Silver in the mountain, peat in a bog on top of the mountain
Legends & Legacies
Some of the country’s finest silver came from inside Smuggler Mountain but few know/remember that the mountain had another treasure that was carted down the mountain and sold, peat moss found in the Warren Lake area at the top of the mountain.
There were a variety of uses and forms of peat for as long as history has been recorded. In the early years of Aspen there was increased production and use. Ireland and Scotland led because of the abundance and began using peat to make electricity. Peat was used in Sweden to fuel locomotives. Ground peat powder was used in medicines for dressing wounds. In 1902 peat was discovered in Colorado in Park and Lake Counties.
Aspen did not notice its peat then and did not use it, as other places did, coal was plentiful for heating in the area, a better heating fuel, and it did not need peat to make electricity as Aspen had hydro-electric plants. Locals began using peat moss for fertilizer in the 1930s, but it was not produced locally.
Aspen’s peat moss became important in the 1950s, but it is worth digressing to tell the history of Warren Lake.
Frank Warren, the namesake of the lake, came to Aspen in 1891 and spent several years working for the post office. He acquired the lake land in the early 1900s with the idea of creating a fishing resort. He stocked the lake in 1904 with 25,000 minnows, called his lake Woods Lake and moved to the site as a year-round resident.
Warren and his wife built cabins for guests and locals enjoyed his resort because “there was no limit to the number of trout in the lake.” There was a wagon road to the site so it was an easy trip from town, but with a limited guest season Warren started a side business, a fish hatchery. In 1913, in one year, he shipped 300,000 fish eggs.
After running his resort for 19 years Warren died in 1923 and it closed down.
His heir Alice Towne who operated the first Indian jewelry and rug shop in the Cowenhoven Building sold the property to Mike Carrasco in 1945. He warned locals that fishing there was trespassing and that he intended to open a fishing resort like Warren’s. Immediately after his war service ended in the summer of 1946 he began road improvements that he hoped would enable passenger cars to travel to the lake. He was a part time resident going back and forth from Ogden, Utah. Another opportunity opened up and in 1948 he bought the Rocky Mountain Lodge that was four miles east of town, which slowed his Warren Lake project. He also built the White Kitchen building on Hyman Avenue and opened the restaurant, but because he decided to still split his residence, he leased the restaurant to the Klusmires.
Carrasco rejuvenated his Warren Lake plans in 1954 announcing he was opening Mountain Meadows Park, a private fishing club, where members would have 150 feet of lake frontage to build their own cabin. He had introduced beavers to the lake and was in the process of building his own dams to create additional lakes. It appears that in the process peat moss was discovered.
Carrasco had created the Royal Land Company in Ogden and as you can see he was always looking for new ways to make money. At the tine most peat moss was imported from Canada and he calculated there was sufficient peat moss on his property and that he could harvest and process it profitably.
He built a steel-sided building on lower Mill Street in 1959 near the D and R G railroad siding to process and bag his product, made some road improvements, and planned to ship two to three hundred thousand cubic yards a year.
It was a successful business for several years. Royal Peat Moss sold their product locally for about a dollar a cubic foot ($7.50 in today’s dollars) and shipped his bagged product to nurseries at a time when peat moss was a popular fertilizer.
Next time you hike up Smuggler Mountain picture a 1952 Jeep truck hauling peat moss down the road, a better business then than an exclusive fishing resort in a town with abundant trout fishing choices.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at email@example.com.
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