Redstone’s coke ovens are nearly in public’s hands
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A symbol of the founding of Redstone is a step away from being permanently preserved.
The town’s coke ovens, along Highway 133 across from the town’s entrance, and 14 acres nearby could soon become part of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program. The county commissioners will decide this week whether to use $97,000 in program funds to preserve the landmark.
The ovens and the town were built in the late 1800s, when coal magnate John Cleveland Osgood set up a mining operation in the Coal Basin, four miles west of the current town site. The high-grade coking coal was taken from the ovens to the Osgood steel mines in Pueblo on the Crystal River Railroad.
Redstone was built as a place for cokers to live with their families. Osgood also developed the 40-room Redstone Inn for bachelors. By 1902 Osgood had also built his Tudor-style home, the 42-room Redstone Castle.
“Since the town was created to house the cokers, the coke ovens themselves are the soul of this town,” said Ron Sorter, a Redstone resident and a member of the Redstone Historical Society. “We’ve wanted the ovens to be in public hands so they’ll be taken care of. No site is more important to Redstone.”
Until June 24, the coke ovens and the 14 acres at stake were owned by Mid-Continent Resources Inc. In the effort to preserve the site, the Aspen Valley Land Trust agreed to buy it, accept a historical designation for it and sell it to Pitkin County.
Mid-Continent Resources Inc. set a $290,000 price tag on the property, and the Redstone Historical Society received a $195,000 grant from the State Historical Society to preserve the area.
Redstone resident and historical society member Ron Sorter said the county quickly agreed to give a third of the sale price to buy the property when the owners agreed to sell it. The State Historical Society, which likes applicants to have partners for preservation projects, agreed to fund the last two-thirds of the purchase.
In the meantime, AVLT purchased the land to establish a conservation easement and the historical designation. The designation was needed before the grant money could be given to the Redstone Historical Society.
“They needed a neutral agent to buy the property and accept the historic designation on it that allows grant money to be released, and we’ll be paid back,” said Martha Cochran, AVLT executive director. “We were a good agent to step in and fill the gap, allowing this to happen.”
“As soon as we get the money, and we expect the check any day now, we’ll buy it from AVLT,” Sorter said.
In 1995, Sorter said the State Historical Society gave them a grant to do an archeological assessment, oven by oven. The results of the assessment were to stabilize the ovens as they are, but with a recommendation to restore two of the round brick ovens to how they looked a century ago.
Sorter said that’s what the plan will be once the land belongs to the Open Space program. He said he’s glad that eight years’ worth of attempts to purchase and preserve the landmark is finally coming to a conclusion.
“We’re knocking on wood, because the process is not over yet,” Sorter said. “But once it is we’ll have a big celebration for the property, because it’ll be owned by the public. We see a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a train.”
Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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