Queen’s aunt, following the premature death of her mother when the girl was only four, which resulted in the gradual addition of seven half-siblings to Queen’s kin. After the patriarch’s passing, the General basically adopted the extended Mellen Clan, and they moved in at the Palmers’ home at Glen Eyrie for a period of time. William Palmer supported his relatives, even after most decided to live in England, and he continued to do so after Queen’s early demise at age 44.

Orchard House, frontal view

Orchard House, frontal view

During a stroll through Rock Ledge Ranch, adjacent to gorgeous Garden of the Gods, the stately Orchard House reminded me of the convoluted Palmer-Mellen family saga, and of the General’s character. He had purchased Rock Ledge Ranch, a former homestead, circa 1900 from the Chambers family. After one of Queen’s half-sisters, Charlotte (Lottie), went through a scandalous divorce and remarriage to the noted British zoologist William Lutley Sclater, the couple established residence in Cape Town, where he became curator at the South African Museum, until his resignation in 1906 when he and Lottie accepted the General’s invitation to relocate to Colorado Springs. Not content with securing his relation a teaching position at Colorado College, Palmer commissioned noted local architect, Thomas MacLaren, to build the pair their own domicile, Orchard House, in the Cape Dutch style of their former dwelling near the Cape of Good Hope — kindness and thoughtfulness taken to a high level.

Orchard House, back view

Orchard House, back view

The Sclaters’ time in the shadow of Pikes Peak coincided with General Palmer’s final chapters of life, following his horse-riding accident and ensuing near-quadriplegia. This did not prevent him from leading a vibrant life and Lottie was a great help and comfort to him for over two-and-a-half years, until his death in 1909, when the Sclaters returned to England.

Chambers House

Chambers House

Opportunities to explore Rock Ledge Ranch, now a living history farm and museum, abound. Multiple festivals throughout the year afford entrance into the former occupants’ residences, and glimpses into their lives. Mr. Sclater was an impassioned ornithologist. Because I share his fascination with feathered friends, an earlier visit to his office, and his collection of stuffed birds, left a lasting impression. At that point, I was not aware of his renowned two volume A History of the Birds of Colorado, published after he left the state. I would like to take a look at it, and an occasion will present itself soon. What I do recall are the delicious aroma and taste of Christmas cookies baked and served in the kitchen of the Orchard House during my last tour. As it happens, the annual holiday celebration will take place this coming Saturday, December 17, 2016, from 4 till 8 PM. For further details, please follow the link to the website here.

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