Willoughby: 1883 — Beginnings of big things to come | AspenTimes.com
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Willoughby: 1883 — Beginnings of big things to come

 


Scanning events and news of 1883 Aspen leaves you with appreciation for the early pioneers of the town and some context for what followed.

Locals followed the construction and opening of the Brooklyn Bridge that at the time many called the eighth wonder of the world. They followed with equal interest the construction of the Glenwood bridge over the Colorado River ( Grand River then) and the road connecting Aspen to Glenwood, a toll road.

Another news item in installments followed the arrest and trial of Alfred Packer who murdered five men in the winter of 1873-74. He was known as ‘a human fiend’ for eating his victims. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show opened in 1883 as did the Orient Express, but locals were not planning to see either of them. Of greater interest was the opening of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad line from Gunnison to Grand Junction and the first electric lights installed in Denver.



The major political event of the year was the election of J.D. Hooper as mayor. He was an early pioneer coming over Independence Pass in February of 1880 from Leadville where he had been working as a carpenter for two years. He opened a contracting business in Aspen and in 1883 also sold groceries. He won the election with 123 votes, 31 more than his opponent C.C, Adams. Hooper enjoyed one of the early big silver strikes after being mayor.

There were about a quarter as many students in the Aspen school as there were voters. Two teachers divided students by age with one teaching 31, the other 37. It was a shorter school year then as school began late in September and ended in April.


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Aspen’s dominant hotel,the Clarendon,(located on what is now Wagner Park) was billed as the only ‘modern’ hotel in town. Parlin’s Billiard Parlors and Saloon entertained men. Cowenhoven and Company provided locals with most anything they needed: seeds, farmers tools, miner’s supplies, groceries, hay and feed- the “largest general stock cheap as at Leadville.” That was good because shopping in Leadville meant taking the stagecoach that left at 7:00 A.M. and arrived at 7:00 P.M..

In 1883 Colorado’s estimated sheep population topped six million, but the state only had one woolen mill, hardly sufficient if you wanted to peddle wool. Aspen was not concerned as those who came sought silver. In 1883 mining news differed from five years later. The huge rich ore bodies that made Aspen the ‘Silver Queen’ had not been reached. Once they were, several mines dominated the news, but in 1883 there were many more mines reporting discoveries. Most of them had small ore bodies that were mined out before 1890.

1883’s mine newsmakers included the Black Warrior and White Mogul in Conundrum with a three-foot wide vein, and the Bob Ingersoll and Late Acquisition claims on Aspen Mountain. H.A.W. Tabor, Colorado’s governor at the time, found ore out of town in Lincoln and Tellurium gulches. Mines in Queen’s and Ophir Gulches on Aspen Mountain frequently made the news. A stamp mill was planned for the Castle Creek settlement of Ophir. Taking out ore was less of a concern than getting it to the smelter in Leadville. Some mines stockpiled their ore waiting for one to open in Aspen, and a small one did in 1883.

At that time Ashcroft was as promising as Aspen. It elected a new mayor in 1883 and had its own newspaper, the Ashcroft Herald. The Tam O’Shanter, that H.A.W. Tabor also had an interest in, and Montezuma mines were big producers with ore transported to the railhead in Crested Butte by pack trains.

“The occurrence of an increased number of cases in the past few days gives cause for renewed apprehension and justifies thus publicly and most earnestly calling attention to the necessity of a thorough re-vaccination as the only known means of promptly arresting its progress and of preventing an epidemic in any crowded city where it has gained a foothold.” The Leadville Daily Herald comment sounds like a 2021 statement, but this 1883 warning concerned the outbreak of small pox in Leadville. Fortunately, it did not reach Aspen.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.


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