Roaring Fork Valley towns bursting with history
From a recorded-history standpoint, the Roaring Fork Valley is a fairly young place. Prospectors first entered the valley, then inhabited by the Ute tribe, in the late 19th century. But the discovery of silver in Aspen and the lure of the hot waters in Glenwood Springs started things with a bang, and quickly changed the complexion of this once-remote valley.Since then, the fortunes of the valley’s inhabitants have swung wildly through times of struggle and times of plenty. From Glenwood to Aspen, and from Marble to Basalt, each community in this one-of-a-kind watershed has its own history and personality. Here are short histories of each, in alphabetical order.
A world-class, year-round resort today, Aspen’s past is as exciting as its future.The town, nestled at the foot of Independence Pass in the Roaring Fork Valley, was originally home to the Ute Indians. They were undisturbed due to the rugged terrain and inclement weather that kept prospectors at bay.But, in the late 1800s, the push was on to find silver. And with Leadville being the second largest city in Colorado at the time, it was certain that the settlement then called Ute City would be “discovered.”And discovered it was. By 1892, the town has been renamed Aspen, a railroad ran through it, and the population had swelled to 12,000 residents. It also had six newspapers, four schools, three banks, a volunteer fire department, 10 churches, a modern hospital, an opera house and a small, but flourishing brothel district on Durant Avenue.But the boom wouldn’t last. When Congress repealed the Sherman Act and the silver-mining industry went bust, so did Aspen. Ranching took over as the mainstay, but by 1930, the town’s population had dwindled to 700. These were the “Quiet Years.”But again, Aspen would do an about-face. With the construction of a 10-passenger boat tow in the late 1930s and the cutting of Roch’s Run on what is now Aspen Mountain, a ski town was born. It rise to prominence continued with the 1941 national ski championships. World War II temporarily halted ski development in Aspen, but when dozens of 10th Mountain Division veterans returned to Colorado after the war, the creation of a resort resumed. With the official opening of Lift One in 1947, Aspen’s future as a ski town was sealed.But Aspen is a chameleon of sorts, changing colors with passing years. Thus, with the introduction of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke’s Aspen Idea in the middle of the century, Aspen would become an intellectual and cultural mecca, in addition to a ski town. The Aspen institute and the Aspen Music Festival and School, for example, grew out of the Paepcke’s efforts to establish a cultural retreat in the Rockies, and those institutions remain central to Aspen’s culture and economy today.Decades later, when celebrities like Goldie, Kurt, Barbie and Jack discovered Aspen’s charms, the town would become known as “Glitter Gulch,” a vacation destination for the world’s rich and famous. So from the flush days of silver mining to the lean “Quiet Years,” and from the romance of ranching to the rise of skiing, Aspen’s history is as colorful as this one-of-a-kind town remains to this day.- Jeanne McGovern
Basalt’s name may be rooted in the black igneous rock that surrounds the area, but its history is a bit more colorful.Founded in the early 1880s, the town was once called Fryingpan Town. The town was so named due to this local legend: In typical Old West fashion, a party of prospectors was camped along the Fryingpan River when they were attacked by a band of Indians (most likely Utes). One man was badly wounded and was left behind while his companions went for help. They hid the injured man in a cave and marked the spot by tying a frying pan to nearby tree limbs. When rescue soldiers finally arrived, they found the man had died, but the frying pan was still hanging there.Years later, when the Midland Railroad had laid tracks through the Roaring Fork Valley and created a townsite of its own, the settlers of Fryingpan Town relocated across the river to what was then called Aspen Junction.Then, in 1895, the burgeoning railroad town was renamed Basalt and thus incorporated in 1901. Basalt remained a railroad town until 1918, as the Midland brought passengers and freight from Leadville to the Roaring Fork Valley through the town via Hagerman Pass – a rocky and rugged ride filled with rockslides, snowdrifts, derailments and a storied tunnel through the Continental Divide. These hardships only reinforced Basalt’s resilience as a town, as it ebbed and flowed from a railroad town to a ranching town to its role today as a bedroom community for Aspen and a resort in its own right with fine restaurants, unique boutiques, Gold Medal fishing on the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers, and much more.- Jeanne McGovern
Known for its potato-growing heritage since the 1900s, Carbondale still celebrates with its annual Potato Day Festival in the fall, which has taken place for more than 100 years.Carbondale was founded in 1883 and incorporated in 1888. The town was named for the Pennsylvania hometown of John Mankin, one of Carbondale’s founders.Along with potatoes, Carbondale also supplied the nearby towns of Aspen and Glenwood Springs with labor and coal to help run their industries.A local farmer and Irish mining immigrant, Thomas McClure, is also credited with developing the “Red McClure” potato, and for cutting the first road leading from the Crystal River Valley over “McClure’s Pass” to the North Fork of the Gunnison River.Located at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Crystal River Valleys, the Carbondale area was known for its abundance of fish and game.Carbondale’s most impressive landmark is the 13,000-foot twin peaks of Mount Sopris, named for the early explorer, Captain Richard Sopris. He came through the area on a mapping and prospecting expedition in 1860. According to Ute Indian historians, the valley’s early inhabitants called the mountain “Wemagooah Kazuhchich,” or “Ancient Mountain Heart Sits There.”Today, Carbondale is a thriving arts center, and the town celebrates its artistic heritage each year with one of the area’s premier summer festivals, Carbondale Mountain Fair, held the last weekend of July.- Heidi Rice
Once crowded with gamblers, gunslingers, prostitutes and riddled with camp tents, saloons and brothels, Glenwood Springs was known as “Defiance” when it was first settled by white people in 1883. The Ute Indians had been driven out of the valley in 1879 to reservations in Utah, leaving behind their beloved Yampah Hot Springs.Town founder Isaac Cooper’s wife, Sarah, got the town’s name changed to Glenwood Springs, after her home town of Glenwood, Iowa. The town was incorporated in 1885, when Colorado was just nine years old.Glenwood Springs was at first a spa retreat. The arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1887, construction of the world-famous Hot Springs Lodge and Pool in 1888, and of the Hotel Colorado in 1893, set the town up as a popular tourist destination.The town attracted historical figures, including President Teddy Roosevelt, gunfighter “Doc” Holliday, train robber “Kid Curry” and bootlegger Al Capone. High society figures would arrive in private rail cars and stay for weeks at the Hotel Colorado.Holliday, a dentist, professional gambler and survivor of the shootout at the O.K. Corral, came to in Glenwood Springs in hopes of recovering from tuberculosis. He died in 1887 at age 36, and is buried in the city’s historic Linwood Cemetery. Kid Curry, a member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, was also buried at Linwood after he died in a 1904 shootout in Parachute.- Heidi Rice
Before white people moved into the Crystal River Valley, it was a sacred hunting ground for the Native American Ute culture. By the 1870s, prospectors for gold and silver had filtered north from Crested Butte. The search for silver was unsuccessful, but the discovery of marble in 1882 created a mining boom unique to the upper Crystal valley.The beautiful white marble cut from the Yule Creek Quarry was displayed at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This generated enough commercial interest in Yule marble that it was used for the interior of the state Capitol building in Denver and to supply finishing mills in the east.By 1905, three marble quarries were operating in Marble. The Colorado Yule Marble Co, organized in 1906, leased the Crystal River Railroad and built seven miles of new track into Marble, naming the spur the Crystal River & San Juan Railroad. In its boom years, Marble had two newspapers and bustled with people who filled the churches, school, theater, five general stores, two hotels, a drugstore, a dry goods store, two pool halls, a Masonic Lodge, two barbershops and six saloons. The Marble quarry supplied white stone for monuments and buildings across the United States, including the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Va.But when the market for marble collapsed, the town’s population dropped to 50 people.In recent times, the high school, built in 1910, was refurbished to house the Marble Charter School and the Marble Historical Museum. Residents also restored the historic Marble City State Bank Building.- Heidi Rice
Redstone was established in the late 19th century by industrialist John Cleveland Osgood as part of a coal mining enterprise. Osgood built Redstone at a cost of $5 million to realize his business plans, including construction of the Crystal River Railroad, the Coal Basin mines and the Redstone coke ovens.Osgood constructed more than 80 cottages, along with what is now known as the Redstone Inn, for his coal miners, cokers and their families. He also built a theater, school, library, lodge and a clubhouse in the town.For his second wife, a Swedish countess, Osgood constructed Cleveholm Manor, commonly called Redstone Castle, completed in 1901. The opulent, 42-room, Tudor-style mansion was part of a 72-acre property that also included servants’ quarters, a gamekeeper’s lodge, a carriage house and a greenhouse.The mines closed in 1908, and in 1924 Osgood returned to his castle with his third wife, Lucille, to redevelop Redstone as a resort, but he died before its completion. Lucille inherited Osgood’s entire estate and attempted to run the Redstone Inn as a resort hotel, but it failed in the Great Depression. By 1941, Redstone had a population of 14.Today, the Redstone Inn, Redstone Castle and the Osgood Gamekeeper’s Lodge are all listed on the National Historic Register. The inn offers year-round dining and accommodations. Tours of the Redstone Castle are offered on weekends.- Heidi Rice
Attracted by miles of verdant soils in a bowl shaped, high-altitude valley, early settlers to Snowmass were self-reliant ranchers who lived, worked and even played a little in an isolated area that was a good half-day horseback trip from the upstart mining town of Aspen. The children of these half-dozen or so ranching families, who came here beginning in the 1880s, learned their ABCs in a one-room schoolhouse that still operates today as a pre-school.The ranching lifestyle remained essentially unchanged, even through the Great Depression, until the late 1950s when some Aspen ski enthusiasts set their sights on the Brush Creek valley. They initially visited the upper reaches of Baldy Mountain via a single-engine aircraft; further explorations were made on snowcats and and on foot.The Janss Corporation of Los Angeles began to quietly acquire some of the ranch parcels and by 1964, partnered with the Aspen Ski Corporation to begin construction of a European-style, multi-village ski development. By December 1967, five chairlifts had been built, a handful of lodges and restaurants constructed and the Snowmass-at-Aspen resort was officially born. Development of outlying parcels continued in Snowmass during the 1970s, with subdivisions springing up, additional skier amenities being added and the local-serving shopping area, the Snowmass Center, seeing completion. On the site of the old Hoaglund Ranch, Anderson Ranch Arts Center opened its barn doors to host the Village’s creative community.The town truly came of age during this decade; in 1977, Snowmass Village became a municipality with its own elected Town Council and assumed responsibilities such as road maintenance and trash pickup. The years since incorporation have seen multiple fortunes won and lost: A boom in luxury developments and multi-million-dollar gentlemen’s ranches were offset by two high-profile bankruptcies, the latest involving the front-and-center Base Village.Today, Snowmass Ski Area boasts more than 3,000 acres of ski terrain and 21 lifts. Summer activities include a weekly music performance on Fanny Hill augmented by special events from a national mountain bike race to the Labor Day music festival. June’s Chili Pepper and Brew fest, and the fall hot-air balloon weekend reflect the effort to expand the viable business season. Last fall’s historic discovery of Ice Age bones and plant materials, considered one of the most significant in the American West, have re-infused Snowmass Village with excitement.- Madeleine Osberger
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
If you are visiting the Roaring Fork Valley this week, why not give fly fishing a try? You’ve probably heard that there are a few challenges out there in regards to water temperatures down-valley on…