Hornbek Homestead

No less striking than the buildings that line the road a few miles south of Colorado’s mountain town Florissant, is the picture of their former owner. Taking into account that photographers in the 19th century asked their subjects not to smile, the portrait of Adeline Hornbek, née Warfield (1833-1905), had always inspired respect, even before I knew about her personal challenges and accomplishments.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

This was no ordinary woman, as her biography attests. Hailing from Massachusetts, she came to Colorado in 1861 with her husband, Simon Harker, and two young children, to seek a cure for his medical ills, presumably tuberculosis. They settled and farmed near the newly-founded Denver, where Adeline became a widow in 1864, not long after the birth of their third child. As a single mother, she raised and provided for her three offspring, purchased her own homestead in 1866, married once again, then bore a fourth child in 1870. Five years later, Elliott Hornbek disappeared, possibly to return to a previous wife back east, whom he had failed to mention to Adeline.

Little is known about the family’s fortunes in the following years, but in 1878, Adeline bought land in the picturesque Florissant Valley, about 35 miles west of Colorado Springs, and became a successful rancher and businesswoman. Instead of a simple dwelling, she commissioned a two-story house from a master craftsman, and added several outbuildings, as well as a root cellar across a meadow, where foodstuffs were kept cool. The proximity of a creek and digging of a well ensured a steady water supply, and the family raised chickens and cattle, and most certainly owned horses for work and transportation. To supplement her income, Adeline worked in the nearby Florissant Mercantile.

The Hornbek parlor was a popular gathering place for friends and neighbors, and Adeline was active on the local school board. At age of 66, she married a third time, Frederick Sticksel, a German immigrant, but did not change her name again. She died at age 72 from probable stroke (“paralysis”).

The Hornbek Homestead was preserved for posterity once the National Park Service acquired the land that is now part of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Adeline’s handsome, restored residence, and several outbuildings that were typical of the era but once stood in different locations, beckon for a visit each time we make the journey up to Florissant. This summer, we first learned about Adeline’s final resting place at Four Mile Cemetery, about five miles from her former home, and paid homage to her by visiting her grave.

Adeline Hornbek, as her photograph suggests, was indeed a formidable woman. Her grit and determination have my full admiration.