Tony Vagneur: Marble’s unique history is etched in stone
Like Aspen, it sits around 7,900 feet above sea level, it’s an old mining town, and has had its ups and downs. In a sense, it’s a sister city, with shared experiences and some of the same kind of history.
It tried silver and gold mining, but that didn’t work out. If a ski area could bounce Aspen back from the doldrums, why not build a ski area in a very beautiful valley in the midst of the Shining Mountains?
It’s one of those towns where they know you’re a stranger simply because they’ve never seen your non-descript vehicle before, let alone your keen-eyed mug. My first visits were to the town in the early 1970s, when we picked up horses at the Beaver Lake Lodge that had been out on week-long pack trips from the T-Lazy-7. The owner of the lodge could never remember my name or face but he sure remembered Skeeter, a horse he’d trained several years before.
If you don’t know where the Beaver Lake Lodge is, think Slow Groovin’ BBQ or renowned sculptor, Thanos Johnson.
The board of trustees for the Aspen Historical Society took our annual retreat at the town of Marble last week and our guide, Alex Menard, official historian of the town, gave us a tour so full of information and detail that I’ve been trying to sort through it ever since.
It’s an area of broken dreams, fleshed out around the edges with once-promising visions of grandeur for the future, and more than once, Marble came back from certain death to live on in today’s world.
Yule Marble, namesake of the town, comes primarily from George Yule, a prospector living on what was to become Yule Creek in 1874. Yule knew the marble was there, but did nothing with it. About 10 years later, some prospectors, looking for gold and silver, unintentionally came across the white stone on the side of Whitehouse Mountain.
This was the first comeback from death — while nearby towns of Crystal and Schofield folded with the demise of silver mining, Marble began to flourish as a “marble quarry” town. But, as with many things western, there were several booms and busts to the marble business, the details of which are complicated and disheartening. Suffice it to say, after losing millions of dollars, the marble quarry closed in 1941, but not before providing top-quality marble to the Lincoln Memorial, The Tomb of the Unknowns, the Colorado State Capitol and the list goes on.
Marble sits in a narrow valley, about 12 miles up the Crystal River from Redstone. Its location is precarious, as it gets avalanches from the west side of the valley, and mudslides occasionally through town from the east. The instability of the mountain east of town made the Marble Ski Area (early 1970s) vision an idea whose time never came as the final state permit couldn’t be granted after extensive investment.
In the era after WWI, during a depression for marble production and sales, much of the town of Marble was being moved; i.e., houses to other locations such as Carbondale and Glenwood. In a counter-intuitive move, a part of Aspen came to Marble. In 1908, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was moved there, where it stands today. Its abandoned Aspen foundation, catawampus from my grandmother’s house on Second and Bleeker streets, became a playground of sorts for us neighborhood kids.
From 1945, after a disastrous mud slide, until the early 1950s, only one resident remained in Marble: Theresa Herman, a school teacher. By 1956, there were 26 registered voters in the town. In 1990, the quarry reopened, and after several owners, now ships marble blocks to Italy for refinishing. The Marble Mill Site alongside the Crystal River is quite impressive with its towering marble stanchions.
One of the nicest remaining buildings in town is the old high school, or what is today referred to as the Marble Charter School. In addition to the school, the building houses the Marble Historical Society Museum and Collection within the well-preserved walls. The original high school science laboratory, still in its mostly original condition, can be seen on the upper floors.
Perhaps, for this long-timer, the highlight of the tour was being able to sit at a school desk like the ones we had in junior high at the red brick on Hallam Street, but even better was to rejoice in the seemingly free-abandon of the young students, getting out for lunch recess at about the time of our arrival.
With youth filling the mountain air with shrieks of laughter, chasing each other through the grounds, it became clear that the history of Marble will likely continue on with tenacity.
It’s a unique town with a wonderful history that deserves far more than these few words can impart.
Kudos to Lynn Burton, friend and fellow writer, the weekend docent at the Marble Historical Society. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.