Hesperus ranch placed on historic register
Helen Ruth Aspaas lives in a white house a mile south of the Old Fort campus in Hesperus.
The old coal-burning stoves are gone, and additions have been built, but the structure’s original design and layout – military officers’ quarters in the 1800s – are largely untouched. In summer, oriental poppies bob near the south windows and lilacs blossom to the north, both planted more than a century ago by Aspaas’ great-grandmother.
The 149-acre ranch was homesteaded 130 years ago by some of the first European settlers – Aspaas’ great-grandparents – to try their luck in the San Juan Basin.
On Tuesday, La Plata County commissioners unanimously voted to add the property to the La Plata County Historic Register, joining more than 10 ranches, old roads, government buildings and schoolhouses on the list. Between a conservation easement and the new historic designation, the ranch’s historic, cultural and natural integrity are among the most well-protected in La Plata County.
Standing close to the north-facing porch where her great-grandmother’s photo was taken a century ago, Aspaas, 65, explained her decision to preserve the place: “I grew up here.”
A working-class family
Fortune lured Hans Aspaas to the mineral-rich San Juans from Norway with his wife, Annette, and infant son (who later founded the town of Ignacio) in the early 1870s. Over the next 10 years, the family left its tracks all over San Juan and La Plata counties.
They weathered their first Colorado winter in Silverton in 1874 where Hans worked as a postman, but the cold drove them south the following year to farm the Animas Valley. The family subsequently moved to Parrott City where Hans tried placer mining along the La Plata River, then Hermosa, Animas City and finally to western La Plata County in the 1880s.
“That was typical,” local historian Duane Smith said of the family’s frequent migration. “As families tried to find their angle of repose, where they could make a living, that’s what a lot of them did. Mining: There was glamor and excitement over the idea of quick wealth, but then settlers found mining was hard. There was not a lot of wealth in it, and there were better occupations. The Aspaas’ were a pioneering family to prove that.”
At the Hesperus ranch, Hans worked as a clerk and mail dispatcher in Fort Lewis.
When Hans died, leaving Annette with four children, she worked as a laundress at the Southern Ute boarding school at the Old Fort. The officers’ boarding house was reportedly moved from the campus to Annette’s ranch sometime in the 1890s, and she filed for property rights in 1913.
Annette’s second son, Ralph, was Helen Ruth’s grandfather.