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History of Aspen, Colorado

Aspen, the county seat of Pitkin County, is a resort and former mining town in the mountains of Colorado. It was founded by miners in 1879 and originally named Ute City, after the Ute Indians who inhabited the area. The name Aspen was chosen in 1880. Aspen boomed during the period of silver mining. A nugget weighing 2060 pounds and consisting of 93% pure silver was found in the Smuggler Mine. Aspen had acquired schools, banks, churches, an opera house, and a population of 15,000 when silver was demonetized in 1893. From there, the population crashed to around 700 in 1930. Many buildings in Aspen date from the period of silver prosperity. Jerome B. Wheeler, a partner in Macy's Department Store in New York City, built the Wheeler Opera House and the Hotel Jerome. By the middle of the 1930's, ski enthusiasts were looking at Aspen as a possible ski resort. Their plans were interrupted by World War II, but during that conflict the Army trained the Tenth Mountain Division near Aspen and the skiing soldiers were impressed with the consistent powder they found. After the war, several of them returned and began buying surface and mining rights with the intention of starting a ski area. Aspen received a big boost in the form of industrialist Walter Paepcke of Chicago. Along with his wife, he invested in Aspen and in the summer of 1949, organized the Goethe Bicentennial Convocations, the first event in the history of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. Walter and his wife Elizabeth also started the Aspen Music Festival and the International Design Conference. The longest chair lift in the world was built on Aspen Mountain and in 1950, Aspen hosted the World Downhill Ski Championships, marking its emergence as one of the world's premier ski resorts. Founded in 1979, the Aspen Art Museum displays contemporary art from around the world. Local history is displayed at the Aspen Historical Musem and twelve miles away at the Holden Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum. Aspen is home to one of the campuses of Colorado Mountain College. Aspen opened its Citizens' Hospital in 1891. The hospital survived the crash following the demonetization of silver in 1893 and emerged after World War II to serve the growing community of skiers. It was renamed Pitkin County Hospital and later became Aspen Valley Hospital.