Exploring western ghost towns: Ashcroft Colorado
This past Labor Day weekend, I dragged my reluctant family on a jaunt up into the Colorado high country to find a certain ghost town known as Ashcroft. Located 11 miles outside of Aspen, Ashcroft is easily accessible and the site is well-tended by the Aspen Historical Society.
On a bright sunny Colorado day, we traversed the short trail and came upon the remains of Ashcroft…
Not much of the 1880′s town has survived the harsh winters at 9,521 feet above sea level. But a few tenacious old cabins and commercial structures have hung on through the changing of the centuries.
Ashcroft began as a mining town in the early 1880′s when silver deposits were discovered nearby. There was such a rush to the site that a courthouse was built and streets were laid out in just two weeks time!
After going through a succession of names, the town finally settled on “Ashcroft” in 1882. By that year, the town’s population had grown to 2,000 and it was home to 13 taverns.
At its peak, Ashcroft eclipsed nearby Aspen’s population and boasted 20 saloons along Main Street. (That’s how you can gauge the importance of frontier towns: the number of saloons in town.)
But Ashcroft enjoyed other amenities as well. It featured a school-house, two local newspapers, a sawmill and a smelter, as well as a hotel.
Today, the hustle and bustle of its mining town glory days are but a mere whisper of the past.
Like many other old mining towns in Colorado, Ashcroft went bust when the silver deposits came up empty and was eventually abandoned.
But the town had another gasp of life in the 1930′s when Olympic bobsled gold medalists Ted Ryan and Billy Fiske started building a European style ski resort nearby. Unfortunately, their plans grinded to a halt with the outbreak of the Second World War.
Fiske was killed in combat and Ryan was forced to lease the townsite to the US army.
The Army utilized the site as a base for their mountaineering training, mostly during the summer of 1942. (Incidentally, two of the famous Trapp Family Singers sons trained in Ashcroft Colorado before being sent overseas as ski troopers in the war.)
After the war ended, Ashcroft again went dark while nearby towns such as Aspen and Snowmass underwent dramatic development and were transformed into upscale ski resort destinations.
Poor Ashcroft – left behind in history.
Keep in mind – this is only 11 miles from Aspen Colorado .
But the story of Ashcroft does not end there. In 1948 Ted Ryan convinced a war veteran friend of his to move his dog sledding operation to Ashcroft. Stuart Mace was already an established musher so his presence in Ashcroft led to renewed interest in the area.
In fact, in 1955 Mace and his huskies were featured in the television series Sgt. Preston of the Yukon.
Ashcroft was filmed as the setting and the abandoned town was fitted with false fronts to resemble a Canadian Klondike town in the Yukon Territory.
The series filmed there until 1958.
There is one solitary cabin on the edge of town that is still privately owned:
I strongly suspect that this is where Stuart Mace and his family lived during their time in Ashcroft.
Musher Mace was given use of 5 acres of the Ashcroft townsite for his dog-sledding operation and he remained in Ashcroft for the rest of his life. In return, he was the caretaker for the remaining buildings and he single-handedly protected the area from the aggressive development that invaded other nearby towns like Aspen.
In 1974, Mace was joined in his efforts by the Aspen Historical Society.
By 1975, the town of Ashcroft was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Thanks to the efforts of a few hardy souls, Ashcroft has been preserved as a tribute to Colorado’s rugged mining past.
Here we are inside the impressive ‘Hotel View’ on the south edge of town:
As its name suggests, the hotel had great views of the town and surrounding mountain valley…
The Hotel View has been preserved in its primitive state by locals and volunteers from the Historical Society.
Yes, you can see daylight through the walls, but how thrilling it is to be able to walk around inside this historic frontier building.
Aspen may be world famous as a ski resort town and a mecca for celebrities and wealthy people, but you just can’t beat the utter peace and quiet of the little slice of heaven that is Ashcroft.
I suppose Ashcroft was the lucky one all along.