Before I share the experience of working with HistoriCorps on the Soderberg Bunkhouse, I want to take a step back and tell the story of the Soderberg Ranch. I think learning the story gives perspective as to why the work we did on the building was important and relevant to the US history of westward expansion and settlement.

One of the many surprises I’ve encountered as part of RV life and living as a full-time traveler is just how much I enjoy history. I experience tremendous pleasure learning all I can about each area of the country that I visit. Equally, I enjoy writing it up into a blog post. It’s for those who may never visit that particular place and also for those who just might.

What has been particularly fascinating to me is reconciling my love of history on the road with my utter lack of interest in history during all my school years. It’s simply astonishing how different it is “seeing” history versus reading about it. And I’m saying that as a lover of reading.

I report this by way of saying that my HistoriCorps experience was more than just the physical labor I volunteered for. I want to share the story of the land and families who worked and lived on it. It will put context to the reason the structures are important to preserve as part of the history of the area.

Source Material

When I visit a new place, I pick up history information and details at the various places I visit plus research about the area online. So, by the time I write about a place, several sources have given me similar info. I think of it as verifying what I relay to you.

But the story of Soderberg Ranch and the people who came before is heavily borrowed from the HistoriCorps project description. This isn’t because plagiarizing is easier and faster. But, rather, because I couldn’t find additional source material. I used a couple of brochures I picked up. But, really, nearly all of this history comes from HistoriCorps so I wanted to give a shoutout to them.

Where Is Soderberg Ranch?

I was very near Fort Collins which is in north part of Colorado. Smack dab in the middle. So, north central. The Soderberg Ranch is part of the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space. The open space is nearly 3,000 acres with 29 miles of trails for a variety of uses including hiking, biking and horseback riding. The open space is right next to the Horsetooth Reservoir County Park which has the campground and the more than six miles long reservoir is used for fishing, boating, swimming, kayaking and other water sports.

Fort Collins is only about 10 miles away from the campground which makes the area hugely popular with locals for both day use and camping.

A Local Legend

On Horsetooth Mountain is Horsetooth Rock. The legend says the rock is the remains of “an evil giant’s heart cut twice by the powerful Chief Maunamoku, thus protecting his people from the giant’s wrath.”

That’s kind of fun, isn’t it?

Rocky mountain with the full moon rising against a pale blue sky. Top of the mountain has two slits carved through it.
Horsetooth Rock on Horsetooth Mountain. I borrowed the image from the county’s website.

Stout

I drove by the sign for the town of Stout a few times. It is a simple sign, wood painted white with STOUT painted in black. Each time I drove by, I asked myself if I should stop to photograph it. Each time, I thought, nah. What would I need it for?

Now, if I had been paying attention, I’d have known that I wouldn’t have asked myself that question each time I saw it if I shouldn’t have photographed it. Listen to your gut and that little voice in your head is the lesson here.

Stout, it turns out, plays a role in the story. The town is initially where the Soderbergs and other early families settled. It was the central community in the area of the Horsetooth Valley in the early days. Today, some of the original town is submerged under the Horsetooth Reservoir.

The Early Days of What is Now the Soderberg Ranch

A family called Herrington moved to the Horsetooth Valley in the 1880s. Mrs. Herrington was the original homesteader on the property of eleven hundred acres. The family both ranched and grew hay.

Their ranch-style home was built on the property in 1889. Of course, over the years there were lots of remodels and additions to the 2,000 square foot home.

An interesting thought: the literature all speaks of Mrs. Herrington as the homesteader. At first, I assumed her husband died on their way west and that she homesteaded with her children. But then—surprise—the story of later years talks about Mr. Herrington building a garage for his Model T and that in the late 1920s Mr. Herrington along with Johnny Soderberg (more on him in a bit) built a barn as well as a log granary. I wonder why Mrs. Herrington was the original homesteader and not her husband which was the practice in those days?

Soderbergs Arrive in Horsetooth Valley

A Swede named Swan Johnson came to the US after his finance died. First, he lived in Pennsylvania before heading west and settling in the Horsetooh Valley. He settled on the 700-acre Lesher Ranch where he lived in a stone house with a white porch. It was in the area of what is now Dixon Cove which was one cove over from where we were. Piped water came from a spring ¼ mile away. It was heated with wood and coal.

Campground and reservoir map, including the legend.
This is a map of the Horsetooth Reservoir. The far left and the next inlet over (slightly darker gray) are where the two campgrounds are. Dixon Cove is the next cove over. Click on the image to expand.

Sometime near the turn of the century, his niece Wilhelmina Soderberg, her husband John and their first child came west and moved in with Swan. The Soderbergs would go on to have 11 children.

Within a few years of arriving, the Soderbergs purchased the Old Herrington Ranch as it was frequently referred to. The family was active in area life. At Swan’s place there were two quarries where stone was removed and sent to both Fort Collins and Denver for sidewalks. Additionally, stone from the quarry was used to built the Fort Collins Library. Today, that building is the Fort Collins Museum. You can read an article about how the town built their library: HERE. It is fascinating and has some wonderful photos. The quarry closed in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

Reddish stone building. Large with many arched windows. Grass in front and trees on the side.
The old Fort Collins Library (now a museum) built from stone from Swan Johnson’s quarry. This photo was borrow from the article linked above.

Johnny Soderberg

Johnny Soderberg was born in 1912. I assume he was among the latter half of other 11 children of John and Wilhelmina’s. His first job was as a hand, helping with farming and ranching at a place four miles from his home. He was 15 and paid $30 per month. The Soderberg children, including Johnny, worked in their great uncle’s quarry blasting stone into smaller pieces. Later, Johnny and his brothers had their own sawmill. They harvested from Horsetooth Mountain, mostly ponderosa pine.

In 1947, Johnny moved into the family home at Soderberg Ranch. Johnny married in 1980. He met his wife, Arkansas native Virginia Rose Grigg, through his sister Ellen. They lived in the family home until Johnny died in the summer of 2001. A year later, Virginia moved into Fort Collins.

Soderberg Ranch Becomes an Open Space

In the mid-1980s, citizens of Fort Collins passed a 6-month sales tax to raise money to purchase the bulk of the Soderberg Homestead for use as a county park. After the sale, Johnny and his brothers purchased a ranch in Wyoming. Though he helped during haying season, Johnny continued to live at Soderberg Ranch.

 Johnny and Virginia kept 114 acres of the homestead which included the house they lived in and all the outbuildings. In 1998, the county purchased the remaining 114 acres. The purchase gave Johnny and Virginia a life estate on 12.5 acres to include the house and the outbuildings.

The Buildings of Soderberg Ranch

The buildings of the Soderberg Ranch are spread out. I didn’t see them all. Between the rolling hills, tall grass and trees, I only saw a couple of buildings from the Bunkhouse where we worked. I meant to find some of the other ones but between the heat and the time whizzing by, I never did. I’d also read that there is a small graveyard that I thought would be neat to see. But, alas, I completely forgot about it until after I’d left. Oh well, all reasons to return, right?

One of the things I found interesting was that in two places where I saw a list of the outbuildings of the Soderberg Ranch, neither mentioned the Bunkhouse. The only thing to explain this is that the building was called something else as it seems unlikely two different listings would both leave it off.

Here is my guess: there is mention of Herrington’s house (which is different from the house the Soderberg’s lived in as the Soderbergs built that after taking over the property). Visiting friends stayed at the Herrington house. That could be it. When I think of the word bunkhouse, I think of a place where cowboys and farm hands might stay while working. Both are a version of a “guest house.” So maybe that is it.

List of Other Buildings

The buildings I found named:

  • Two-story building called Herrington’s Chicken House. At one point both Herringtons and Soderbergs kept chickens in the building.
  • Stone garage.
  • Wooden barn.
  • Loafing shed. I had to look this one up. A loafing shed is usually a three-sided structure that farm animals (horses and cows) can use to protect themselves from extreme weather. Cold, wind and snow in the winter or extreme heat and sun beating down in the summer. I grew up in Wyoming and we called them lean-tos. I’d never heard the term loafing shed. Maybe it’s an old fashioned term?
  • Log granary.
  • Pump house, also called a well house. It was also used as a cellar for storing food. You might remember from last week that while we were there, we assessed the pump house as a possible future HistoriCorps project.
Stone building with an a-symmetrical roof. A stone bench is in the front. It's a small building.
Front of Pump House. Pump House photos courtesy of fellow volunteer (and new friend) Melissa Gardener.
Side view of a stone building. It's built into the side of a hill so the side is very short, about 6 stones high.
Most of the buildings I saw, like the Pump House, were built into the side of a hill. Thus, one side is much shorter than another. This is the side and back of the building.
Inside of a stone building. Insulation hanging from ceiling. An old water pump on a concrete slab on ground.
Inside the Pump House. The stone needs some work. Based on the falling insulation, I am guessing the roof needs preservation as well.

So there you have it. It certainly isn’t as much as I like to learn because it didn’t come with family stories or fun tidbits. What we know about the Soderberg Ranch is more sterile, just the facts. But even so it’s good we know a little about the early days and families of Stout and the Horsetooth Valley. I hope it gives you an idea why HistoriCorps named the Soderberg Ranch Bunkhouse as a building worth preserving.

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