Along the banks of the South Platte River in Colorado, against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, an idea is beginning to take shape. It’s a live-in library, a place where books and nature and history come together, and where writers, researchers, and anyone else can bring a suitcase and stay awhile.
It’s called the Rocky Mountain Land Library, and it’s the vision of Jeff Lee and Ann Martin, two longtime employees at the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver.
It’s an idea that’s been decades in the making, after Lee and Martin traveled to the London Book Fair in the mid-1990s and took a weekend jaunt to Wales, where they stayed at what is now called Gladstone’s Library. It was a cross between a library and a dormitory, and provided them with a perfect jumping-off point for learning about the country they were visiting.
“We fell in love with the place,” Lee says. “And it really clicked. We thought wouldn’t it be great to have a nature library like that—to have a place where you’ve got this direct connection between the books and the subject. And Colorado is blessed with so many wonderful areas that could host a land library. So when we got back, we started a site search that took us across the state.”
Their search eventually took them to South Park, where they found Buffalo Peaks Ranch, an abandoned ranch 10 miles south of Fairplay, Colorado, and about 100 miles southwest of Denver.
“It’s a working landscape,” Lee says. “It’s exactly what we’re all about—recognizing that the relationship to the land isn’t just enjoying natural beauty, but also how people make a living on the land. How they use it. [This ranch] felt right to us.”
The cattle and sheep ranch was established in 1862 by French couple Adolphe and Marie Guiraud. At its height of operations, it spanned 5,000 acres. Adolphe died in 1875, and Marie kept the ranch going—and growing—until her death in 1909. It stayed in the family until 1943, then changed hands several times until the City of Aurora purchased it in 1985 for its water access. It has sat empty for the last 25 years, slowly deteriorating under the harsh South Park weather.
Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.