History of Aspen

Aspen, Colorado is now a Colorado ski resort and cultural center, named because of the abundance of aspen trees in the area. It was historically a silver mining center.

Aspen is the county seat of Pitkin County and lies on the Roaring Fork River, a tributary of the Colorado River about 40 miles south of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It sits in the Roaring Fork Valley, surrounded by mountains on three sides: Red Mountain to the north, Smuggler Mountain to the east, and Aspen Mountain to the south.

Silver was first discovered by prospectors from Leadville, Colorado in 1879 after a treaty with the Ute tribe opened up the Western Slope of Colorado to entry. Because of difficult access mining development was slow but in 1877 the railroad was extended to Aspen and it grew to a population of 12,000 and 9 million dollars of silver bullion was mined at the height of the boom in 1892.

During the life of the silver boom in Colorado, the price of silver steadily declined. At first it was propped up by purchases by the Federal Government, but in 1893 purchases ceased. Within a few days all the Aspen mines were closed and thousands of miners were put out of work. It was proposed that silver be recognized as legal tender and the Populist Party adopted that as one of its main issues; Davis H. Waite, an Aspen newspaperman and agitator was elected governor of Colorado on the Democratic Ticket; but in time the movement failed.

Eventually, after wage cuts, mining revived somewhat, but production declined and by the 1930 census only 705 residents remained. There was a fine stock of old business blocks and residences and excellent snow. Eventually Aspen was discovered and became a ski resort and cultural center, home of the Aspen Music Festival and School.

John Denver lived most of his life in Aspen. Bill Joy has a house in Aspen, and is a frequenter of the city’s Zélé Café. Hunter Thompson lived in the Aspen area, where he was involved in land use regulation and once ran for Pitkin County Sheriff.

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