Brief by Rayna Bailey
Hillside CO Post Office – September 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine
Travelers heading north on Highway 69 who blink at the wrong moment might miss the town of Hillside, which sits on the Frémont-Custer county line. About the only indication that there is anything more than a collection of homes and ranches scattered across the countryside is the towering sign along the road proclaiming, “Welcome to Hillside, Est. 1904.”
Situated almost dead center between Westcliffe and Texas Creek, approximately 12 miles from each community, Hillside has no market, no school, no café, none of the amenities that make a town or give it an identity except one: a post office.
That post office gives the residents of Hillside a sense of community and a place to gather, socialize and drink coffee six mornings each week. It also recently found itself at the heart of a battle between residents and the town’s owner, Dan England of Dallas and Santa Fé.
England, with dreams of possessing his own little mountain fiefdom, rode into town in 1995 with cash in hand and was soon Hillside’s proud owner. In addition to the nine-plus acre town, England also bought the 530-acre Golden Meadow ranch which surrounds Hillside.
Everything was in place and England was ready to recreate Hillside into his fantasy land. He improved the roads, installed new fencing, repaired the barn, all under the watchful eye of residents, distrustful of this outsider with dreams of grandeur.
As often is the case, however, dreams and reality clashed. Things turned from distrustful to downright nasty when England focused his attention on Hillside’s general store, an ancient building that housed the post office and carried limited household supplies and food. It also offered free coffee for residents who gathered mornings to pick up their mail and share local gossip. England is quoted as describing the store as dilapidated and saying that “It looked like trash.” Residents considered it a shrine and the heart of the community.
Following a structural review, the old general store was deemed unsafe and England tore the building down.
Residents were in an uproar.
Despite England’s explanations and his investment of more hard cash to renovate an old home into a new post office with the original P.O. boxes, historic photos, and art work adorning the walls — and with free coffee still available — it wasn’t enough. The animosity between England and Hillside residents continued to grow. Battle lines were drawn, barbs and arrows flew. England decided to cut his loses and he put the town up for sale. But he kept the post office open.
Some believe the last straw was a recent article about Hillside published in Westword, a Denver weekly, in which resident Eva Colgate was quoted as saying that England “destroyed the town … Everyone around here would like to shoot him.” Within weeks of the article’s publication residents found a notice stuffed in their post-office boxes that as of Sept. 26 the post office would be closed.
However, England denies his action was retaliatory. Rather, it was purely financial. England said his contract with the United States Postal Service reimburses him only $500 of the $1,700 monthly it costs to open the post office four hours a day, six days a week. Clearly, even deep pockets aren’t bottomless.
“I’ve been paying that over three years,” England says. “My goal wasn’t to make money on the post office, I just didn’t want to lose any more.”
England also announced plans to sell everything, “lock, stock and barrel,” at public auction the day of the post office’s closing if the town and properties don’t sell prior to that date. And with hints at the bitter taste left from his experience England said, “There are some bottom feeders who like to run in when a rancher is in trouble and buy properties for a song but they might as well stay home because if I don’t get my price, I won’t sell.” England’s price: nearly a half million dollars for the town, post office included.
With all the hostility, kissing and making up seemed like the stuff of dreams, too, but on Aug. 11, an uneasy truce was signed between residents and England that will keep the post office open for at least six months. Another out-of-town property owner with deep pockets, Paul Seegers of Dallas and owner of Trails End Ranch near Hillside, offered England a financial plan to help defray the post office’s operating costs.
Although specifics of the plan were not disclosed, it buys time for residents to find a new owner for the post office and gives them some new gossip to discuss over coffee and the morning mail.
— Rayna Bailey