Longform

OUR TOWN

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"One New Year's Eve, in particular," Dick remembers. "I had married a second time, and my wife's sister and a friend of hers were over. Along about ten o'clock, there was a rap at the door, and it was two more ladies. They wanted to come in, said they were having car trouble and wanted to call the state patrol for help, but they couldn't seem to get through to them. Then all of a sudden a man just walked in. He said something about fixing their car, but I think he had something else planned. Luckily, there were more of us around than he had figured, and things went our way."

They continued to do so. By the mid-Seventies, Dick and his brother Chuck were the sole owners of Greenland Ranch, their late father having either bought out or traded all the rest of the Higby family interests.

"The thing was, though, that Chuck and I both have sons," Dick relates. "And though we got along, our sons couldn't. The only logical solution was to sell."

In 1977 Greenland Ranch was sold to a Colorado Springs investment group. A local newspaper reported the transaction as "the largest real estate parcel ever listed as a single property" in Douglas County and gave the sale price as $11.5 million. What had been the Higby place for nearly a century became a big piece of land owned by faceless people from some other place--and the people kept changing, as bankruptcies and foreclosures rattled on into the Eighties. Today Greenland Ranch is just one of many assets owned by the Oklahoma Publishing Company of Oklahoma City--which has the local reputation of being uncommunicative and unapproachable. (OPUBCO's real estate spokesman, Monroe Vaughan, says no one in the OPUBCO office is available to answer Westword's Greenland questions.)

Dick Higby and his second wife, Verna, stayed on at Greenland as managers until 1981.

"It took some getting used to, living at Greenland," Verna remembers. "I'd been living in Wichita, doing things like going to the grocery store on the spur of the moment. But I got to love the openness of it, the view of Pikes Peak. I thought we'd never find a place as pretty, ever."

But eventually, they bought a seven-acre spread near Walsenburg, whose scenery rivals Greenland's. The Higbys stay in touch with their former neighbors, keeping abreast of the Greenland gossip, which has been intensifying of late.

"Right here we have 40 acres," says Ida May Noe. "There used to be 1,440, but when John's father died, his estate had to be settled among eight children."
John Noe's forty acres--which abut parcels owned by his brother James and his sister Helen--lie southwest of Greenland Ranch, across the railroad tracks and the old highway Ida May likes to call the "Ribbon of Death," as local journalists once did. John's mother was a Higby, but no Greenland Ranch shares ended up in his branch of the family, and though the land it sits on is certainly worth money, the small white house he lives in with Ida May is modest.

"Strangers have driven up and offered to buy the outhouse, though," Ida May points out. "Apparently it's very historic." She has never considered selling--Ida May believes in preservation, and she loves the detective work involved. Between frequent interruptions from John--who is almost totally incapacitated with emphysema as well as a dislocated shoulder--she delves, with relish, into her notebooks.

"Now, here is how Greenland was laid out as a town," she says, unrolling a purplish mimeograph of the original Pinedale plat. "You'll notice the school, where John went, and so did his father, and three of our children. They should have made it a historic site, but someone lives there now. This is the Higby Mercantile building. We wanted to preserve it, but it turned out there was an underground fuel tank that was polluting the ground, and it had to be torn down. I wish we could have saved it."

Ida May first came to Greenland as a teenager. Although she grew up in Littleton, her parents had a summer cabin near Palmer Lake's Little Log Church, where she attended a group for young people. "John used to go to the young folks' parties, too," she recalls, "and one day he came along with his hayrack and asked me would I like to ride back to town on it."

They were married in the fall of 1943. According to newspaper accounts, Ida May wore a brown suit with powder-blue accents, and the church was decorated with autumn leaves. She can't prove it, though, because Dick Higby, who was supposed to document the event with his camera, forgot to remove its lens cap. Despite that faux pas, Dick married Ida May's sister less than a year later and took her to live on Greenland Ranch with his mother and father.

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff