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High school in a house

Courtesy Willoughby collectionThe junior class girls pose in front of Aspen's high school, the Brown house, in 1925.
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Aspen’s first high school was located within the Lincoln School that served all grades. Although the building was constructed on Bleeker Street in 1882, there were no high school students until 1887 and there was no graduating class until 1889. Increasing student population led to the construction of two additional grammar schools by 1890. Since few students continued education beyond eighth grade, the high school continued to fit in the Lincoln School. Graduating classes never exceed 10 students from 1889 until 1900.

The number of high school students increased in the early 1900s requiring a separate building. Aspen used bond issues to build schools, but the city had overextended itself in borrowing so Aspen High School moved to a house, the Brown mansion. That facility was paid for by D.R.C. Brown, the owner/builder, F. M. Taylor and David Brunton, owners of ore sampling works in Aspen and Cripple Creek, and Elmer Butler, a partner in the Aspen Mine. The community chipped in additional funds for a new heating plant, renovations and furniture. A new high school was born without any general tax.

Brown’s house, built for his first wife, was one of the grandest homes in Aspen. Large Victorian houses lined Aspen’s streets, especially in the West End, but only a few were built of brick. The Brown house began as a wood-frame structure, then the house was enlarged, using brick for the exterior. Quarried sandstone added architectural interest as windowsills and decorative detail.



The two-story structure was ideal for a school with basement and attic storage, large rooms, and numerous windows. It was perhaps too elegant for unappreciative teens with its cut-glass doors between the foyer and the main hall.

Aspen High was not the only school housed in a mansion built by silver moguls. Those familiar with San Francisco may know the Hamlin and Sacred Heart schools high on Broadway with the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. James Flood built both elegant homes in the early 1900s for his wife. Flood was heir to Comstock silver mining.




The Colorado Springs School moved into the mansion of Charles and Virginia Baldwin in the 1960s. Virginia Baldwin, named for Virginia City, Nev., was also a Comstock heiress. Their 20,000-square-foot mansion was a copy of the Grand Trianon in Versailles.

The Brown house provided ample space for the 40 to 80 students who filled its rooms for several decades. There were no athletic facilities; even so, Aspen competed in numerous sports. Community fields at other locations fulfilled the need. The building that now houses City Hall on Galena Street served as a basketball court.

Student numbers dropped in the 1930s and decades of teen wear and tear, along with general deterioration, prodded the school board to consider building a new structure. The Washington School in the West End, the largest of Aspen’s school buildings, had also outserved its time. All of Aspen’s original schools were demolished. The centrally located Brown property was used to build a new school housing all grades (now the Red Brick Arts and Recreation Center). The Yellow Brick was built on the Lincoln School lot for the elementary grades when the student population burgeoned in the late 1950s.

Aspen’s mansion high school lives on. Its salvaged bricks were used to build St. Stephen’s church in Glenwood Springs.


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