Celebrate our history by supporting the Historical Society
If you haven’t already picked up on it, this is Celebrate History Week in Aspen, and the Aspen Historical Society is pulling out the stops to remind locals and visitors about the amazing heritage we share. From “The Ballad of Baby Doe” and “Skiing Legends, Center Stage” at the Wheeler Opera House to lectures on post-World War II art in Aspen and an exploration of what America’s founding fathers would think about today’s United States, the society is provoking thought and promoting historical awareness on many levels.
As noted in last week’s cover story, the historical society has been struggling recently, so we want everyone to understand just how valuable this organization is. Aspen’s history is tightly woven into the local culture, which makes it all too easy to assume that the society will just “be there.” But it’s a mistake to take the nonprofit for granted; it gets only about 7 percent of its annual budget from the local government, subsisting almost entirely on donations and grants.
In recent years, those donations have tapered off drastically as people mistakenly assumed the organization was flush with proceeds from the sale of Ruth Whyte’s donated West End home. But that money went directly into a renovation of the aging Wheeler/Stallard House, where the society has both its offices and museum.
Simply put, the society needs to boost its memberships and raise money to do its work. That important work includes managing the Wheeler/Stallard House and grounds, including the archives, which contain documents and artifacts dating back to Aspen’s founding in 1879. It includes operation and maintenance of the Holden-Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum and, in cooperation with other organizations, management of Ashcroft and Independence ghost towns. Its mission may someday include the establishment of a ski museum near the site of the original Lift 1.
The Aspen Historical Society is the repository of everything that sets Aspen apart from the soulless ski resorts that masquerade as “towns.” Part of what makes Aspen a rich and interesting place to live is the sum total of what’s happened here over the last century and a quarter: The creation of a thriving town from a ramshackle mining camp, the collapse of that vibrant silver town into the darkness of the Quiet Years, the post-World War II reinvention of Aspen as a skiing, cultural and intellectual center, and its rise to prominence as a mecca for skiers, music-lovers, CEOs and celebrities.
It’s a unique and amazing story, folks, and thanks to the Aspen Historical Society it’s readily available through photographs, old newspapers, relics, lectures, museums and more. Please don’t take this resource for granted.