Our daily bread
August 20, 2010
Although Aspen’s mining era boasted of more bars than bakeries, close to a baker’s dozen of them provided hungry miners with their daily bread. Like clusters of clothing stores today, those bakeries favored the same streets: three on Hyman, four on Cooper and five close to the downtown core. All sold bread, some advertised as confectioneries for those with a sweet tooth, and a few branched out to provide groceries or even restaurant fare.
City Bakery, operated by J.H. Byron, lasted for many years. In 1892 it made the news when its teamster unknowingly backed his wagon into a telegraph pole. When he started forward, part of the wagon caught hold of the pole. The horse kept pulling and the wagon turned over. Next door to the City Bakery you could buy oysters. Bread and oysters for dinner?
Fires were common then and one might assume bakeries would be prone to conflagrations. The World’s Fair Bakery was the only one to catch fire, but it did not burn down and was not the cause of the fire. In fact, the neighboring building had caught fire, owing to the carelessness of a tenant.
The World’s Fair Bakery leased its space from the Aspen Mining and Smelting Company and opened in 1894. There was a world’s fair every year of that decade, but there are two that the business may have been named after: the one in Paris featuring the Eiffel Tower, and the one in Chicago that featured Colorado’s silver-coinage promotional statue, the Silver Queen.
In addition to threat of fire, running a bakery had other challenges. In 1904 the town ran out of flour. Bakeries ran short, the local distributors were out. Aspen’s residents had to wait a week for a railroad car of flour to arrive. In 1918 there was a similar shortage, due to sugar rationing for the war.
Most of Aspen’s bakeries sold only on a cash basis, providing no credit or running tabs. Each claimed to have the lowest prices and the best products. The Eureka Bakery featured pastries and rolls and sold a dozen cookies for 10 cents. If something sweet didn’t satisfy, then you could buy a can of sardines there for 15 cents. Joseph Wheeler’s bakery opened in 1884 and was known for its pies and cakes. Colorado Bakery sold Boston brown bread. Raymond Riede’s Bakery opened in 1888 and offered ice cream.
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There didn’t appear to be any gluten-free products back then, but one baker appealed to the health-food crowd. He claimed there was no alum in his bread or ammonia in his cakes. He advertised, “those drugs are so freely used by bakers doing a large business. The effect of alum and ammonia on the human system is very disastrous. Many people who do not know why they have dyspepsia, if they were posted, could trace it back to the alum in the bread they eat.” His City Bakery was the Starbucks of its day, featuring Mocha, Java and Rio coffees, “free from all the deleterious matter in ‘doctored’ roasted coffee.”
Maybe miners ate more than skiers do. Modern Aspen may serve pastries in a dozen places, but has not developed a dozen bakeries.