Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument - Charlotte Hill (U.S. National Park Service)

Charlotte Hill
Charlotte Hill, pioneer homesteader, naturalist, and fossil collector

Charlotte Coplen came to Colorado with her family in the summer of 1861 when she was 11 years old. They settled in the pioneer town of Colorado City, located on the eastern flank of Pikes Peak. About two years later, Charlotte married 27 year-old Adam Hill, a carpenter and resident of the city. She and Adam successfully homesteaded in the Colorado City region until 1874 when they purchased land in the Florissant valley. After acquiring the land, they built a new home and moved there with their four children. Charlotte and Adam called their new home the Petrified Stump Ranch.
The ranch was located about two miles south of the small settlement of Florissant and was in the center of one of the richest newly-discovered fossil sites in the world. Charlotte and Adam gave some protection to the petrified trees and fossil rocks on their property. The fossils and petrified trees provided Charlotte and her family a livelihood and eventually a passion. During the winter of 1874, Charlotte’s two year-old daughter, Luella, became ill, died, and was buried near the ranch. Weeks later, she gave birth to a daughter, Margaret Ruth Hill.

 
prodryas Persephone butterfly
Prodryas Persephone butterfly fossil

Over time, Charlotte dug, sorted, and boxed some of the best insect and plant fossils the world would ever see. Charlotte Hill's finds included the famous prodryas Persephone butterfly, one of the finest fossils ever found at Florissant.

 
Rosa hilliae fossil
Rosa hilliea, fossil named for Charlotte Hill
Little was known outside of Colorado about the fossil beds of Florissant until the early 1870s when some fossils made their way to the scientific community back east. In 1877, scientists from Harvard and Princeton arrived in the area to study and collect Florissant fossils. They visited the Petrified Stump Ranch, met Charlotte and Adam, and were surprised at the vast array of fossil insects and plants that Charlotte had been collecting. All of the fossils were of species that had never been discovered. Some were perfectly preserved. Her fossils ended up in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, as well as museums at Harvard and Yale. In recognition of her efforts, several fossils were named in her honor. In 1880, a local newspaper referred to Mrs. Hill as a naturalist, and the ranch was recognized as a place to visit to see Florissant fossils.
 
Adam and Charlotte in home
Charlotte and Adam Hill in their home with pictures of their adult children on the wall
Charlotte and Adam continued to live on the ranch, collect fossils, and host visitors and scientists from eastern colleges until 1883. They sold the ranch to a group of Denver businessmen and moved back to Colorado City. In 1902, they moved to Santa Cruz, California where they lived out the rest of their lives. Charlotte died in 1930 and was buried next to Adam. The ranch became part of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in 1969. Today, thousands of visitors walk the trails and view the fossil sites on what was once Charlotte and Adam’s ranch.
 
Researched and written by Lloyd Lacey/NPS Volunteer-In-Park

Last updated: June 8, 2022

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Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 185
Florissant , CO 80816

Phone:

719 748-3253

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