Mining precious metals seems to produce ghost towns almost as though they are a natural byproduct of the process, and the history of ghost town, Ashcroft, Colorado is a telling example of just why that is.
In 1880 two prospectors, Charles B. Culver, and W.F. Coxhead, discovered silver in the Castle Creek Valley. In his greedy furor Coxhead promoted the area as Castle Forks City (changed to Ashcroft in 1882) back in the mining town of Leadville, hoping to bring other prospectors and businesspeople to the area. Meanwhile Culver recruited 23 other prospectors on site and when Coxhead returned, the 25 of them laid out city streets and constructed a courthouse in just two weeks.
By 1885, six hotels and twenty saloons had sprung up, and the town was now home to over 3,500 people. However, as with so many towns in the boom times of Western mining, things declined rapidly from there. The early promise of a railroad passing from Ashcroft to Crested Butte never came about. In addition, the ore deposits, initially turning out 14,000 ounces of silver per ton, turned out to be shallow and were quickly depleted. 1884 had produced another rich ore vain in nearby Aspen, and by the end of 1885 only 100 residents remained in Ashcroft. Into the 20th Century, only a few men stayed in the dwindling town as mine work thinned out. Mostly they fished, hunted, and drank at the local bar.
The 1930s briefly brought new life to the town as winter sports rose in popularity and the Highland-Bavarian Lodge was built as a planned ski resort. After one of the founders of the resort died in combat in World War II, the town was leased to the U.S. Military, seeing use from the 10th Mountain Division for mountaineering training. After the end of the war, it was given over the the U.S. Forest Service.
Ashcroft saw limited activity from then on, until 1974, when the Aspen Historical Society took interest. They succeeded in having Ashcroft added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and it remains as a terrifically preserved ghost town and cautionary reminder of the fleeting rewards of greed.
Know Before You Go
Drive about 11 Miles South on Castle Creek Road from the round-a-bout in Aspen. There are signs.