Make your Aspen experience unforgettable by discovering the rich and varied history that has shaped the town and its character. Try this list of places that speak to Aspen's varied past and can give you some insight as to what makes Aspen so ... Aspen!
Aspen's Historical Locations
The Hotel Jerome was built by early Aspen supporter and visionary Jerome B. Wheeler and has been an Aspen landmark and local gathering place since its opening in 1889. An elegant hotel for most of its existence, the Jerome is also home to a number of restaurants, most notably the "J-Bar" where patrons can order the infamous "Aspen Crud", a milkshake infused with numerous liquors that was the preferred (and off-limits) drink of Tenth Mountain Division soldiers training here during WWII. Tours are offered by Aspen Historical Society in partnership with the Hotel Jerome.
Catch a show or just tour the Wheeler Opera House, another one of Jerome Wheeler's legacies. Also opened in 1889, the Wheeler was originally a part of the "Silver Circuit", a mining era collection of venues that brought internationally renowned performers to the silver and gold mining camps and towns of Colorado's high country. Destroyed by fire in the early part of the 20th century, the Wheeler underwent one renovation in the late 1940s and a more recent overhaul in the 1980s and today is Aspen's premier performing venue. Free tours, offered by the Aspen Historical Society in partnership with the Wheeler Opera House, Wednesdays, 1:30pm. Call (970) 920-5770 for program information.
Complete your Jerome Wheeler connection by visiting the mansion he built which is now the flagship facility for the Aspen Historical Society, the Wheeler/Stallard Museum. Hoping to overcome his wife's aversion to mining camps and towns, Wheeler built this brick Queen Ann style Victorian home in 1888 to entice her to move to Aspen to no avail: his wife never moved here and he never lived in the house. Today the first floor is furnished and decorated the way it might have been in the late 1800s, while the Second Floor Gallery features rotating exhibitions that explore the area's rich past. Call the Aspen Historical Society at (970) 925-3721 for hours, directions and more.
While the barons were living the high life, the majority of Aspen's early population worked in the mines or in businesses that supported mining. When the silver boom busted in 1893 and many people left in search of better work opportunities, some hardy residents stayed put and ranching became the lifeblood of the area in what has become known as "The Quiet Years". Experience Aspen's mining and ranching eras at the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, which is housed in an historic barn that was important first to ore processing and later to ranching. The area’s past comes alive at this pastoral museum that sits on the site of the largest industrial complex in the history of Pitkin County, The Holden Lixiviation Works. Additionally, the City of Aspen recently moved historic structures from the Zupancis homestead in downtown Aspen to the museum property. In partnership with Aspen Historical Society, the City is currently restoring the three buildings — a miner’s-cabin-turned-Victorian-era-home, a shed, and a barn - to serve as additional interpretive sites. The 1888 home changed very little since it was last occupied, making it historically valuable as one of the only intact homes from Aspen’s Victorian era. Call the Aspen Historical Society at (970) 925-3721 for hours, directions and more.
At the dawn of the silver boom in this area in the early 1880s, the town of Ashcroft, located 11 miles south of Aspen on Castle Creek Road, was actually bigger, more populated and produced more silver than Aspen. Its fortunes fell quickly as the nearby shallow ore deposits ran out just as Aspen's fortunes were rising and by the late 1880s Ashcroft was already in serious decline. Its last resident died in the late 1930s and by then the town was well on its way to being the ghost town we have today. Resident "ghosts" are on hand to answer questions and tours of Ashcroft are available in the summer months that are conducted by the Aspen Historical Society.
Aspen Historical Society interns are on hand to answer questions during open hours. Ashcroft is open with a docent on site during the summer months, with self-guided admission otherwise.
Silver was the metal that ultimately fed Aspen's economic engine but one of the first successful camps in the area became the town of Independence, founded on July 4,1879 on the discovery of gold. Resident "ghosts" are on hand to answer questions and self-guided tours are easy with the brochures available at the ghost town entrance. Independence is located about 16 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82 near Independence Pass. Click to view a virtual tour of Independence Ghost town. For more information on Ashcroft or Independence, Ghost Towns call the Aspen Historical Society at (970) 925-3721.
Take a stroll through Aspen's Darkside! Dare to pull back the shiny polished Aspen image and you'll be surprised at what you find. Experience the darker elements of Aspen's tarnished past on an evening stroll.
The mining barons, investors and entrepreneurs of the late 1800s left us a fabulous Victorian architectural legacy which can be experienced with this tour conducted by the Aspen Historical Society. The tour shows off a number of these historic homes along with stories of the owners, their Aspen connections and even what might be buried under some of them!
Downtown Tours - Two Ways
Tour downtown Aspen on the Aspen Historical Society's History Coach, an electric vehicle that takes up to 5 passengers at a time, and learn about historic buildings, Aspen's characters through the years and general history of the town. This tour also includes a visit to the Wheeler-Stallard and Holden-Marolt museums and is the most comprehensive tour about Aspen's history. The Historical Downtown Walking Tour provides insight and stories at every turn in downtown Aspen.
Enjoy a guided "backstage" tour of the newly renovated archive and research facility at Aspen Historical Society, who operates one of the largest public archives in the region. The free monthly tour includes a look at artifacts in the AHS Collection as well as a viewing of the Chamberlain Photographic Display in the Community Gallery.
This tour explores examples of bauhaus principles that continue to inspire local design, including one of Herbert Bayer's former residences, as well as styles introduced by Bayer that have influenced area architects for decades.
Walk through a guided tour of one of Aspen's oldest cemeteries, including insight into the lives of the locals who are buried there.
Call the Aspen Historical Society at 970-925-3721 for more information on any of the tours.