c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins
Picture coming to a desolate, lonely place with little or no knowledge of the land around you. Imagine building a home in such a spot while securing some means of support and survival. You are alone with four children, and your nearest neighbor is two miles away. It is solely up to you to survive in a foreign and undeveloped land. For Adeline Hornbek, these imaginings were very real. Adeline is the most commonly recognized settler in the Florissant region, where she settled in 1878. Not only was she unique as the first homesteader in the area; she also stands out as a courageous woman who knew what she wanted and got it.
Born in Massachusetts in 1833, Adeline (nee Warfield) married Simon Harker in 1858 in Arkansas. The couple was living in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma when their first two children, Frank and Anna, were born. By 1861 they were living in Denver, Colorado, and the following year Adeline filed for 160 acres of land two miles south of Florissant in Teller County. But they were still in Denver when another son, George, was born in 1863. The following year, Simon Harker died sometime after the Great Denver Flood.
Even without a husband, Adeline became prominent in financial affairs and managed to build up substantial wealth for a woman in her times. She remarried in 1866 to Elliot “Ellie” Hornbek and bore another son, Elliot Jr. But Elliot apparently left Adeline high and dry in Colorado Springs in about 1875. Two years later, Adeline and her children headed to the homestead property near Florissant.
Adeline built her impressive ranch house on her homestead two miles south of town, on what is now Teller County Highway One. Her wealth permitted her to build bigger and better than other homesteaders. Subsequently, the two story home, which still stands today, contains four bedrooms, a parlor and a full kitchen including a large pantry. Water was hauled from nearby Grape Creek for cooking and washing. Other buildings were built as well: a milk house, a chicken coop, a large corral, stables and a root cellar. The ranch was completed in about 1878, when it was valued at a whopping $1,200.
Adeline insulated her home with 1879 newspapers, many of which remain on the walls today. The papers also served to keep dust from blowing between the chinked log walls. In some areas, Adeline was able to wallpaper her walls, a luxury few women in her circumstances enjoyed. Also, most of the buildings and especially her home, were built with care that is indicative she hired skilled craftsmen to do the work. She was also able to hire at least two or three hands to help around the ranch. Besides raising cattle and horses, Adeline also grew potatoes, vegetables and hay.
By these means, Adeline was able to support herself while becoming a well-known citizen in Florissant. In 1880, she served on the school board, and even provided room and board to a local schoolteacher, Rose Cunningham. She also worked at the general store in Florissant, and was active enough in civic affairs she merited mention in both the Crystal Peak Beacon and the Florissant Eagle, both published in Florissant. All of her children except for Frank, who was now grown, continued living with her and worked as ranch hands. Adeline’s social life not only consisted of the time she spent in Florissant, but also through the occasional parties and gatherings she hosted at her ranch.
Five years later, only Elliott remained at home, prompting Adeline to hire three other ranch hands who lived on her property: James Reid, Frank Burnham and Elisha Woody. Adeline kept so busy that she likely rarely left the area, save for 1889, when her daughter, Anna, died in Meeker. Ten years later, Adeline something quite odd for the time: at the age of 66 she married Frederick B. Stizkel, a German immigrant who may have been in her employ. The marriage was not so strange, but notably Stizkel was nearly 20 years younger than Adeline. This, unfortunately, left her at odds with her family and even some of her friends.
In fact, so disgruntled was Adeline’s family that legend says they declined to buy her a headstone when she died from a stroke in 1905. For years, Adeline’s grave at Four Mile Cemetery was marked with a brass plate until the early 2000’s, when a marble gravestone was purchased for her. Left with the ranch, Fred Stizkel remarried in Cripple Creek in 1906, but was living in Denver when he divorced in 1909. He remarried again, and died in 1926. He is buried in Wheatridge.
After Fred left the homestead, historians tell that various ranchers – James Lafferty, the Harry family and Palmer John Singer – owned the ranch through the years . A “well house” was added to the kitchen in 1909, but much of the original ranch house remained virtually untouched. With time, the remaining outbuildings were torn down or fell into decay, except for the root cellar which remains dug into a nearby hillside. Other area buildings were moved onto the property, a project which continued after the National Park Service acquired the ranch in 1973 and opened the Hornbek Homestead for tours.
In 1976, workers restoring the ranch were dismayed to find that someone broke in during the night and stole the home’s contents. In time, both the antiques and the foundation have been replaced. The furnishings are simple but practical and represent how Adeline likely lived during her twenty seven years at the ranch. Unfortunately, a second incident happened in 2010 when, during the night, thieves stole six wagon wheels from two antique wagons sitting in front of Adeline’s home. Two other wagon wheels were destroyed in the effort to remove them. Both wagons also were damaged. A $1,000 reward was offered for any information about the theft, but the vandals were never caught.
Today, visitors are welcome at the Hornbek Homestead year round, but Adeline’s home is only open to the public on weekends between June and September, and occasionally at Christmas. It is well worth a visit to enjoy the legacy of a lady ahead of her time.
Image: The Hornbek Homestead in 2005. Copyright Jan MacKell Collins.