Tales of old Basalt resurrected in book
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
BASALT – An old history book about Basalt is getting new life.
“Basalt: Colorado Midland Town” went through a third printing this spring after becoming nearly impossible to find. The book was originally printed in 1965, and there was a second printing in 1972.
Regarded as the authoritative book about early Basalt families, it is packed with anecdotes about founding families and their activities in Basalt and the Fryingpan Valley.
Basalt natives and brothers Ralph W. and Clarence L. Danielson, sons of an engineer on the Colorado Midland Railroad, started work on the book in their older age. They wanted to capture the history of Basalt before some of the old-timers died off, said Ralph’s grandson, Luke Danielson, an attorney in Gunnison.
Luke recalled accompanying his grandpa on some of the interviews, and taking pictures of the people and places featured in the book. “I was 10 years old when he started writing the book,” Luke said.
Ralph was was likely destined to be a railroad man himself until unexpected opportunity came knocking. The union for railroad workers had a program where they brought special speakers to Basalt for lectures, Luke said. One speaker was a professor from the University of Colorado in Boulder who lectured on Darwin’s discoveries on evolution. The professor stayed in the Danielson house, became impressed by young Luke’s intellect and strongly suggested he attend college.
Ralph Danielson had to attend a Front Range prep school for the college entrance requirements, then went on to college and medical school to become an eye surgeon. He practiced in Denver but his heart never left Basalt, Luke said.
Clarence, the older brother, worked for railroads all his life. He was with the Colorado Midland Railroad when it stopped running in 1918, then worked in other parts of the state.
Danielson believes his grandpa and his great-uncle did an excellent job in the book of capturing what made Basalt so special through tales of fishing the Fryingpan River and hunting on Basalt Mountain to the trials and travails of operating the Colorado Midland Railroad.
“The people who lived in Basalt at the turn of the [20th] century, there was a lot of rough stuff going on around them,” Danielson said.
It was a time of major labor strife at the railroads and mines. Economic times were tough in the Roaring Fork Valley after the demise of the silver mines in Aspen in 1893. World War I later brought incredible hardships for soldiers that served overseas and for the folks who stayed at home.
“There’s a lot of turbulence going on and a lot of turmoil, but this was a pleasant island these families managed to create,” Danielson said.
Before Frank Danielson died, he put the responsibility of keeping the book and all the stories alive in Luke’s hands. Luke said it became obvious in recent years that the book was next to impossible to find. He saw a copy offered on eBay for $300.
He took up a collection from family members and came up with most of the money for a reprinting. The Basalt Regional Heritage Society encouraged the project and provided a grant. George Stranahan’s People’s Press was great to work with, Danielson said.
Luke wrote a preface for the third edition. He will also be featured at two talks and book signings on Saturday. The first is at Alpine Bank, the site of the former Basalt train depot on Midland Avenue, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. The second event will be at the Basalt Library Community Room from 1:30 to 4 p.m.
The book will be available for sale. For more information on the events, call Janice Duroux of the heritage society at 927-3549.
On Monday night, the City Council listened to ideas for each old building. However, nothing laid out what the community space would actually entail — only aspirations and gathered community comment.