Aspen Historical Society

The Aspen Historical Society has been a staple of the community for over 50 years. It was founded in 1963 by luminaries of the time. The historical society is housed in Wheeler’s residence built in the late 1800s in West Aspen built to convince his wife to move to Aspen, a tradition that continues today.

Pre 1879

Aspen was populated by seasonal Ute Indian Camps. The Ute Indians favorite summer camps were located in what is now Glory Hole Park. Fishing, hunting and gathering occurred in this pristine valley yet to see a permanent population.

1879-1893 Silver Boom Years


The Hayden Geological Survey reports are published reporting promising amounts of silver in the Roaring Fork Valley. The first prospectors began to arrive over treacherous mountain passes to protect claims that become the richest in US history. Henry B. Gillespie arrives in Aspen to examine a mine and travels to Washington D.C. to petition for a US Post Office. Gillespie proposes a town to be called Ute City. Prospectors initially populate Ashcroft and then discover rich gold deposits in the Independence Gold Lode on July 4th in what will become the mining camp of Independence, Independence Pass still carries its namesake.


David Hyman of Cincinnati hire B. Clark Wheeler and Charles A. Hallam as agents and co-partners arrive in Ute City. Collectively they purchase mining claims. Wheeler surveys the town and renames it Aspen forming his own town company. DRC Brown and H.P. Cowenhoven arrive after a 3 week trip from Leadville over Taylor Pass. The D&RGRR reaches Leadville. Stagecoaches are running from Leadville to Independence Gold Camp where 300 people were residing.


Pitkin County is established. The Aspen Times (owned and run by Clark B. Wheeler) produces its first publication. Aspen mining and Smelting is organized. The first school in Aspen is established. Independence Pass is completed. The remaining Ute Indians are relocated to a reservation in Utah. Molly Gibson Mine is founded. First Clarendon Hotel is built. The volunteer fire department is established. Katie Cownehoven marries DRC Brown. Horace Tabor invests in Montezuma and Tam O’Shanter mines. A wagon road over Taylor Pass is officially opened. D&RG RR reaches Crested Butte. Telegraph connecting Aspen, Ashcroft and Crested Butte is completed. Independence population reaches 500 citizens complete with 4 grocery stores, 4 boarding houses and three saloons.


Independence reaches a population of 1,500 residents, production drops dramatically. Farwell mines close and the mill shuts down. Then vein runs dry.


Jerome B. Wheeler, half owner of Macy’s department store comes back to Aspen. Through various investments Wheeler injects cash into the community.


Clarendon Hotel burns down.


New Clarendon opens. Hydroelectric power is used in mines. Electric company powers over 40 stores. Public electricity runs throughout the community. Aspen Water Company is organized. Aspen’s first telephone is put into the Spar Consolidated Mine. Henry Weber and H.P. Gillespie order the first pianos to be shipped to Aspen for $1,000. Wyatt Earp and the US Marshalls arrest James Crowthers in Aspen for a Wells Fargo robbery in Arizona.


City water is put into action.


Denver & Rio Grande Rail Road reaches Aspen. The mines now ship low-grade silver ore to market at economical prices.


The Colorado Midland Rail Road reaches Aspen. Wheeler Opera House opens. Jerome B. Wheeler builds a home for his wife in Aspen’s West End, now the location of Aspen Historical Society. A one mile long tramway is put into operation on Aspen Mountain. Durant and Aspen mines are consolidated forming Compromise Mine.


Hotel Jerome opens.


Sherman Act is passed, ensuring the market for silver. Population of Aspen reaches 8,000. Cable tramway for Tourtelotte park to Aspen in completed.


Silver ore production exceeds that of Leadville. Aspen is the largest silver producing district annually in the nation producing 1/6th if the nation’s silver and 1/16th of the world’s total silver. The court house opens. The Holden Lixiviation Works becomes operational (a large mill where silver is extracted from ore.)


The silver queen statue for the Chicago World’s Fair is commissioned. Davis Waite becomes Governor of Colorado on the “free silver” issue.


Aspen’s population reaches its peak at 10,000 residents. Congress appeals the Sherman Silver Act, demonetizing silver. Following the Silver Panic, Aspen begins a long downward slide. Women’s Suffrage in Colorado is enacted.

Quiet Years 1893-1936

Until the arrival of skiing, after the mining boom and bust, Aspen’s population would shrink dramatically and the world wars put the skiing industry on hold.


A 2,350 lb silver nugget is mined from Smuggler. A few mines are opened on a limited basis, many are leased. Silver production falls to less than half of production 2 years prior.


Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph builds a phone line over independence pass connecting Aspen to the outside world.


Street car line is torn up on Main Street.


Jerome B. Wheeler declares bankruptcy.


Salvation Ditch is constructed.


Colorado Midland Railroad goes bankrupt.


Hallam Lake is sold to DRC Brown. De-watering of the flooded Smuggler, Molly Gibson and Free Silver mines begins.


Fires ravage the town. Wheeler Opera House is gutted.


Isis Theater opens.


Mining continues on a limited basis as town transitions into a supply center for farmers and ranchers. Potatoes become a cash crop.


“Glory Hole” created when slope in the A-J collapses. A flu epidemic closes the town.


Rio Grande Rail Road experiences several accidents and delays. Colorado Midland Rail Road returns to dismantle the lines.


Independence Pass Highway (construction began in 1911) is completed.


Aspen Smelting Company suspends operations.


Stock Market collapses.


A survey of Aspen/Ashcroft area by Andre Roch for Ted Ryan, Billy Fiske and tom Flynn, who with the results then build the Highland Bavarian Lodge on Castle Creek.  A six passenger boat tow powered by an old mine hoist and truck engine becomes the first lift on Aspen Mountain.

1936-1948 Aspen Discovery of the White Gold

The new winter sport of skiing that will come to take advantage of the excellent terrain and snow conditions provide Aspen’s road back to success.


Aspen’s first national downhill slalom championships are held in March. Fritz Benedict visits Aspen for the first time.

War Years

The 10th Mountain Division, based Hale near Leadville, uses the Aspen area for training. Many veterans return after war and develop skiing in Aspen.


Walter Paepcke, a Chicago industrialist and president of Container Corporation of America visits Aspen and begins plans for a new cultural center with wife Elizabeth. Paepcke meets with Friedl Pfeifer and plans Aspen’s first ski lift.


Lift-1 is dedicated as the world’s longest chairlift. Aspen ski school is born with Friedl Pfeifer as director. A refurbished Hotel Jerome opens. Herbert Byer’s partially refurbished Wheeler Opera House reopens. Dick and Miggs Durrance arrive in Aspen. Dick becomes Aspen Skiing Company’s first General Manager.


The airport officially opens for commercial flights. Walter Paepcke brings Stuart and Isabel Mace to Aspen.


Aspen hosts FIS World Alpine Championships, the first sanctioned international competition in the U.S. making Aspen an international skiing destination.


Friedl Pfeifer opens Buttermilk. Aspen Highlands opens. DRC Brown becomes president of the Aspen Skiing Corporation.


Aspen’s City Golf Course opens.


Downtown streets are paved. The Brown Ice Palace opens. Aspen Historical Society opens.


Herbert Bayer designs the new music tent. US Forest Service grants approvals of the Snowmass-at-Aspen Ski Area and the Reudi Dam Project.


The Woody Creek Improvement Association is formed. The Aspen Institute donates land for the Aspen Music Festival School.


Paul Soldner, ceramic artist, founds Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village.


Snowmass Ski Area opens with 5 chairlifts and 50 miles of trails. Lift tickets cost $6.50/day. Snowmaking is introduced on the Little Nell run at the base of Aspen Mountain.


Elizabeth Paepcke founds ACES wildlife sanctuary at Hallam Lake. First official Aspen Alpine World cup is held on Aspen Mountain.


Train service (now only freight) officially ends on January 29th. Pitkin Airport adds a control tower. A fulltime city planner is hired. The State Highway Department begins to plan a 4 lane highway from Glenwood Springs to Aspen.


Lift 1A begins operations, replacing the original Lift-1 single chair.


The first phase of the downtown pedestrian mall is completed.


Alpine Springs and High Alpine lifts open at Snowmass ski area.


Aspen Art Museum opens in former hydroelectric plant building by the confluence of the Hunter Creek and the Roaring Fork River.


A restored Wheeler Opera House reopens.


The Silver Queen Gondola opens, the longest single stage gondola in the world.


Ingemar Stenmark wins his 86th and final World Cup race on Aspen Mountain.


Harris Hall opens. Whip Jones donates Aspen Highlands to Harvard University, which in turn sell to Gerald Hines, who becomes a partner in Aspen Skiing Company, which takes over Highlands operations. Stuart Mace dies at 74.


The 50th Anniversary of Aspen Skiing Company complete with 3,000 employees and 4,700 skiable acres across four mountain securing it’s position as a world class ski resort.


Snowmass Ski Area celebrates its 39th anniversary. Cirque lift opens giving Snowmass the Nation’s longest vertical rise of 4,406 ft. The lift is built with all environmental factors taken into account to protect the ecology and animals of the area. The first lift to be powered by clean, renewable wind power.


World Cup returns to Aspen. Cirque run renamed “Rocky Mountain High” as tribute to John Denver. Gulfstream 24 hours of aspen charity ski race sets a new fundraising record of $1.2million to support Kid’s Stuff (Silver Lining Ranch) and AVSC (Aspen Valley Ski Club). Highlands Café closes its doors forever. Construction begins on new Highlands Village. Could Nine Restaurant debuts.


Aspen Music Festival and School celebrate its 50th Anniversary. The sundeck is demolished and replaced by a new 21,600 SF mountain top restaurant. Controversial round about is constructed at highway 82 and Maroon Creek Road. There are now 9 traffic lights between Mill Street in Aspen and the first light in Glenwood Springs. Remodeled Isis Theater opens.


Aspen Institute celebrates its 50th anniversary. Franz Berko dies. Aspen Music Festival and School dedicate a new permanent music tent, the Benedict Music Tent. World Cup returns to Aspen. Isis Theater goes bankrupt.


Isis reopens under new owner.


Aspen Drug ceases business after 100 years of service. Miggs Durrance dies at 85.


Dick Durrance dies at 89.


Toklat Gallery moves from Ashcroft to Basalt.


Isabel Mace dies at 87. The original gondola is replaced. Construction of the new Snowmass Base Village begins.


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Information from the Aspen Historical Soceity.

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