Willoughby: Aspen’s first suburb | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: Aspen’s first suburb

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
1890 view of Tourtelotte Park showing the end of the tram that connected the park to town.
Aspen Historical Society / Courtesy photo

Looking thorough the old, early-1900s papers, I saw Tourtelotte Park referred to as Aspen’s suburb. 

Many of you may not be aware that there was a town there for around 30 years, but suburb helped me think of what it was: a nearby smaller version of Aspen. It is also a comment on how Aspen viewed itself, by standards then a big city with a small suburb. Tourtelotte did not call itself a town like Ashcroft did.

There is no record of the population, but it was a separate precinct for voting with the numbers varying from 200 in 1885 to 323 in 1890. There was not a geographical distinction of what comprised Tourtelotte, but as a mining area, most considered the top area of Aspen Mountain as part of it.

What it had plenty of were mines, the following all ascribed to that district. The first few names are familiar from skiing: Silver Belle, Buckhorn, North Star, Good Thunder, Marlin, Justice, Monte Cristo, Western Union, Little Rock, Last Dollar, Little Lottie, Highland Light, Blazing Star, Birmingham, Best Friend, Sara Jane, and Iowa Chief.

Some of those were major producers. There was enough production to build a mine tramway from what is now the location of the gondola to the Park. In 1893, the tram hauled 200 tons a week of ore. The mine, unlike some other areas in Aspen, had good ore closer to the surface. There was one very large lode that extended downward hundreds of feet. An 1888 article about the Park referred to it this way: “The whole top of the mountain is a treasure vault.”

There were cabins scattered around the area, but where we now think of as Tourtelotte Park, there were several boarding houses and the businesses. It was connected by telephone and had its own post office. There was even a constable. It had a saloon, McCready’s, and a grocery store that also had extra space used for community events.

It was not a male-only miner’s town, and it had frequent balls put on by the Ladies Social Club. One was billed as a “grand ball and oyster supper.” It had an athletic club and a literary society.

You might think of it as being so close to town that people would just walk to work. But it is a steep and long hike, and doing that in winter would be a real challenge. You could rent a horse for the trip with one charging $1.25 ($34 in today’s dollars) roundtrip and advertising: ”Our horses are speedy and safe and accustomed to mountain roads.” They also mentioned horses for women in a separate way. The mining tram also had tram buckets designed for passengers. It was a 40-minute trip, one-way.

One of Aspen’s sawmills, Maroney’s, was located there. When you look at photos of that section of the mountain in those years, you note how many trees were logged, leaving many open areas that now are covered with forest.

Residents began dwindling after around 1908. One of the last to leave was Billy Zaugg. He was a memorable Aspen character, and while it is not in Tourtelotte Park, there is a ski run named after him, Zaugg’s Dump.

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 redmtn2@comcast.net.


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