This old house |

This old house

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Local historians have stepped into a time capsule in the form of an abandoned house ” one of a handful that remain from Aspen’s brush with ghost town status.

Apparently built in the late 1800s and last occupied in the 1930s, the house may yield untold treasures about an era of Aspen’s history fondly remembered as “the quiet years” ” the period between the death of silver mining and Aspen’s rebirth as a ski mecca.

In those years, the town’s population dwindled to a few hundred people, and its neighborhoods were dotted with abandoned homes and outbuildings.

“We have a lot of people who reminisce about the quiet years, but we don’t have the artifacts,” said Larry Fredrick, a local historian and volunteer at HeritageAspen, the city’s historical society. The contents of the house may help fill in some of those material gaps.

“This is like a time warp,” he said Thursday, poking through belongings coated with more than a half century’s worth of dust. “This is like finding a lost treasure. It really is.

“Fortunately, the owners of this particular property have recognized its importance and have contacted us.”

To the casual observer, the house is littered with what might kindly be termed “junk” ” creaky bedsprings; filthy, tattered, lace curtains; wood crates; a steamer trunk; old radios; kitchen utensils; and assorted other stuff strewn haphazardly about.

“Most people would say, ‘burn it down,'” Fredrick said. “Historians look at it differently.”

Yesterday, Fredrick and Sarah Oates, curator for HeritageAspen, were excitedly examining the peeling, rotting wallpaper. It differs from room to room and features a unique, decorative strip where wall meets ceiling. Sometimes, wallpaper can be dated using old pattern books, Fredrick explained.

Exposed electric wires, installed after the house was built, snake to bare bulbs strung from walls and ceilings.

An old classroom desk, stacked with books, may have come from a long-gone Aspen schoolhouse. Archived photographs at HeritageAspen may help confirm its origin.

Among the books, one catches Fredrick’s eye. It’s a small, 1924 Webster’s Dictionary. Also printed on the cover is “The People’s Store, Aspen, Colo.,” sparking an animated debate between Fredrick and Oates over where the store might have been and why its name would have been incorporated into the cover.

“I think this is absolutely incredible,” Fredrick said. “I love this stuff. I love this.”

Accumulations from other local homes have helped boost HeritageAspen’s collection of artifacts, but they are rare in this day and age, Oates noted.

“Usually, people come in with a box of stuff or something,” she said.

At one time, Aspen was full of empty homes. They were open to looting, and most have long since been torn down or gutted and renovated.

“You have to remember, when the crash of silver came, this is what houses looked like. People just walked away,” Fredrick said.

Business ledgers from a one-time local store have been recovered from the house. The handwriting, though, is difficult to decipher.

“It’ll take us a couple of years just to evaluate the paperwork we’ve removed,” Fredrick said.

Aspen’s Wheeler-Stallard House museum, operated by HeritageAspen, depends on donations of artifacts that help tell the town’s story, he noted.

“There are missing pieces in the story, and this is going to help fill in some missing pieces,” Fredrick said.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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