Aspen Historical Society
Aspen has gone through much iteration over the decades since man has been in the Roaring Fork Valley. The Aspen Historical Society actively preserves and passionately presents this local history in an inspired way that builds community and its evolving character. The experience of Aspen after all is so much richer if we understand where it comes from and how it has evolved to what it is today.
For hundreds of years before miners arrived n the valley the Ute Indians lived in harmony with the land, moving up and down the valley as the weather warmed and cooled. Their lifestyle was so respectful of the land that little evidence of their existence is left behind, but it is believed Glory Hole park right in downtown Aspen was a major summer encampment for the Ute’s.
In 1879 the first miners arrived prospecting for Silver, Aspen held 1/6th of the nation’s silver in veins running through the local mountains, 1/16th of the worlds reserve was dug here. Fortunes were won and lost much as they are today in what becomes Ute City, a town over three times the size of Aspen’s full time local population today. During that time Aspen “Ute City” becomes the first city in the state to have electricity, harnessing hydro electric power to mines and over 40 stores and hotels. Wyatt Earp himself was hear, arresting a bank robber from a robbery of a Wells Fargo in Arizona. The wild time had begun but with the repeal of the Sherman Silver Act the town crashes.
The “Quit Years” ensued from late 1800 to roughly 1936, the railroad goes bankrupt, the “Glory Hole” collapses and a flu epidemic forces the closure of most of the town. Finally Black Tuesday 1929 the market collapses, not the best time to be in Aspen.
In the 1930’s however things were looking up, the new sport of “skiing” is starting to take hold and Aspen is a perfect location. The First World War slows the pace but may have been a blessing in disguise for this ski town as many 10th Mt. veterans return after the war and help develop skiing at Aspen. During this town many key Aspen figures arrive to town, Walter Paepcke and his wife Eilzabeth key figures in working with Friedl Pfeifer to bring the first chair lift in Aspen and Lift-1 , the worlds longest chairlift, opens on December 14th 1946. Add Dick Durance and his ski school in 1947, throw in an Airport in 1947 and you have the makings of one of the greatest ski towns in the word.
The intellectual and enlightened side of Aspen starts to appear in the 1950s and 60s, with the arrival of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke. The prominent Chicago couple brought vision, culture, a love for the outdoors and financial backing with them and infused modern Aspen with the idea that this was a place where mind, body and spirit could flourish.
Slowly over the years since local organizations have formed one by one each enriching Aspen in its own way: The Music School and ACES in the 60s; the Aspen Art Museum and Harris Concert Hall in the 70s. For skiing: Snowmass opens in the 60s, the World Cup Races are held at Aspen for decades, The Silver Queen Gondola opens in the 80s, all along the way Aspen becomes more and more of what we know and love today, and the Historical Society works to preserver and protect the elements that give this lovely place a sense of permanence.
Stop by and see their grounds in the West End, check out their photo archive, or visit the Marolt Mining Ranch, Ashcroft and Independence Ghost towns or any of the wonderful place this organization maintains.