Located 20 miles south of Denver along Interstate 25, Charter Oaks is an unincorporated neighborhood of estate-sized lots situated nearly 6,500 feet above sea level.
History of the Area
A vestige of Western heritage and pioneer tradition, the area around Charter Oaks traces its modern roots to gold mining and ranching. Many pioneers came to the area in the mid- to late-1800s prospecting for gold. Others were homesteaders encouraged by the US government to colonize the West. Records document whites settling in the middle 1800s, though there is archeological evidence that ancient Native Americans visited and hunted the region, probably hundreds of years before Europeans settled here. In fact ruins of two settlements discovered during excavation for nearby Rueter-Hess Reservoir date back 6,500 years from present.
The terrain, geography and oral legend imply that the area was mostly frequented by Ute and Arapaho Indians, but six or seven other tribes as well. The Utes are documented to have been Douglas County’s oldest continuous residents until the time of white settlement. They surely used the area around Charter Oaks for hunting and camping. It’s even conceivable that they met Arapaho parties for trade or war.
Gold mining, though not especially lucrative, is credited for attracting many of the region’s earliest Caucasian settlers. Newlin Gulch is situated only a couple miles east of present-day Charter Oaks. Joining the Native and Ancient American sites beneath what is now the reservoir, is the former Newlin Gulch Gold Mine. Operating in various capacities from around 1880 until 1941, the gold was never a boon to the region or its miners. But the mine and others like it, nonetheless, attracted Easterners and immigrants with their promise of making pioneers rich.
While placer gold can be found in most of the drainages here, most settlers coming to the area didn’t make their fortunes mining. The gold is small and difficult to harvest. Instead, they discovered that they could make their livings providing goods and services to all those flooding into or passing through the area. One prospector, for instance, discovered a rhyolite quarry. It wasn’t precious gold, but it satisfied a growing need for building materials in burgeoning Denver and towns between here and there. Another discovered a clay bed. He capitalized on his ability as a brick maker and organized a brickyard. Still others opened saw mills and began producing lumber for Denver’s growing population. Early on, those materials were trucked to Denver in wagons. Later of course, railroads were erected to handle the trade, stabilizing the communities near Charter Oaks.
Charter Oaks and its neighbors sit in what was once called Happy Canyon Ranch. The ranch was established early in the 1870’s by three Austrian immigrant brothers named Schweiger. Whether they were attracted by the gold rush or some other fancy, they made their success in agriculture. Their cattle ranching and farming operation sprawled across the area reaching modern day Lone Tree to the north, Sedalia on its west, and Newlin Gulch on the east. The ranch occupied 4,000 acres of Douglas County’s rugged frontier for nearly a century. Remnants of an early Happy Canyon homestead are under preservation and maintenance as Schweiger Ranch. The historic site stands in contrast to the many conveniences we enjoy today and serves as a reminder of our agricultural past.
The people who founded Charter Oaks and our neighboring subdivisions, no doubt, wanted to capitalize on the beauty of the ranch and pay homage to its history. Residents in Charter Oaks enjoy large estate-sized lots unencumbered by fences and dense population. We enjoy a “country” lifestyle, though without most of the hardships our pioneer ancestors faced. The indigenous plants and wildlife and the gorgeous views make living in Charter Oaks a genuine blessing.