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City receives state historical grant

Janet Urquhart

Aspen will receive $155,000 from the state historical fund to help refurbish the century-old Castle Creek Power Plant, which now serves as headquarters for the city’s streets department.The funds will help offset the $384,074 cost of the project, with the city picking up the rest. Repairs to the aging building are planned next summer. The old powerhouse, located beneath the Castle Creek bridge, generated all of Aspen’s electric power until the plant was decommissioned in 1958.”It’s a big deal to get a grant that large. We’re happy,” said Amy Guthrie, the city’s historic preservation officer.Aspen was previously awarded $100,000 in state historical monies to help refurbish city hall and, later, the Ute Cemetery. This is the largest allocation the city has ever received from the fund, Guthrie said. The former hydroelectric plant was built in 1882-83 along the banks of Castle Creek, replacing the town’s original plant on Hunter Creek, which now houses the Aspen Art Museum. In 1885, Aspen became the first U.S. city west of the Mississippi to light its streets and businesses with hydroelectric power.The Castle Creek plant, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was a state-of-the-art facility in its day. It was initially outfitted with five Pelton waterwheels that powered three generators, according to “Power in the Mountains – The History of the Aspen Municipal Electric Utility,” published last year by the city. Hydropower to the plant came via long wooden flumes from Castle and Maroon creeks. In the late 1950s, the city shut down the plant and began purchasing power from the Rural Electrification Authority, transmitted via power lines owned by Holy Cross Electric. The plant sprang to life again briefly in 1961, though, when a Labor Day blizzard knocked down power lines, according to “Power in the Mountains.” Later, the powerhouse was stripped of its generating equipment.Since those days, windows in the plant have been bricked over and mortar holding the masonry together has disintegrated.The refurbishment of the building will include reopening windows, repairing the brickwork and cleaning up various modifications that have been made to the building over time, according to Guthrie. Grading and drainage improvements outside the structure are also planned; the hillside behind the structure is slipping, she said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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