The hidden Holden-Marolt revealed |

The hidden Holden-Marolt revealed

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen Parks supervisor Stephen Ellsperman discirbes a pile of beams that was once part of the Marolt mining structure which will be placed on a self-guided tour of the historic site Thursday morning May 27, 2004. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

It’s hard to believe the tallest smokestack in Colorado (at the time, anyway) once towered above Aspen’s Holden-Marolt Open Space.

In fact, the pastoral expanse behind the split-rail wooden fence on the western edge of town offers little hint of the huge industrial plant that once existed there. One must wade through the tall grass and peak through the undergrowth to find evidence of its history.

A joint effort this summer, though, will make those remnants a little easier to find. A new interpretive trail will give visitors to the property a glimpse of the past.

The city’s parks department is teaming up with the Friends of Marolt, the Aspen Historical Society, Aspen’s Historic Preservation Commission and the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers for the project. On July 10, the volunteers will build the trail loop along an already-existing path and install the interpretive signs.

The trail will wind through the trees above Castle Creek, on the west side of the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, often referred to as the Marolt Barn.

That structure was actually once part of the Holden Lixiviation Works, a massive complex of buildings that stretched from the barn site to the creek. The state-of-the-art facility, built in 1891, used crushing, heat and chemical salts to refine silver from ore. The buildings held 40 stamp mills, among other things. Ore was crushed beneath stamps that weighed up to 850 pounds apiece.

Fourteen months after the facility opened, Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Act, devaluing Aspen’s most precious commodity overnight and sending the venture into bankruptcy. The plant and its 165-foot smokestack were subsequently dismantled, brick by brick and board by board.

There’s a model of the lixiviation works on display inside the museum. Outside is what remains of the real thing.

Peachblow sandstone foundations, carefully built by masons, still hold up the hillside below the barn. Elsewhere, a large, wooden derrick is toppled in the trees that have taken over the site.

“It’s pretty extensive, once you start to crawl around and take a peek down here,” said Stephen Ellsperman, Aspen’s deputy director of parks and open space. “This is such an important lost treasure, if you will, of Aspen.”

The interpretive trail, winding below towering cottonwoods, will cover the ground where the lixiviation plant once stood, according to Ellsperman. After the site was cleared, it was pretty much left alone. Today, it offers a glimpse of what can flourish, given close to a century of undisturbed growth.

“If we were to take a snapshot of a 100-year succession of a forest, this is what it would look like,” he said.

Anyone interested in signing up for the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers project at Holden/Marolt should log on to

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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