A Hotel Jerome Thanksgiving

Margaret Reckling

The black carriage comes to a halt, and its matching team of four black horses stomps in place. Their nostrils emit white bursts of warmth and their backs steam in the chilly November air. After a brisk trot from a West End domicile, this well-appointed equipage has arrived at its Main Street destination.

The magnificent animals are outfitted with well-oiled harnesses in immaculate condition; their hand-polished sterling bridle rosettes gleam in the night. The lady occupant folds back her warm lap robe, made from mink, a luxurious buffer from the high-mountain cold. She checks her hair one last time in the coach’s heart-shaped interior mirror while her gent steps out and dons his black top hat and turns to assist her.

Stepping from their coach, the couple proceeds toward the grand edifice, and its massive entry doors open outward as a dreamy lilt of violin music escapes from within. Once inside, the excited clamor of a holiday gathering becomes undeniable. The buzz of the well-mannered crowd, the fragrance of fresh flowers and the vibrant lights in every corner create an ambiance extraordinaire. The lobby fireplace is ablaze; elaborate, hand-painted frescoes adorn the walls; and the tile floors are intricately inlaid.

Gentlemen stand at attention. They maintain their best postures and are quite dashing in starched white collars, fine hats and freshly trimmed mustaches and beards. The ladies pivot gracefully, offering greetings to one another. They are swathed in soft pastels chosen from the finest yards of silk, tulle and airy mousseline. Many of the gowns have been ordered from fashion capitals, as distant as New York City and Paris, for this very special occasion. Swirling figures of femininity circulate around the ballroom, and their powdered decolletages and meticulous coifs fill the air with hints of rosewater and lavender.

In the Ladies’ Ordinary, a lavish feast is arranged upon long banquet tables for the more than 200 guests to enjoy. Edible delicacies include fresh seafood, wild game, beef and lamb accompanied by a vast array of vegetables, fresh fruits and petites tartes. Oysters have been shipped in from San Francisco and crab, clams and lobster from the East Coast, while bottles of French champagne are being poured in the adjacent Refreshment Room.

This was the impressive scene on Nov. 27, 1889, at the Thanksgiving Eve Ball celebrating the opening of the Hotel Jerome in Aspen. It was a pivotal point in the transition from rugged mining town to a more civilized and refined city in the mountains. It is evident from archival newspapers and various accounts of this evening that Aspen set a precedent for fine entertaining at an early point in its history. It’s hard to envision this opulent affair 124 years ago in such an isolated locale.

Known as “The Victorian Queen of Hospitality,” the hotel boasted a hydraulic elevator assembled in Chicago, a massive bronze cage with settees for the lady passengers along with space for their steamer trunks. Indoor plumbing provided both hot and cold running water, which was an utter luxury in the land of hoarfrost-covered outhouses.

“The handsomest hotel on the western slope opened its broad portals to the merriest crowd of merrymakers ever assembled in the silver metropolis. The electric lights in the new Hotel Jerome shone on the brightest throng of fair women and brave men,” The Aspen Times reported the following day.

The Hotel Jerome opening was inarguably a statement of excellence. The new hotel prided itself in its prominent French chef, Monsieur Fronesca (imported from Paris to run the Jerome kitchens), a German horticulturist (appointed to tend the greenhouses behind the hotel) that would supply the requirements of the chef’s culinary practices, fine stables, lovely parlors, a steam laundry service and a barbershop. Room rates were the same as those tendered at the legendary L’Hotel George V in Paris: $3 and $4.

The Jerome was built three stories high and to this day offers guests an imposing view of Aspen Mountain. After several refurbishment efforts during the past century (the most recent and masterful was by Auberge Resorts), the structure still consists of much of the original hand-made brick. Peachblow sandstone, from the canyon walls carved by the Fryingpan River, still accents the brick. The interior ceilings and arches have been restored to their original scale, and tasteful quality has once again made her a world-class destination.

To think Aspen’s pursuit of excellence was instilled at a later time in its history would be a mistake in historical interpretation, and the record shows, even in the 1880s, that the people of Aspen maintained the belief that this was a very special place. They were determined to create a legacy, and that they did.

It is historical landmarks like the Jerome that reflect the early pioneering spirit of the first Aspenites, and we can be very thankful for the precedent those early residents set.

Margaret Reckling lives in Woody Creek and welcomes your comments at