Creation of “Ranch A”
Ranch A gets the name from Moses Annenberg who purchased the property in November of 1927. (The exact date is open to debate, as is much of the information published about the Annenberg family.) Moses was an immigrant who made good. He went from working as a newspaper delivery boy to owning several newpapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer. He and his son, Walter, were headed to Yellowstone on vacation and stopped in Beulah, WY, for supper. Moses was impressed with the local trout and asked to meet the owner of the property where the fish were raised. Moses met with Frank LaPlante the next morning and offered to buy his property. Frank set a price of $27,000, and Moses pulled that much cash from his pocket to purchase it on the spot. The 650 acres that he purchased were unimproved. Moses saw potential for a summer retreat amid an area that resembled the area in Germany that he had immigrated from. Annenberg purchased more land to the total of 2000 acres. He set crews at work to build the lodge, caretaker’s residence, a barn, several guest cabins, a 10 mile long game fence to encircle the entire property, and two stone arches to mark the entrances to the property. He hired craftsmen who used old world techniques to do the building with the emphasis to be the showcase lodge. Furnishings and decorations for the lodge were manufactured and selected by Thomas Molesworth. It was the first major project for Molesworth, and one that started his illustrious career. The majority of the original Molesworth furnishings made for Ranch A are now the property of the State of Wyoming and are located in the Wyoming State Museum.
Moses intended the property as a vacation home for his family, but his wife and daughters only came to Ranch A one time. Moses and Walter continued to use the property, and shared it with guests. Guests arrived by train on cars owned by Annenberg, and were picked up in Aladdin where the train line ended. Local rumor includes notorious crime figures among the guests. Trunk phone lines were installed in the basement of the lodge to accommodate the Daily Racing Form and bookies wires. After twelve years of ownership, Annenberg lost the property to the Federal Government as partial settlement in a dispute with the IRS. He was convicted of income tax evasion and sentenced to Federal Prison in Lewisburg, PA. He was released shortly before his death in 1942.
The next owner of the property was former Wyoming Governor Nels Smith. He purchased the land in 1942 and during his tenure, Ranch A became a guest ranch. National Geographic Magazine included pictures and information about Ranch A in Back to the Historic Black Hills, October, 1956. By 1963, the US Fish and Wildlife Service had gained the title to Ranch A. The lodge was remodeled for office spaces, a lab for fish genetic programs was built, and the Molesworth furnishings were, for the most part, relegated to storage. In 1979, Ranch A became a part of the Spearfish Fisheries Center Complex. Hatchery facilities were closed for good in 1986. Federal Legislation deeded the property to the State of Wyoming in 1996, with the stipulation that it must be used for educational purposes. Ranch A Restoration Foundation (founded in 1992) has had management of the property since that time. Much of the history of the Annenbergs in Wyoming is based on memories of local residents. Accounts vary greatly on most issues.
For more local information try:
Crook County Museum
The Sundance Times,
December 17, 1998, by Jennifer McCuire
Beulah, WY website www.beulah.com for an article by
Rapid City Journal
For information on the Annenberg family:
Legacy: A Biography
and Walter Annenberg (1999).
Cooney, John E.
The Annenbergs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982.
The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America.
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980.
Johnson, Curt and R. Craig Sautter.
The Wicked City: Chicago from Kenna to Capone.
New York: Da Capo Press, 1998.
A History of Its Rise
New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2004.
Schatzberg, Rufus, Robert J.Kelly and Ko-lin Chin,
ed. Handbook of Organized Crime in the United States.
Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1994.
Winter-Berger, Robert N.
The Washington Pay-Off: An Insider's View of Corruption in Government.
New York: Dell Publishing, 1972.
"The History of the Philadelphia Inquirer".
Philadelphia Press Association.
Construction of Moses Annenberg’s vacation home began in 1932. Architect Ray Ewing hired the Juso brothers to build the historical lodge, barn and garage/apartment. The brothers used construction methods taught to them by their father who learned his craft in his native Finland.
The logs were cut from trees on Annenberg's property. The trees were felled with double-bladed axes and six-foot long crosscut saws. The bark was peeled from the logs with knives they made themselves. The knife was made like a long-handled pancake turner that would be pushed underneath the bark to peel it off. The logs were cut to size, peeled, and left to dry for six months. The craftsmen camped on the site during the winter while they were working. The temperatures dropped to 20° below zero on some nights. Workers slept between feather mattresses, one on top and one underneath, to keep from freezing.
When the logs had dried, construction began. The logs were fitted together by means of carving and shaping along their natural lines and laid one upon another with an oakum seal between them. They almost appear to have grown together in some places.
That the log buildings at Ranch A have remained in such good condition for so many years is testimony to the quality of the construction.
Construction of Ranch A gave a timely boost to the economy of the Beulah area by employing many local people. The general contractor on the Ranch A project was one of the few employers hiring anyone for any kind of work in the area at the time. From sixty to seventy workers were employed in various phases of the building. Anyone who didn't perform up to standard, or was late or absent from work, was quickly replaced by the foremen. There were dozens of people waiting around at all times in hopes of being hired.
Thomas Molesworth made a name for himself furnishing the Annenberg lodge and big hotels in Wyoming and Montana. Molesworth made furniture for some of the most prominent Americans of the twentieth century. He used his knowledge of rustic and Western designs to create a sophisticated new Western style. He furnished Eisenhower's den, the Rockefeller Ranch and the homes and retreats of several celebrities and captains of industry and commerce.
Molesworth believed in well-crafted furniture that reflected a unity of style, linking architecture with interior design. Molesworth surrounded his furniture with authentic Navajo rugs and sand paintings as well as original Western art. He sold his clients more than a well-furnished interior; it was a Western experience.
Molesworth brought a conscious element of fun and exaggeration to his designs. Molesworth built 245 pieces of furniture for Annenberg's hunting lodge and designed the entire interior, from coyote-head sconces with lights suspended from their jaws to wrought-iron fireplace screens. The main room of the lodge featured bright upholstered furniture and cabinets carved with figures, including a piece with a bobcat head as a decoration and the creature's paw as the cabinet pull. There were chandeliers and fire screens of wrought-iron western cutouts suggesting Indian villages. He made horsehide drapes with bead-work, scattered forty-two Navajo rugs throughout the lodge, and built a twenty-foot table, accompanied by twenty high-backed chairs which were marked with the routed design of the letter A and had arms made of burl.
Molesworth didn’t invent Western interior design, but he provided a strong theme that developed into an American Western style. Before him, Western homes were furnished with standard mission-oak furniture from the Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogues. A few local craftsmen made unusual antler and horn furniture - most of it shipped to the Eastern markets for use in hunting lodges. Molesworth combined these local products with his knowledge of interior design and his own interpretation of the American West.
Excerpts from:Cowboy High Style, Elizabeth Clair Flood, available at: Amazon.com
Additional references for Molesworth:
Molesworth, The Pioneer of Western Design, Terry Winchell, available at: Amazon.com
Interior West in the Craft & Style of Thomas Molesworth, by Wally Reber & Paul Fees, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, available at: