D.R.C. Brown: A family of Aspen firsts
Aspen Times Staff Writer
D.R.C. Brown knows who “Pierre” is ” as in the Pierre Lakes, above Snowmass Creek.
“Pierre Hunter,” said Brown, who turned 91 this month. “He was one of the original old prospectors around here that got in early. Why he got up into that country, I don’t know. It’s a miserable place to get into. And the fish? They’re so skinny because they get so little feed. Those lakes are frozen over for so much of the year.”
Brown, a second-generation Aspenite, was one of the founding fathers of lift-served skiing in Aspen, and the president for 25-plus years of the old Aspen Skiing Corporation. Ask him anything about Aspen, and chances are you’ll hear a whimsical tale.
“I’ll tell you one memory of the quiet years that you might enjoy,” he said in an interview at his home. “The original Castle Creek bridge had a sign on it ” ‘$15 fine for riding or driving across this bridge faster than a walk.'”
A striking anecdote, but it represents an Aspen more familiar than the one encountered in 1880 by Brown’s father, David Robinson Crocker Brown Sr.
After hearing of new strikes in a mining camp called Ute City, the 24-year-old Brown Sr. made the rugged journey by wagon from Blackhawk to Leadville and over Cottonwood Pass and Taylor Pass into Ashcroft. Brown had traveled with the Cowenhovens, general store merchants from Blackhawk. Soon after their arrival in the valley, they erected Aspen’s first wooden structure, a general store, amid a tent city of miners, prospectors and mountain men.
Brown went on to open a bank and, in 1885, start the water and power company that made Aspen the first electrified city in Colorado. At one point, the Brown family owned Hallam Lake (though they kept it drained as pastureland for stock), as well as the entire block overlooking the present-day Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.
D.R.C. Sr. was also the director of the Midland Railroad. After the company went bankrupt and the bank put one of its holdings, the Maroon Creek bridge, up for sale, Brown bought it and turned it over to the state. That aging bridge is now part of Highway 82.
During his childhood, D.R.C. Jr. split time between Aspen and Denver, summering in the high country and wintering in the low. After high school and college on the East Coast, he worked in the oil business before moving back to Aspen. After serving in the Navy during World War II, D.R.C. Jr. returned to Aspen for good and began laying plans with Andre Roche and Friedl Pfeifer to build a chairlift up Aspen Mountain.
Brown went on to become a state senator and president of the Aspen Skiing Corp., which at one time was the largest skiing company in the world, with holdings from Blackcomb Mountain in British Columbia to Colorado’s Breckenridge to resorts in Spain and Argentina.
Ruthie’s Run on Aspen Mountain is named for Brown’s wife, Ruthie; their daughter, Ruthie, a nordic skiing coach and former ski patroller, is the “Ruth” of “Baby Ruth” at Snowmass.
Ruthie also built the Aspen Ice Garden, formerly called the Brown Ice Palace. No prominent Aspen streets are named for the Browns, but the family history is intertwined with those of numerous Aspen institutions. One Brown property in the West End neighborhood became the first high school, another the first hospital.
And nearly 125 years after his family’s arrival in Aspen, D.R.C. has numerous descendants living in the valley, including Ruthie Brown’s children, Simi and Jenny Hamilton. (See related story, page A29.)
However, as Ruthie tells the story, her dad hardly encouraged her to ski.
“Daddy was determined to not let any of us become skiers,” she said. “He tried to make sure that we all got a good college education, and got into a legitimate profession that didn’t have anything to do with the ski industry. So I was determined to ski. … I came back to Aspen, really to be able to raise my kids here.
“And it’ll be interesting to see what my kids do, and if the community has developed to the point where kids, who maybe are fourth generation, have a chance to go out, get their college education and then come back and live and work in the community. It’ll be interesting to see.”
D.R.C. Jr. wonders too.
“It’s a pity,” he said of Aspen’s rising real estate prices. “I mean, there’s employee housing ” $200,000 for an employee’s house ” so the real working stiffs have to live downvalley.”
As for the modern-day Skico, D.R.C. is happy with the company’s direction.
“They’ve done a good job trying to restore Aspen to some of its original grandeur,” he said. “Aspen was, in the 1970s, probably the best-known and regarded ski area in the country.”
Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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