How the Ranch was Won

as told by Mayme "Tillie" Jessup


In the beginning, the 1920s, Mr. and Mrs. Frend Neville operated a small cattle ranch at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon. Doctors from St. Louis came to the area to hunt deer and liked it so much they started bringing their families. The Nevilles built some summer cabins and a two-story lodge by the river. The planted apple trees for shade and called the place “Sylvan Dale” meaning “wooded valley.” Their guests were enchanted! The years passed and after the death of his wife, Mr. Neville sold the facilities and 125 acres to Cotner College, a Nebraska church school run by Reverend J. B. Weldon.
After a few years, the Great Depression forced Cotner College to close but Rev. Weldon stayed at Sylvan Dale to start a youth camp. He made a trip to Oklahoma to recruit staff, including the cook of a local restaurant, the Dew Drop Inn. A young man washing dishes there overheard the conversation and asked Rev. Weldon if he might have a job. That young dishwasher was Maurice Jessup. He hitchhiked his way from Oklahoma to Loveland. Arriving at Sylvan Dale, this young man from the plains of Kansas was overwhelmed by the beauty of the mountains and thrilled at the sight of the rushing waters of the Big Thompson. One day he said to Reverend Weldon, “You know, I just love this place. Someday, I’m going to own Sylvan Dale!” They both laughed, but it was a dream that Maurice never let go.

At the end of the summer, finances caused Reverend Weldon to close the camp and for the next ten years, Sylvan Dale was looked after by a man named Ed West. Maurice stayed in Colorado, transferring to Colorado State Teachers College (now University of Northern Colorado). He graduated in 1936 and moved to Ault to teach math and science. There he met and fell in love with Mayme Tomlinson, the high school secretary. Two years later they were married. Times were hard, but they were happy and filled with bright hopes for the future. They shared the dream of someday buying Sylvan Dale and made many trips to the County Courthouse going through records, writing letters, and compiling all available information about the ranch. 

Maurice enlisted in the Army during World War II and the small family, now with children David and Susan in tow, moved from base to base in Colorado and California. While headed to a training course, a letter from Cotner College caught up with Maurice. It stated, “If still interested in buying Sylvan Dale, send in your bid by wire followed by an airmail letter as to means of payment.” Maurice was stunned! His commanding officer kindly gave him leave to go to Nebraska to look into the matter.

There were two bidders for the ranch – Maurice Jessup and Ed West, the caretaker – with a meeting to be held on Sunday morning. It was a tense and sleepless night. The big moment had come. Maurice walked into the college office not knowing what he was going to do. The meeting was called to order. Ed West’s bid was placed on the table in a neatly sealed envelope.  They asked for Maurice’s bid. He stood there empty-handed, his heart pounding. Then, he asked to borrow a piece of paper. He thought for a moment, then decided on his proposed purchased price: $100 an acre for a total of $12,500. Then, thinking that Ed West might choose that amount, he crossed it out and wrote $12,501. Thinking Ed was just as smart as he, he crossed out the numbers again and wrote $12,502.  The bids were read and he heard a voice say, “Well Mr. Jessup, it looks like Sylvan Dale is yours!”


A relieved and happy man walked out of that office with a contract in hand. His and Mayme’s dream had come true. The beloved Colorado ranch was theirs! In later years, Maurice and Tillie remembered the early days at Sylvan Dale when the roofs leaked, the floors were bare, the hot water was cold, and the guests made their own beds and fixed screen doors. Some came to the kitchen to help with dishes and set tables. The guests continue to come to the Ranch and now two, three, and four generations grace the grounds.
The essence of Sylvan Dale — the little ranch on the Big Thompson — has remained unaltered by time, firmly rooted in the soil of memories past. It’s found in the hot buttered biscuits, light as a feather, in the distant cry of the coyote, and the soft sound of the wind in the pines. But most of all, it’s found in the warm Western welcome that still rings true: “Pull up a chair. Join our family table. Rest…relax…enjoy.” Your participation in the Heart J Legacy Circle will ensure that Maurice and Tillie’s dream will live on.