One of the preserved buildings in the ghost town of Ashcroft, Colorado. Photo via wikimedia.org
For a small city in an obscure location, Aspen has done quite a job of attracting meeting groups, largely due to several world-class features—particularly its stunning setting, lavish hotels and resorts, cutting-edge restaurants, amazing winter sports and stellar summer festivals. All of these features keep the western Colorado city of 6,680 residents buzzing year-round.
In stark contrast, just eight miles south sits a silent, lifeless town that nevertheless is one of the most intriguing spots in the Aspen area. Ashcroft is a ghost town that consistently lures groups that want a glimpse of what life was like during the silver-mining boom in the 1880s.
In the spring of 1880, two prospectors, Charles B. Culver and W.F. Coxhead, discovered silver deposits in Castle Creek Valley. Other prospectors joined them and together they created a miners’ protective association, built a courthouse and laid out streets in just two weeks. Originally named Castle Forks City, the town soon was renamed Chloride.
The town was renamed Ashcroft after a rich ore strike was uncovered in two local mines, which were owned by Leadville mining giant H.A.W. Tabor. After the discovery, Tabor reportedly celebrated by buying drinks for everyone in the town’s 13 saloons.
By 1883, Ashcroft had more than 2,000 residents, six hotels, 20 saloons, two newspapers, a school and a courthouse. The silver deposits were not as deep as expected, however, and another rich strike was discovered in 1884—but in Aspen, rather than Ashcroft. These two developments prompted many Ashcroft residents to move to Aspen, and by 1885, there were only 100 Ashcroft summer residents and just $5.60 in the town coffers. By the turn of the century, only a handful of aging, single men lived in Ashcroft.
The town seemed on the verge of revitalization in the late 1930s when Ted Ryan and his partner, Bill Fiske, captain of the United States’ gold-medal-winning 1928 Olympics bobsled team, planned to build the Highland-Bavarian Lodge(a European-style ski resort) just north of Ashcroft, but the plans fell through when Fiske was killed in World War II combat.
World War II veteran Stuart Mace settled in Ashcroft in 1948, and began a dog-sled operation. He played a major role in protecting the area from development and restoring the ecology. Through a collaboration with the Aspen Historical Society, in 1975 he was able to get Ashcroft listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Many of the original buildings remain in Ashcroft, which is available for free self-guided tours year-round and guided group tours from mid-June to mid-September. Groups often combine a visit to the town with guided driving tours of the surrounding mountainous area or with hiking, mountain biking, fishing and other outdoor activities in the nearby White River National Forest.