Aspen Historic Sites and Museums
Aspen Historical Society / Local History Museum
The Aspen Historical Society operates four sites in the Aspen area, including the Wheeler/Stallard Museum, Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum, and the ghost towns of Independence and Ashcroft. Interpretive, guided tours are available at each site. Hours and availability vary seasonally.
The Wheeler-Stallard Museum, built in 1888, is a three story Victorian home in the Queen Anne style, featuring gables, a pitched roof and red brick. Mr. Wheeler built the home for his wife but neither of them ever lived in the home. The Aspen Historical Society conducts tours of the Wheeler home and the mining museum.
The Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum is located on 22 acres at the western edge of Aspen. This tells the stories of both Aspen’s mining and ranching heritage. It was one of only eighteen plants built world-wide to utilize the experimental Russell Lixiviation process to refine low grade ore. The Russell Lixiviation process used crushing, heat, and chemical salts to refine silver from ore as low grade as ten ounces per ton. In the 1940s, the site was considered by the US Army as a training camp for the 10th Mountain Division, however, Camp Hale was established over the surrounding peaks near Leadville for that purpose.
Built in 1889 with the money of wealthy businessman Jerome Wheeler, the Wheeler Opera House quickly became a beloved architectural gem in Aspen. When it opened, the multistory peachblow sandstone building was a state-of-the art facility with electric lights. In 1912, two fires damaged the building, one from arson. The opera house had ups and downs throughout the 20th century and in 1984 it had a grand re-opening after a restoration. Wheeler also built an impressive hotel in the town.
The Aspen area has two ghost towns that are municipal relics of the silver mining days. Ashcroft is ghost town just south of Aspen. The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies conducts educational programs for youth among the ruins of wood buildings and abandoned equipment teaching students about life as a silver miner in the old west.
Ashcroft Ghost Town which is located 10 miles from Aspen on Castle Creek Road and may be visited year round. 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. By 1883, the camp, now called Ashcroft, was a town with a population of perhaps 2,000 with two newspapers, a school, sawmills, a small smelter, and 20 saloons—bigger than Aspen and closer to the railroad in Crested Butte. . 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.
Independence Ghost Town which is located 13.5 miles east of Aspen, 4 miles from the top of Independence Pass on the Continental Divide, and is accessible only during the summer. Legend has it that prospectors discovered the Independence Gold Lode on July 4, 1879. A tent city sprang up that summer, and by 1880 there were 300 people living in the camp. By 1881, the population grew to 500, served by four grocery stores, four boarding houses and three saloons. The Independence Miner started printing in October. By 1882 the Town of Independence had over 40 businesses with three post offices and an estimated population of 1,500. A miner could get room and board for $2 at the New England House, a boarding house on the east end of Main Street.
Other Places to Visit / Landmarks
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Smuggler Mine gives you a feel for what life was like for miners at work. During the silver ore glory days, it was one of the most productive mines in Aspen, even producing a nugget of almost pure silver that weighed a ton. Tours go 1,200 feet inside the mine where visitors can see mining relics such as carts, lanterns and tracks. If you want to learn about the lives of early Aspen settlers from the East, visit the historic Ute Cemetery. Gravestones in the cemetery include 19th-century markers of the ancestors of families who no longer live in the area.
Completed in 1889, the Hotel Jerome is a three-story red brick building dominates a corner block in downtown. It features arched windows and luxurious apartment suites. Both the opera house and the hotel appear on the National Register of Historic Places.