Marker for Aspen’s Maroon Creek Bridge to be dedicated
ASPEN – One of Aspen’s iconic structures will get star treatment Monday when local officials and residents gather for the dedication of a historical marker for the original Maroon Creek Bridge at noon.
The bridge, which enabled a second railroad company to have access to the city during the silver-mining boom of the late 1880s, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. In 1929, after lying dormant for a decade after the railroad company that owned it went bankrupt, it was converted for vehicle use as part of state Highway 82. The bridge served motorists going to and from Aspen for nearly 80 years until its newer counterpart was completed in July 2008.
Its rich history is a matter of record. Although the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Co. took the first train into Aspen in October 1887 along a narrow-gauge line, the Colorado Midland Railway Co. brought the first standard-gauge railroad into Aspen three months later via the 650-foot Maroon Creek trestle. The two companies were in a race to get to Aspen first, and although Colorado Midland had a head start, Denver and Rio Grande was able to take over in the stretch run when a shipment of steel for Maroon Creek Bridge construction was delayed.
“This bridge has been in place for 124 years and has allowed traffic – first trains, then cars and now pedestrians and bikes – to flow in and out of Aspen,” said Amy Guthrie, historic preservation officer for the city of Aspen.
City and Pitkin County officials will preside over Monday’s ceremonies along with former City Councilman Jim Markalunas and members of a longtime local family, the Browns. Monday marks the 83rd anniversary of Aspen pioneer and silver baron D.R.C. Brown Sr.’s purchase of the bridge from the bankrupt Colorado Midland Railroad. Brown donated the structure to the county at no cost, allowing it to become a part of the Highway 82 system.
The marker, funded by Markalunas and the city, describes the importance of the arrival of railroad service to Aspen in 1888 and the subsequent use of the bridge for automobile traffic.
“It’s inspirational that a private citizen can contribute in the way my grandfather did, to purchase something like this bridge with his personal funds and then donate it to the community for the good of the people,” said local resident Ruthie Brown, granddaughter of D.R.C. Brown Sr., in a prepared statement. “Our grandfather helped build, in an entrepreneurial spirit, a thriving economy in a small community that became world renowned.”
The city’s Community Development and Parks departments worked with Markalunas, the Aspen Historical Society and Ruthie Brown to develop a design for the marker. The new marker will be located on the northwest side of the city’s tennis courts near Aspen Golf Club, along Chatfield Trail. That’s where Monday’s ceremony will take place.
Markalunas, 82, whose wife, Ramona, died in February, said he was just following in her footsteps in pushing for the marker. Ramona Markalunas was a founder of the Aspen Historical Society and the city’s first councilwoman.
“The bridge is a monument to the early days of the railroad builders,” Jim Markalunas said. “The Colorado Midland was considered the hometown railroad.”
“Community Development appreciates Jim Markalunas’ dedication to the importance of remembering Aspen’s stories,” Guthrie said.
Accountant Steve Marolt, a local history buff and fourth-generation Aspenite, said the bridge has a meaningful place in the community’s history.
“Stop and think about what a big deal that was to connect Aspen over both Castle Creek and Maroon Creek,” he said. “Before that bridge was in place, you had to go up and around Woody Creek. It had a huge impact on the town.”
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