Willoughby: Aspen’s east end has always been the east end
Legends & Legacies
The east end of Aspen has had a different character and a different population than the west end. Those are general terms, but in town talk it has always meant east or west of downtown. It may surprise you that the difference started in the very beginning years.
Early buyers of lots who built on them had many choices. Those with more resources picked the west side favoring the northern half. It is not clear why, but the physical attributes may have tilted choices. There is a reason Shadow Mountain is so named. While all of Aspen has sunshine limitations, especially in winter, the closer you are to Aspen Mountain and the more east you are the less sun you see.
In the far eastern section the Roaring Fork defines the end of town and, compared to the river’s relative elevation as it flows along the north side, it is closer to town level. Like Shadow Mountain, there is a reason for the river’s naming. Especially before water diversion the river announced its presence twenty-four-seven. In addition, even blocks away, residents were plagued by mosquitos.
From the earliest of years the wealthy built their two and three story mansions in the west end. The east end attracted a lumber plant/yard at the east end of Cooper Avenue known as D.E. Frantz’s and later Finley and Rose. The east end, a closer walk to both the Aspen Mountain mines and the Smuggler Mountain mines, attracted boarding houses. Mrs. Mary Newton operated one beginning in 1882. One had 22 rooms.
By 1888 the price differential had already sealed the fate of the two ends. A two-room log house in the east end sold for $500 (around $11,000 in today’s dollars). A three-room house on East Durant rented for $12.50 a month ($284). Contrast that with a West Hopkins four-room house for $1,500 ($33,000)
As the town grew and the mines prospered the town reinforced the differences between the two sections. The arrival of the railroads added a new dimension. The Midland came across what is now the Castle Creek bridge then parallel the base of Aspen Mountain with its depot at the east edge of downtown, then looped around the east end. The D and R G snuck into town along the Roaring Fork, to service the Smuggler mountain mines, then added an extension to tap Aspen Mountain mines going through the east end.
So, in addition to the roaring river, east enders had to contend with steam engines, whistles, and clanking cars four to six times a day.
Aspen Mountain mines tunneled under the east end. Residents could likely hear blasting beneath them at the end of the three daily shifts when charges were set off.
The 1903 Aspen Daily Times reported another noise, “last evening a prolonged whistle from the east end of town startled the sleeping babies and made the nervous women press their hands to their temples. It whistled and whistled and kept on whistling until the men began to inquire the cause for it.” The cause was excess steam from the Mollie Gibson mine that was being let out from its mill.
The section of town near the mountain east of the Midland station housed Aspen’s red light district. Charles Dailey, the editor of the Aspen Democrat in 1904 described what all of Aspen, but especially the east end residents felt about it, “The beautiful (?) dovelets of Durant street never miss an opportunity to congregate in the doorways of their wretched hovels, after nights of drunken revelry, and exhibit their gaudy costumes (what little they have on) and beer bloated faces to all the travelers who happen into the city on the daily trains.”
The city government tried to make all of Aspen inviting. Both ends had elaborate ditches to deliver water to the streets producing trees, mostly cottonwoods, along all the streets. A bridge was built at the end of Cooper to cross the Roaring Fork, but that made Cooper a highway out of town. The momentum of the earliest years just continued to define the differences.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The arts scene in Basalt continues to rival its up and down valley counterparts with several new exhibitions on the horizon and artists opening studio spaces and participating in group shows alongside their peers.
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