It began from a dream to find gold, that drew Alexander Rooney to the Rocky Mountains. First to Gilpin County, Colordo, and thereupon creating many generations of Rooneys along the peaceful foothills of Morrison.


Because he loved the rich splendor of the valley that today bears his name, Alexander Rooney settled in what is now Jefferson County, in the year of 1860.

In 1859, Rooney and his brother-in-law came to Colorado from (Jones County) Iowa to mine for gold. Their efforts were not as prosperous as they had hoped, and they returned to their home in Anamosa, Iowa. Before going back, Alexander used his masonry skills to build the Masonic Lodge in Central City. Yet Alexander was so taken by the beauty of the area that he returned the next year and claimed stake to the region now known as Rooney Valley along today’s C-470 in Jefferson County. Back then, the wide open valley had buffalo and other wildlife roaming freely. He was drawn to a flowing stream, and a rock deposit on which to construct the future cattle and horse ranch.

In 1860 the Rooneys made seven wagon trips across the prairie to move their goods to Colorado. Included were a 700 pound piano, masonry tools, yellow rose bushes, and (later by train) his Galloway cattle from Scotland. (The wagon that the Rooneys currently own was used for utility purposes on the ranch.) Alexander Rooney, when returning from his trip, brought with him his new bride, Emaline. (In fact, if you visit the library at the Colorado History Museum, you can actually read the original love letters, as they corresponded while apart.)



That year, Alexander built the first of two structures, the timber barn. (The barn was refurbished in 1939. It was lifted up and stone walls were built underneath.) At the same time, Alexander Rooney, while living in a log cabin, was building his vernacular style home. He handcarved stone that he quarried from his land and hauled with wagons. They built a kiln and burned lime, sand, and horsehair to make mud to construct the house. (The hand-made tools were later donated to the Smithsonian Institute.) The house was completed in 1865. Its walls are 20 inches thick and the building stands next to a Spring/Well house, (used for milk and butter), which was completed that same year. The water has been proclaimed as artesian water, as the source is an underground aquifer.


At one time, Rooney Ranch spanned nearly 4,500 acres, stretching from Clear Creek to Bear Creek and from Mount Vernon Creek to the South Platte River. When the passage of the 1865 Homestead Act limited homestead land to 160 acres, Rooney and his brother-in-law held on to just more than 300 acres.

Despite mistrust between Indians and settlers therewith, Rooney gained the Indians’ trust and acceptance. On his land were springs that the Indians believed to be medicinal. As the spring water had been used by the Ute and Cheyenne Indians before the settlement of the Rooneys, they felt the water was theirs. Rooney entered into a treaty with the Indians that said if they permitted Rooney to build on the land, they could have the water whenever they so chose. That treaty was honored by both parties.

Chief Colorow used a giant ponderosa pine located on the hogback as his council spot. The tree roots created a natural bench, and this is where he stayed while in the area. He was known for walking into the kitchen and helping himself (he was enormous, weighing 260 pounds). The Rooneys would marvel over the amount he would eat. [The “picnic grounds” was constructed around the council tree in the early forties for square dances and socials.] Rich in coal and clay, Rooney found mining his land to be profitable. He also raised crops such as hay, and was the first to raise Morgan horses in Colorado. He profited by selling the horses to the U.S. Cavalry.


Rooney and his wife Emaline had six children, three boys and three girls (William, Charlie, Otis, Nora, Alice and Florence). Otis was the only son alive when Alexander Rooney died. The family’s land, by then totaling more than 1,300 acres, was divided between Otis and his three sisters, Alice, Nora, and Florence. Otis received the parcel on which the family’s stone house sits.

Florence inherited land that includes portions of Red Rocks Industrial Park and portions of what is now a Green Mountain sub-division. Nora, who married LV Pike, cousin of Pike’s Peak founder, Montgomery Zebulon Pike, inherited land that is currently part of Bandimere Speedway and Red Rocks Industrial Park. Alice was given the family’s land west of the hogback. (Her old ranch still exists where Ron Moreland resides and has maintained restoration of the stone buildings while preserving the cowboy lifestyle.) Each of the descendants were given approximately 350 acres apiece.


The Denver South and Union Pacific narrow gauge railroad once went through the ranch. It was built in 1873. It “Y”d” at the Soda Lakes and would turn back into Morrison and go to a limestone quarry, then to the Rooney Ranch coal mine on Alameda. After the flood of 1933, the railroad was abandoned. The ranch boasts many visitors, including Teddy Roosevelt, Gene Autrey and Buffalo Bill Cody.

Through the years the land has been passed down through five generations of Rooneys. In 1976 Rooney Ranch was listed in the National Register of Historical Places. Six generations have been reared on the ranch. Some of the land was sold to developers for highways and some to Jefferson County Open Space. Only about 250 acres remain in the hands of the Rooney descendants. The Colorado State Fair presented the Rooney family with the 1987 Centennial Farm citation and Historic Structures Award. Albert Rooney is the oldest living direct descendant of Alexander Rooney. He has three brothers, Otis, George and John. Their mother, Evelyn, continues to live at the ranch. Their father, Alex, died in 1993 at the age of 91. They were married over 65 years!
Otis and his wife, Patty, reside in the original stone house (sleeping in the room in which Otis was born)! In all, about seven families now live on Rooney land. Cattle are still being raised and you can occasionally spot chickens, ducks, rabbits, and certainly dogs and cats. Deer, coyotes, raccoons, owls, bats, hawks, eagles and many bird varieties are regular residents, as are migrating elk. The horses are all owned by family members. Alfalfa is grown in spring and summer for feeding the livestock and horses through the winter months.
For the time being, the four brothers, Albert, Otis, George, and John intend to maintain what’s left of the Rooney Ranch land, for future generations to use and enjoy. The brothers established Rooney Inc., to oversee the care and business of Rooney Ranch.