Legends & Legacies: Aspen’s house-name lunacy
Legends & Legacies
Many of us who grew up in Aspen suffer from place-name forgetfulness. When visitors would stop and ask, “Where is Hallam Street?” We would respond, “Whose house are you looking for?”
Street names did not frame our version of a town map. Instead, we relied mostly on house and business names. We used numbers even less than street names because not all houses had numbers, and if they did we didn’t pay attention to them. Those numbers held little meaning because we used mailbox numbers for addresses.
We survived mainly through a navigation system that recognized prominent landmarks. During a blizzard, a primitive form of dead reckoning got us home. These systems still function today, when owners of buildings and houses — and consequently their place names — have changed.
Here are a few personal examples.
During my earliest years I lived in the Cowenhoven Building. Authentic Aspen residents pronounce that “Con-ho-ven.” For decades, Bloomingbirds has occupied the section I once lived in.
A carving in the building’s sandstone face labels it “H.P. Cowenhoven and Co.” But most think of the building as the Ute City Banque. First of all, there never was a Ute City. A camp of prospectors used that name briefly during 1879. Second, the moniker Aspen became official as soon as early pioneer B. Clark Wheeler filed for a town site. The nickname Ute City endures, however, as a nickname of our fair city. The amusing, revisionist title sounds as though early settlers felt a fondness toward the Indians. Nothing could be further than the truth.
The truth: Builders did not construct the structure as a bank, but many years later the building housed a bank. When Cowenhoven and his son-in-law D.R.C. Brown built the building, they owned a bank across the street. What we commonly consider to be Cowenhoven’s bank functioned as his office for years, until a new owner purchased the building and installed a bank.
However, when I was a kid and someone asked me where I lived, I said, “Next door to the bank.” The Bank of Aspen was housed there, and locals referred to that as “the bank building.”
Another Aspen landmark, the Sardy House, claims similar history. During the mining era, John Atkinson, owner of a major freighting business and the Little Annie Mine, built the Atkinson house. My mother, during high school, called the same residence the Manfred Smith House. Even after Tom Sardy bought the house, my mother called it the Manford Smith. The habit arose from her close friendship with the daughter of Manfred Smith.
Doc and Maude Twining owned the house from 1935 to 1945. Although Twining became the mayor and one of Aspen’s most known residents, few used his name to refer to his home. This may have been because the Twinings entertained guests in the house but they lived in the Jerome. Maude agreed to marry the much older doctor under an agreement that she did not do domestic.
My generation continued to call it the Sardy house and that name stuck, with a history of complications. Tom and Alice-Rachel Sardy lived in their house and Tom had a couple of businesses in town. Locals referred to his Aspen Supply Co. as Sardy’s. He also owned the lumberyard across the street, and customers referred to that enterprise as “the lumberyard.”
Locals also distinguished the house with one more name, the mortuary. Sardy also ran that business from the lower floor of the house. If you aimed to visit the Sardy’s socially, you might have told your family you were, “going to the mortuary,” even if you did not intend to arrange or attend a funeral.
The notable Van Hoevenberg house still stands near the Red Brick School. Built in 1888, it remains one of the oldest of the grand Victorians. In modern Aspen, Fred and Florence Glidden lived there and locals called it the Glidden house. Visitors confused me and other Aspen children when they requested directions to Luke Short’s house. Fred Glidden used that pen name when he wrote 50 western novels.
As children, my peers and I understood but did not use names like Sardy House and Glidden House. We used names derived from the children who lived there — T.J.’s or Sylvia’s for the Sardy house, and Dan’s or Katie’s for the Glidden house.
Unforgettable names such as these make a house, and a city, a home.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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