New mystery in the old ghost town of Ashcroft
The Aspen Times
Like many people, Ashcroft mesmerized Peter Starck when he first visited the ghost town in Castle Creek Valley as a boy on a family vacation from Wisconsin in 1975.
He revisited the site 10 miles south of Aspen every winter through 1982, then college, marriage, kids, a career and 904 miles of separation kept him away from Ashcroft for a few decades. Absence only made his heart grow fonder. In recent years, he has immersed himself in the town’s lightning-fast, boom-and-bust existence — even to the point where he’s compared an original plat of the town in its infancy to current Google Earth images of the ruins and surrounding woods.
Starck it working on a theory that could unsettle old souls of the mining town or put them to rest. He thinks a core assumption about Ashcroft is flawed.
The signature structure of the town is a hotel that collapsed in the winter of 1973-74 and stirred emotions so severely among Aspenites that it led to the salvage and reconstruction of a handful of old structures the following year.
The structure has been known as “Hotel View.” Starck thinks that somehow, somewhere along the line, the name got messed up. He makes a compelling case that the structure was actually, and simply, Ashcroft Hotel.
But he always found the name “odd” and slightly suspect. The view from the hotel, while nice, isn’t outstanding, he said. It certainly doesn’t match the view from the current Pine Creek Cookhouse, the renowned restaurant a short ways away.
So Starck, adept at internet research from his work on family genealogy, started purchasing photos of Ashcroft’s early years from the Aspen Historic Society and reading whatever resources he could find. He wanted to determine when that particular hotel was built and — more importantly — what it was named.
He believes a photo taken on Independence Day 1882 possibly shows the hotel under construction. Another photo, identified by the historical society as having been taken between 1881 and 1890, clearly shows the hotel.
Among the resources he mined was the Colorado Business Directories, a census of businesses in the state from 1881 to 1913.
“Hotel View is never listed, but Ashcroft Hotel is, and the only remaining hotel after the decline,” Starck said.
Anna Scott, archivist at Aspen Historical Society, has conversed regularly with Starck via email, sent him information and listened to his theory.
“I don’t know where the Hotel View name came from,” she said.
The late Stuart Mace moved to Castle Creek Valley with his family in 1949 and operated a wilderness lodge and dog-sled operation. He befriended the old-timers around Ashcroft and referred to the hotel as Hotel View, Scott noted.
Mace led the effort to restore the old Ashcroft buildings along with the late Ramona Markalunas.
Presumably, Mace learned of the name Hotel View from some of the old-timers he met, but oral history isn’t always accurate, Scott said. In other cases, locals assign nicknames to a favored site, like Ajax for Aspen Mountain she said.
She hasn’t seen any conclusive evidence about Hotel View.
“We’ll never know if that’s the name,” she said.
Lynne Mace, Stuart’s daughter, was three years old when he family moved to Castle Creek Valley and built Toklat. She recalls exploring the ghost town as a kid. Her family always called the iconic structure Hotel View, though she doesn’t know the source.
Mace suggested that Trevor Washko, a former resident naturalist for Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and the “ghost” at Ashcroft from 1997 to 2005, might have the definitive word.
Like Starck, he has observed that the business directory referred to Hotel Ashcroft but not to Hotel View. But he’s also seen photos where Hotel View is visible in fading letters on the structure’s facade. Washko noted that two different women were listed in the business directories as the proprietors at different times in the 1880s, showing that the business changed hands.
If the business changed hands, it’s possible it changed names. Maybe Hotel Ashcroft and Hotel View are one in the same, with different names in different eras.
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