Vagneur:Woody Creek, then and now
It’s a crazy place, that’s what, and maybe even a whole string of seemingly unflattering words such as “bizarre,” “eccentric,” “extraordinary” and perhaps “freaky.” That at least according to Woody Creek Tavern patron and historian Gaylord Guenin, who reasonably describes its ambiance in his online history of the place.
In the summer, it attracts a maze of lost-looking bicycle riders and hikers, many of whom are not sure if the patio extends out into the street, so most assume it does. Aspen and its reputation for being an outdoor-enthusiastic community has made a small fortune for one of my cousins, who hauls many of these animated bike riders back to town for a fee, saving them the ignominy of steaming up their sunglasses or regurgitating their lunch on the return climb.
This internationally famous powerhouse of valley restaurants had a humble beginning down the road about a mile. Before it was the Woody Creek Tavern, it was the Woody Creek Store, and no one seems to be able to remember exactly when it opened its doors, but the 1940s is a good guess. In those days, the store occupied a building just to the south of Upper River Road, between the Chaparral Ranch and Aspen Valley Downs driveways. That particular building was torn down about 50 years ago.
It was a long, one-story structure with the store and living quarters to the east and storage and other rooms on the west end. It probably had a coat of paint or stain sometime in its life, but for all of my memory, it was a faded, nondescript clapboard exterior that safely held treasures any kid would love: candy bars, ice cream, fishing tackle, potato chips, Cracker Jacks, soda pop and freshly cut lunch meat. For adults and kids, it was a well-stocked oasis in the middle of Woody Creek.
The proprietors were Prue and Jess Bogue, an outgoing couple well-suited to managing the hub of Woody Creek life. No doubt they entertained hope that a carful of tourists would stop occasionally, but it seemed like it was always local ranchers who filled the three- or four-car parking lot to capacity. When they came to pick up their mail or a box of groceries, there was always time to visit, and the news of the day was carefully calculated and digested as each new customer put his or her spin on events.
It’s the place I met my granddad’s brothers, that first meeting with each of them still clearly affixed in my memory. It’s where I heard the tale of my grandfather and Jess riding the Collins Creek cattle range. Jess had been hired to help my granddad for a few days, and in the course of their wanderings, my grandfather roped a bear. As the story went, it wasn’t all that hard to rope the damned thing, but the prospect of getting the rope off the bear posed a perplexing problem. The bruin was inclined to do damage to human shapes, and my grandfather, being the “boss,” told Jess to take the rope off the bear. Jess, being no fool, told my granddad to go to hell. Gramps had roped it; he could get his own rope back.
The Bogues sold the store sometime in the early 1950s to Virginia Vagneur Jones and her husband, Lee, who both seamlessly took over the operation. With an eye to the future, they bought land from Virginia’s dad and around 1958 built the current log building that houses the Tavern and the Woody Creek Community Center. They added the trailer park and constructed corrals out back, where they kept a small herd of horses. The store and post office were in the Tavern space — Lee and Virginia lived in the WC3 area — and there were gas pumps out front. The “modern” era in Woody Creek had arrived.
Time waits for no one, and by 1980, the Joneses wanted out. Along came an enterprising young man by the name of Stranahan, who fearlessly set up the creation of the Woody Creek Tavern. The next-door Woody Creek Community Center has had a more convoluted history, but as it stands today, the WC3 is where most of the locals hide while tourist season takes over the coveted Tavern tables.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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