The Ashcroft Ghost Town

Posted by carrieh in Canary Ghosts
Spooky black and white photo looking at an old building through the door of another dilapitated old building
Photo credit Lori Shaull

Once a prosperous but now abandoned town, Ashcroft Ghost Town sits just South of Aspen in central Colorado’s Elk Mountains. It was once a booming mining town as many towns were back in the old wild west days. When the silver mines went dry, the city suffered economic collapse.

In 1880, two prospectors Charles B. Culver and W. F. Coxhead had left the boomtown Leadville searching for silver deposits in the Castle Creek Valley. While Culver staked their claim, Coxhead left camp for supplies to return to Leadville to publicize their finding.

Upon returning to the camp, Coxhead discovered that Culver’s enthusiasm about the prosperity of their discovery had drawn two dozen more prospectors that had joined ‘Crazy Culver’ at the camp. They named the camp Castle Forks City.

It didn’t take long for the growth of the town to begin. In two weeks, streets were laid out, a Courthouse was built, and the land was divided into 840 lots. Forming a ‘Miners Protective Association,’ each of the 97 members paid $5 or a day’s worth of work to win lots via a lottery.

 

Tabor the Silver Tycoon

A Leadville mining Tycoon Horace Tabor invested heavily in the silver ore mine Tam O’Shanter and Montezuma. These mines produced around 14,000 ounces of silver per ton at the peak of production.

Black and White photo of Tycoon Horace Tabor who owned over half of the silver claims in Ashcroft Ghost Town
Wikimedia Commons

Partnered with Joe W. Smith, the two owned claims to the Tam O’ Shanter, a silver property that was elevated reportedly at 13,572 feet. In 1892, along with the Montezuma, the two properties produced $20,000 per month, and mysteriously they were usually run at a loss.

Tabor, wealthy with bottomless pockets, built a home of his own in Ashcroft. It is said that the living room wall panels were papered with gold-encrusted paper.

Tabor had the odd ritual of completely dressing before he shaved with a reputation for having a’ spattered’ look. Hence, tiny globs of shaving cream forever flecked his attire.

When Tabor’s wife, Baby Doe, came to town, a 24 hour Holiday was consistently observed with a banquet, a ball, and free rounds of drinks at all saloons. As ridiculous as this may sound, just think about the fact that H.A.W. Tabor spent 12 million dollars in 13 years!

Stagecoach Passes to the Ashcroft Ghost Town

In 1881 Coxhead sold his entire share to a town developer T.E. Ashcraft. The town was renamed Ashcroft. For an unknown reason, perhaps a simple misspelling, a vowel in Ashcraft’s name was changed. Hence the town being called Ashcroft.

Interestingly, the access to Ashcroft was at one time was through Taylor Pass that was 6 miles above Ashcroft. At 11,900 feet, Taylor Pass was the oldest, dating back to 1879. The wagons had to be disassembled and then lowered over a 40-foot cliff drop piece by piece. By 1882 the stagecoach service had 3 different passes.

The Pearl Pass was a higher route that opened in 1882, and it became a jack trail by 1885 used for hauling loads of coal from the Gunnison County mines. The most crucial pass by far used as access into this area was the Hunter Pass. When the first wagon attempted to cross the 12, 095 ft summit, it consumed an entire month of adversities!

Hunters Pass was renamed when the mining camp of Independence was prospering on its western approach. Of all of the passes, the Independence is the only survival that is still usable today. The Pearl and the Taylor Passes are now jeep roads.

Rival town to Aspen

In the boomtown’s heyday, it was a rival to nearby Aspen. There were as many as 20 saloons, two newspapers, a doctor’s office, 6 hotels, a school, sawmills, a jail, and even a bowling alley. The town also had its own telegraph service, a post office, and sat near the Crested Butte railroad. With around 2,000 people, Ashcroft was more prominent than Aspen which was still in its infancy.

From Boomtown to Bust

With a seemingly bright future ahead, the town sadly only lasted a few years. The silver mines turned out to be only shallow deposits, and soon the bustling town fell apart. Promised rail lines to the nearby Crested Butte never materialized, and most fled to look for fortune elsewhere. By 1885 there were only around 100 summer residents, and the town was nearly broke.

Independence Pass was primarily responsible for the deterioration of Ashcroft as Aspen began to grow and flourish. In 1887 when the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad reached Aspen, there was no need to haul coal over the Pearl Pass from Crested Butte. Pioneers moved entire buildings from their foundations and dragged down Castle Creek to Aspen. This was the final nail in the coffin for the town of Ashcroft, as the railroads had no plans to extend their lines up Castle Creek.

In 1893 silver prices crashed, busting the economy even in Aspen. With 50 mines closing in Aspen, 2,000 men were put out of work.

The road to becoming the Ashcroft Ghost Town

In 1912 the post office closed its doors for good, leaving only Dan McArthurs bar the only remaining business in the town. Only a handful of single aging men made Ashcroft their home. Owning mining claims, they spent their time fishing, hunting, and reading as well as drinking in Dan McArthur’s bar. Exchanging stories for drinks and organizing makeshift employment services, they matched men with scarce work in the few remaining mines.

The remaining citizens held municipal elections every four years from among themselves. “Judge” Jack Leahy passed away in 1939 and was the last of the town’s citizens. When he died, the town officially became a ghost town.

 

Black and white photo of the haunted buildings that remain in Ashcroft Ghost Town
Lucas Peltonen photo

What is a ghost town?

When a town, city, or village once occupied becomes abandoned, it becomes a ghost town. Is it any wonder that the ghosts of past occupants may hang around after their once chosen place to live out their lives crumbled and fell around them?

There are many reasons that towns are abandoned and become ghost towns. Economic collapse (such as Ashcroft), natural disasters, drought, famine, disease, or contamination are some reasons. Natural resource depletion was expected and also what ultimately led the town of Ashcroft into economic collapse. War or massacres also commonly depleted a town of its occupants.

Ghost Towns usually have abandoned buildings remaining that deteriorate in time. A haunted feeling ensues, and many ghost towns become the stomping grounds of long-gone residents that have stuck around in the afterlife.

Many old ‘boomtowns’ that came to life when mines or mills were built for their natural resources are now deserted by the earthly inhabitants. Now they are occupied only by the ghosts of those that lost their lives during those days.

Many miners died tragically in those mines and may not even realize in their spirit forms that they were dead.

New interest comes to the Ashcroft Ghost Town

In the 1930s sportsman, Ted Ryan and Billy Fiske took an interest in Ashcroft. Billy Fiske was the captain of the Olympic bobsled team, and the team was the Olympic gold winner in 1928 and 1932.

Ryan and Fiske built The Highland Bavarian Lodge a few miles from Ashcroft with plans to build a European ski resort, complete with an aerial tramway. They received a US Forest Service permit for the resort and a state bond issue to make an aerial tram. Sadly, Billy was killed in action in WWII, bringing their plans to stop. Ryan invited the Tenth Mountain Division to use the area as a training site.

Life comes back to the Ashcroft Ghost Town

Through all of the stories about Ashcroft Ghost Town, the most soulful tale is Isabel and Stuart Mace.

 

Ryan leased some land to the Mace’s who had already fallen in love with the area that surrounds Ashcroft Ghost Town. They built and ran a lodge called Toklat Lodge (Tolkat being the Eskimo word for glacial mountain valley), ran a bobsled, and served as caretakers of Ashcroft.

 

Read more about these places whose stories intermingle with each other in the top 10 haunted places in Aspen, Colorado.

Sources:

https://interestingengineering.com/the-sad-tale-of-the-ghost-town-of-ashcroft

https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/ashcroft

https://www.historynet.com/ghost-town-ashcroft-colorado.htm

https://aspenhistory.org/tours-sites/ashcroft-ghost-town/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashcroft,_Colorado

https://aspenhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/AHS-Sites-Brochure-2016.pdf 

https://books.google.com

https://www.aspenhalloffame.org/inductee/isabel-stuart-mace/