Holden / Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum
40180 HWY 82 (on the Marolt Open Space bike path between the roundabout and the pedestrian bridge at 7th Street)
Hours of Operation:
Open Tuesday – Saturday (closed Sunday and Monday and major holidays)
1 p.m. – 5 p.m. through September 30
October 3 – mid-June 2024: open by appointment only*
*The Holden/Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum grounds are open to the public year-round. The museum buildings are open by appointment only in the spring, fall, and winter.
Free for AHS members
Free for car-free visitors thanks to generous sponsors First Western Trust, Miners’ Building Hardware, and Carl’s Pharmacy.**
Free for active military personnel through the Blue Star program
$10 adults / $8 seniors / children 18 and under free (must be accompanied by an adult)
Admission is free for all guests on the first Saturday of each month
*Admission fee includes access to the Wheeler/Stallard Museum during the summer (does not apply for free entries)
**AHS extends free admission to the Holden/Marolt Museum to visitors who bike or walk to the museum on the bike path, or use public transit (in addition to trail access, there are multiple RFTA stops nearby, as well as a WE-Cycle bike share station at the Marolt Housing Complex.)
About the Museum:
The Holden/Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum explores the industrial and agricultural history of the area. From mining to railways to ranching, the past comes alive on the site of the largest industrial complex in the history of Pitkin County, the Holden Lixiviation Works. In addition to the original salt shed and sampling building, the relocated and restored historic McMurchy/Zupancis buildings help tell the story of Aspen’s Victorian era and the immigrants who helped shape the community’s agrarian heritage. The site is within the Marolt Open space and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1891, the Holden Lixiviation Mill sprawled over 22 acres at the edge of Aspen, boasting state-of-the-art technology and industrial design. Just 14 months after the new plant opened, Congress demonetized silver and the mill went bankrupt. This site is unique; it tells the stories of both Aspen’s mining and ranching heritage.
Founded as a silver mining camp in 1879, by 1890 Aspen was the single largest silver producer in the US. With a population of over 13,000, Aspen was the third largest city in Colorado. Only Denver and Leadville were larger.
Aspen’s big news in 1891 was the building of the Holden Lixiviation Works on the west side of town. The newspaper declared that “the sweet day dreams of those who have longed to see Aspen a great city are about to be realized.” Completed just fourteen months before Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Act, the plant never cleared a profit and went bankrupt almost immediately. It was one of only eighteen plants built worldwide 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. (Aspen ores averaged 400 to 600 ounces of silver per ton, but much low-grade ore had to be discarded.) The fumes from the plant’s Stetefeldt furnaces were emitted from the main smoke stack 165 feet high, reputed to be the highest stack in the state.
By 1904, after several attempts to run the Holden Works as a concentrator (a process of discarding some of the worthless material to make the low-grade ore cheaper to transport), the plant was closed. After the closure of the Holden Works, the Marolt family ranched near the property. In 1932, they purchased the land for one dollar, and combined it with the Midland Ranch to form the Marolt Ranch. The Marolts raised sheep and cattle and planted potatoes. By the late 1950s, the Marolts started selling off parcels of their land, due to decreasing Forest Service grazing acreage, financial strains of their children’s college educations, and Mike Marolt’s deteriorating health.
During the Marolts’ ownership in the 1940s, the Holden site and surrounding area was considered by the U.S. Army as a training camp for the 10th Mountain Division. However, Camp Hale (near Leadville) was chosen for that purpose. Nevertheless, training maneuvers frequently brought 10th Mountain units to Aspen and the Ashcroft area and the soldiers also came to Aspen on leave for their “rest and relaxation.” Many 10th Mountain veterans returned to Aspen following WWII to help build the area into the world-renowned resort that we know today.
In the 1980s, the City of Aspen purchased remaining property and designated it as the Marolt-Thomas Open Space. In 1989, AHS partnered with the City to operate a long-term lease allowing AHS to manage and interpret the historical site. In 1990, the property was recognized as a historic district and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Holden/Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum formally opened in 2003 in the former Sampling building, one of the last structures remaining from the Holden Works complex (likely still standing because it was built to accommodate large, heavy machinery that crushed and pulverized ore). The creation and oversight of the Museum was due in a large part to the efforts and support of the late Carl Bergman, a longtime friend and board member of Aspen Historical Society whose passion for machinery and mining history was crucial to the site’s success. In late 2016 and early 2017, the City of Aspen moved the historic McMurchy/Zupancis buildings to the property to accommodate construction of a new police station adjacent to the homestead’s original location at 540 E. Main Street, bringing more chapters of the area’s history to the historical Holden/Marolt site.
We gratefully acknowledge we gather on the land of the Uncompahgre band of the Ute Nation, or Nuche, past and present. We honor this land and the people who lived in harmony with the natural world for generations before their forced removal. We are committed to sharing complete history of the land, recognizing and partnering with Native Peoples, and supporting the advancement of Native places and heritage. This calls us all to be better stewards of the land we inhabit and the natural resources we benefit from today.
Visitors are invited to step back in time with stories about the innovative spirit, hard work, and tenacity of immigrants, miners, and ranchers who laid the foundation of modern Aspen. Interwoven with themes of natural resources, immigration, and daily life, the exhibitions explore the local history of mining, mining processing, Victorian-era power, railroads, and more on the former site of the Holden Lixiviation Works, a vast silver processing plant that opened in 1891. Interpretive signs, artifacts, and historical images complement the museum’s functioning original stamp mill, pelton wheels, a complete diorama of the “Holden Works,” and more.
Three domestic buildings—a cabin, a shed, and a barn previously occupied by the McMurchy and Zupancis families—were relocated from Main Street to the museum property in 2016 by the City of Aspen. AHS has restored the structures, notably including extensive interior work on the 1888 miner’s-cabin-turned-Victorian-era home, which is historically valuable as one of the only intact homes from Aspen’s Victorian era. The cabin is interpreted with carefully researched finishes, including period wallpaper and décor. Inside the cabin and accompanying barn, an Immigration and Ranching exhibition explores the stories of western European families who implemented high-elevation farming techniques from their homelands to ranch the Roaring Fork Valley’s mountainous terrain. The exhibition features exciting interactives for children, including life-size replicas of farm animals!
On the grounds of the Holden/Marolt Museum, numerous mining- and ranching-related machinery tells the story of the area’s industrial histories from the end of the 19th century through the middle of 20th century. Several machines are operational. Demonstrations are available dependent on staffing.
Ranching equipment includes specialty machinery for planting and harvesting potatoes, the area’s main cash crop between 1900 and 1940. Additionally, a grain binder and thresher represent the labor-intensive harvest operations that were crucial to the area’s ranching industry.
A functioning Jackson Steam Engine and boiler are on display, representing the dominant power source during the boom days of Aspen’s mining industry in the 1880s and 1890s. Adjacent to the engine, a sawmill illustrates the work of numerous lumber companies that supplied lumber for the mines.
Ore cars, ore buckets, ore carts and a ram car are situated around the property, as well as a railway express cart.
A reconstructed flume section was built in 2022 to demonstrate the importance of flumes in generating hydropower, electricity, and providing water to the citizens of Aspen for many uses, especially ditches that ran through neighborhoods for bucket brigades to fight fires. Remnants of the 1885 Castle Creek flume are still visible above Castle Creek.
A reconstructed headframe and accompanying steam engine illustrate how a steam-powered winch lifted and lowered ore buckets into mine shafts. Look “down into the shaft” with the trompe d’oeil mural below the headframe.