John Spence, known as "Jock" in the area, was born in Scotland's Orkney Islands in 1860. He emigrated to Canada when he was 21 years old, then moved to Colorado about 1888 after several visits to his brother Thomas, who lived in Evergreen.
Jock followed in his father's footsteps as a stone mason and builder. He soon established a reputation in the area as a superb craftsman and was especially known for his meticulously beautiful wood and stone work.
He was employed by the Williams-Douglas family to build and later enlarge the home known to them as Camp Neosho, now the Hiwan Homestead Museum. He also constructed or remodleled the four other buildings on the museum property, the structures at the Episcopal Mission in Evergreen, Greystone Lodge and the Evergreen Conference Center buildings, several homes on the Evans Ranch property and many others.
Jock's distinctive burnished woodwork was accomplished by using a scaled shoe made of iron, which he heated in a bonfire and slid over the wood, being careful not to burn the wood, according to Bryan Schwartz, who managed the Evans Ranch when Spence worked on homes there. "He build a nice home for himself finally, and the telephone company done away with it -- the telephone exchange on Main Street," said Schwartz.
Clarence Phelps Dodge, who used Spence to build a summer home on the Evans Ranch completed in 1907, was quoted as saying "I remember his spending hours, if not days, patiently putting up and taking down various designs of paneling in the living room until Regina [Mrs. Dodge] decided which one she liked best."
After Jock's death in 1935, a local newspaper stated, "For nearly 40 years during his residence in this mountain community, his name has been a synonym for honest performance in his chosen work of contractor. Seldom if ever has the writer known anyone where a whole community without a single exception can join in such a tribute."
Sources: Jefferson County Historical Society, transcripts of Bryan Schwartz, Kay Klapetko's history of the Jefferson County Outdoor Lab School at Mt. Evans