The Mining Boom: 1879 – 1893

In 1879 the first prospectors arrived in what would soon become Aspen and determined the area contained large deposits of silver ore. For the next 14 years Aspen’s fortunes rose as it eventually produced 1/6th of the nation’s and 1/16th of the world’s silver.

1879
Hayden Geological Survey reports are published indicating promising geologic formations in the Roaring Fork Valley for the presence of silver. First prospectors, crossing difficult mountain passes, explore the area for silver and winter over to protect claims on what will become one of the richest silver lodes in history. Henry B. Gillespie arrives in Aspen to examine a mine and travels to Washington, DC to petition for a Post Office. He lays out a town and calls it Ute City. Prospectors are in Ashcroft. Prospectors discover the Independence Gold Lode on July 4 in what will become the mining camp of Independence.

1880
B. Clark Wheeler and Charles A. Hallam, as agents and co-partners of David Hyman of Cincinnati arrive in Ute City. They purchase several mining claims. Wheeler surveys town site and renames it Aspen, forming his own town company. DRC Brown and H.P. Cowenhoven arrive after a difficult 3-week wagon trip from Leadville over Taylor Pass. The D&RGRR reaches Leadville. Stages are running from Leadville to Independence Gold Camp where 300 people now reside.

1881
Pitkin County is established. The Aspen Times (owned by B. Clark Wheeler) is first published. Aspen Mining and Smelting Company is organized. First Aspen school opens. Independence Pass road is completed to Aspen. The remaining Ute Indians (except for Southern Utes, ) are moved out of Colorado to Utah. Molly Gibson Mine is located. First Clarendon Hotel is built. Volunteer fire department is established. Katie Cowenhoven marries DRC Brown. Horace Tabor comes to and invests in the Montezuma and Tam O’Shanter mines. Wagon road over Taylor Pass is officially opened. D&RGRR reaches Crested Butte. A telegraph connecting Aspen, Ashcroft and Crested Butte is completed. Independence’s population reaches 500 and it is served by four grocery stores, four boarding houses and three saloons.

1882
The gold camp (Independence) has an estimated 1,500 residents, however, production drops drastically. The Farwell mines close and Mill shuts down.

1883
Jerome B. Wheeler, half-owner of Macy’s Department Store, visits Aspen. Through various investments Mr. Wheeler injects much needed cash into the community.

1884
Clarendon Hotel burns down.

1885
New Clarendon Hotel opens. Hydro electric power is used in the mines. Electric Company turns on power to 40 stores. Soon Aspen will have public electricity throughout the community. Aspen Water Company is organized. Aspen’s first telephone system is installed in the Spar Consolidated Mine. Henry Weber and H.P. Gillespie order the first pianos shipped to Aspen at a cost of $1,000. Wyatt Earp and a US Marshall arrest James Crowthers in Aspen for a Wells Fargo robbery in Arizona.

1886
City water system is turned on.

1887
The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad reaches Aspen. The mines can now ship low-grade ore to market more economically.

1888
A second railroad, the Colorado Midland, reaches Aspen. The Wheeler Opera House opens. Jerome B. Wheeler builds a home for his wife in Aspen’s West End which is now headquarters for the Aspen Historical Society. A one-mile long tramway is operational on Aspen Mountain. Durant and Aspen mines are consolidated forming the Compromise Mine, ending years of expensive litigation. Only 100 citizens remain at Independence.

1889
The Hotel Jerome opens.

1890
Sherman Silver Act is passed, assuring a continuing market for silver. Population of Aspen reaches 8,000. Cable tramway from Tourtelotte Park to Aspen is completed.

1891
Silver ore production exceeds that of neighboring Leadville. Aspen is the largest silver producing district annually in the nation with one-sixth of the U.S. total and one-sixteenth the world total. The Holden Lixiviation Works becomes operational (visit the site). The Court House opens.

1892
Construction of the Silver Queen Statue for the Chicago World’s Fair is supported by the City. Davis Waite becomes Governor of Colorado on the “Free Silver” issue.

1893
Aspen reaches a peak population of 10,000 to 16,000. Congress repeals the Sherman Silver Act, demonetizing silver. Following the Silver Panic, Aspen begins a long downward slide. Women’s Suffrage in Colorado is enacted by popular vote.