History of Aspen

The history of Aspen, Colorado, is closely intertwined with the silver mining industry that once thrived in the area. Today, Aspen is famous for its luxurious ski resorts and vibrant arts scene, but its origins lie in the pursuit of silver.

In the late 19th century, prospectors flocked to the Roaring Fork Valley in search of fortune. The discovery of silver in the nearby mountains led to a rapid influx of miners and entrepreneurs hoping to strike it rich. Among these individuals was a young man named David Hyman, whose story reflects the highs and lows of Aspen’s mining era. Hyman arrived in Aspen in 1879, and like many others, he started small, panning for gold in the area’s rivers. However, fortune favored him, and he soon realized the potential for silver mining. Hyman partnered with other investors to purchase mining claims and established productive mines in the region.

One sepia photograph entitled “Burro Pack Train Aspen Colorado”. The men and animals are on Galena Street next to Tomkin’s Hardware. This photo can be dated to late 1886 or early 1887 because of the construction of the Keene Block (completed in 1887). This photo is interesting, because it shows Galena Street before the Webber/Elk’s Building (1891) and the Cowenhoven Building (1890) were built.

Aspen quickly grew into a bustling town as more and more people arrived to seek work in the mines. By 1885, it boasted a population of over 10,000, complete with churches, schools, and businesses. The city became known for its vibrant social scene and culture, attracting people from all walks of life.

One 8″ x 10″ mounted b/w photograph of a man, a boy and a dog riding on a horse drawn wagon that is carrying three large nuggets of silver. The boy in the photo is Joseph H. Hicks, who worked as an office boy, the driver is Mr. Kit Burns and the fox terrier dog belonged to S. I. Hallett. The silver in the wagon are pieces of the largest silver nugget ever mined in the United States, that had to be broken apart for removal from the mine and transportation. The I.O.O.F. (International Order of Odd Fellows) building is in the background, now City Hall. The harness of the horse that is visible says “Smuggler,” 1894.

Unfortunately, Aspen’s reliance on the silver industry made it vulnerable to economic downturns. In 1893, a nationwide financial crisis known as the Panic of 1893 hit Aspen hard. The value of silver drastically plummeted, leading to the closure of many mines and the subsequent exodus of residents.

David Hyman, along with numerous others, had to adapt to survive. He diversified his investments and turned his attention to real estate, helping the town weather the storm. Hyman’s resilience paid off, and as the silver market eventually rebounded, so did Aspen.

Today, remnants of Aspen’s mining heritage can still be seen throughout the town. Historic buildings dot the landscape, and visitors can explore mining museums to get a glimpse of what life was like during the height of the industry. As for David Hyman, his legacy is not forgotten. His name adorns markers and plaques commemorating his contributions to Aspen’s early development.

Early Aspen pioneer Henry Gillespie, photographed in the 1880s.
Courtesy of Aspen Historical Society

In conclusion, the history of Aspen is a testament to the boom and bust cycle of the silver mining industry. Through the perseverance of individuals like Henry Gillespie, the town was able to survive and eventually thrive in a new era as a world-renowned ski destination.