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Ranch A Education Center

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Ranch A
1932–1935, Ray Ewing; J.R. McKay, landscape architect; 2003 barn restoration, Dubbe Moulder Architects. 605 South Sand Creek Rd.

Ranch A, located approximately four miles south of the small town of Beulah in Crook County, was originally built as a summer hunting and fishing retreat for Moses Annenberg in the 1930s. The ranch is located in a verdant valley watered by Sand Creek and cradled by sandstone and limestone bluffs that provide a striking backdrop for the professionally designed and constructed rustic-style log buildings that make up the ranch complex.

Born in 1877 in East Prussia, Annenberg immigrated to Chicago in 1900 and began selling newspapers. His ambition and capabilities attracted the attention of Chicago Examiner owner William Randolph Hearst. Hearst transferred Annenberg to Milwaukee, where Annenberg established his own money-generating ventures in real estate and racing publications, which made him a wealthy man. He bought other publications, such as the Miami Tribune, New York’s Morning Telegraph, and ultimately, in 1936, the Philadelphia Inquirer. His success continued through the 1930s and the Great Depression.

Annenberg first visited the Beulah area on his way to Yellowstone National Park with his son, Walter. Impressed with the quality of the local trout he sampled in a Beulah restaurant, he apparently became determined to buy the property that produced such delicious fish. The following day he paid $27,000 cash for 650 acres on which he established his summer retreat. Despite the Great Depression, Annenberg’s wealth enabled him to hire an architect, a landscape architect, experienced log craftsmen, sixty to seventy workers, and the promising furniture designer Thomas Molesworth. This expert team delivered a comfortable western-style retreat that Annenberg enjoyed until 1940, when he was convicted of income tax evasion, sentenced to three years in prison, and fined $8 million in what, at the time, was reportedly the largest single tax fraud penalty ever levied.

Annenberg’s architect was Ray Ewing of Deadwood, South Dakota, who specialized in log construction. To erect the log buildings, Ewing hired Juso Brothers Construction, a family of highly skilled log craftsmen trained by their Finnish father. Their talent is evident in the trueness of the buildings and the exacting detail of the joinery. Landscape architect J.R. McKay, also from South Dakota, provided designs for the exterior area surrounding the main lodge and the property as a whole. His landscape plan included stocked streams and a 10-mile-long fence to enclose the game animals introduced onto the property.

The main structures comprising Ranch A are rustic-style log buildings that supported Annenberg’s penchant for fishing, hunting, and entertaining. The three main buildings have concrete foundations, round log walls, and sloped roofs. The focal point of the compound is the 5,550-square-foot lodge, nestled against the northern bluffs. The building’s massing is simple and symmetrical, with the full footprint contained under a side-gable roof that parallels the stone bluffs. The main gable roof is steep, providing sufficient height for the two-story living room and perimeter mezzanine, as well as protective cover for the inset front porch along the south and the kitchen wing at the north. Low-sloped shed dormers extend the length of each roof slope, creating ample room for additional bedrooms accessed from the mezzanine. All of the roof’s eaves and rakes extend from the walls, exposing log rafter tails at the former, and supportive log knee braces at the latter. A cross-gabled roof marks the symmetrically-placed main entrance and substantial rubble stone piers and paired log columns support a broad, five-bay open front porch that is defined by the rhythm, shadows, and textures of the rough piers, smooth columns, and low wood balustrades.

The logs are smooth and round, each coped at the bottom to fit the log below. The tight joints are sealed with oakum, a common joint filler in the 1920s and 1930s. The first-floor log corners are joined in a sophisticated dovetail fashion, demonstrating the contractor’s craft. The second floor logs meet at saddle-jointed corners, with the logs extending equidistantly to form sharp vertical corners accentuated by the vertical bevel cuts at the end of each log.

The interior of the lodge is detailed similarly to the exterior. The interior volume is soaring and reminiscent of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park. Spiral wood staircases to the mezzanine are located at opposite corners of the grand living room. The peeled, varnished log construction, the wood flooring and ceilings, the mezzanine, and a full-height ashlar stone chimney (with a fireplace at each level) enhance the welcoming quality of the grand space.

The rooms are filled with light from steel casement windows and from Thomas Molesworth’s light fixtures, designed with iron, wood, and antler parts, with mica shades. Images of cowboys, wagons, and cattle, and of pickaxes and shovels reinforce the dominant Western theme. Stamped iron door hinges and knobs also support this ranching motif.

The two-story garage/apartment building to the west is a smaller replica of the lodge, with identical roofing and massing, including second-floor shed dormers. However, its three-bay facade (also facing south) has stone piers supporting single columns that form the framing for the three garage-door openings; there is no porch. The two-story log barn, located northwest of the garage, is protected by a gambrel roof with sheet metal ventilators. Each main roof slope has three shed dormers that introduce light and air to the second floor hayloft. Large door openings at the first floor of each end wall align with a central corridor that opens onto horse stalls on either side, demarcated by the windows at the side walls. The gable end walls of this grand barn feature distinctive faux half-timbering that is also found on the smaller support buildings, including the pumphouse and the hydroelectric plant. The stucco is “puddled” with a rich pattern created by circular pads of stucco. The log work varies from the main residences, with strong buttress-like corners defined by extended logs increasing in length until they bear on the extended concrete foundation walls.

After Annenberg’s heirs sold Ranch A in 1942, it was used as a dude ranch before being purchased by the federal government in 1963 for use as a fish research laboratory. The property was later converted to a fish hatchery operated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. A number of utilitarian structures were added to the property at this time. The federal government deeded the property to the State of Wyoming in 1996, and the state in turn leased it to the Ranch A Restoration Foundation, which maintains the ranch for educational purposes. Ranch A is listed as a 410-acre historic district in the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural design and exemplary log craftsmanship. Ranch A is available for rentals.

References

The Money Trail: How Elmer Irey and his T-Men brought down America’s criminal elite

Starr, Eileen, and Phyllis Guenin, “Ranch A,” Crook County, Wyoming. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1997National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lesley M. Gilmore
Coordinator: 
Mary M. Humstone
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Data

Timeline

  • 1932

    Built lodge, garage/apartment, pumphouse, pumphouse dam, and stone entry arches
  • 1933

    Built hydroelectric plant and root cellar
  • 1935

    Built barn
  • 2003

    Extensive rehabilitation/restoration of the barn

Citation

Lesley M. Gilmore, "Ranch A Education Center", [Beulah, Wyoming], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WY-01-011-0015.

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