Holden / Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum
The Holden/Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum grounds are open to the public. The museum is closed for the fall and winter, though visits can be arranged by appointment, based on availability. Required masking, social-distancing, and health safety measures are strictly observed. Click here for Pitkin County’s “5 commitments to containment,” additional local public health requirements, and more resources.
40180 HWY 82 (adjacent to the public bike path, on the Marolt Open Space across the pedestrian bridge at 7th Street)
Hours of Operation:
The Holden/Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum grounds are open to the public. The museum is closed for the fall and winter, though visits can be arranged by appointment, based on availability, call 970.925.3721. The museum will open for summer hours with a docent on-site in mid-June 2021.
Free for car-free visitors thanks to generous sponsors Alpine Bank and Miners’ Building Hardware**
Free for AHS members
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 visitors 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 at 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 at this pastoral museum that sits on the site of the largest industrial complex in the history of Pitkin County, the Holden Lixiviation Works. The historic Zupancis homestead was recently moved from Aspen’s downtown core to the property by the City of Aspen. The buildings, including a miners-cabin-turned-Victorian-home, a barn and an outhouse, are being restored to help tell the story of the Quiet Years and immigrants who helped shape the area. The Holden/Marolt Museum is directly adjacent to a public bike trail near the entrance to Aspen on the Marolt Open Space.
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. The Holden/Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum formally opened in 2003 in the former Sampling building, the last structure 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 house and outbuildings to the Holden/Marolt Museum 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 Aspen’s history to the historical Holden/Marolt site.
Farming and Ranching
Why They Ranched
As soon as the first prospectors entered the valley in 1879, they created a demand for food. The use of pack animals created an even greater demand for crops as they needed to be fed. Many ranchers started out mining but switched to ranching after tiring of the difficult miner’s life. When silver was demonetized in 1893, mining became less profitable.
Roundups occurred twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. They were necessary to separate herds belonging to neighboring ranches, to brand them in the spring and ship them off to be sold in the fall. Several ranches were usually grouped into districts by the Cattleman’s Association. Cowhands from each outfit assisted with the roundup.
The roundup was the hardest time of year for cowboys. Their day began at 4:00 a.m. when they broke up into work details. Some would scour specific drainages and areas, while others herded the cattle together before meeting at an appointed place. They completed this work before noon. Once all of the cattle was rounded up, each ranch had to separate out their cows. Newborn calves were roped and then branded.
In the spring, the cattle was then driven to the summer range where they would stay for the summer. In the fall, the cattle roundup was usually smaller. The main purpose was to tally the herd and record information on ranchers’ logs. The cattle was then driven to the nearest railhead to be sent to eastern markets. Now cattle are shipped by truck or train.
Historian Larry Fredrick holds up a silver dollar to show the class what all the fuss was about.
Call 925.3721 ext. 103