The Sad Tale of the Ghost Town of Ashcroft

Ashcroft was once a booming town near Aspen in Colorado but it was abandoned almost as quickly as it came about.
Christopher McFadden

Ashcroft is now a sleepy abandoned ghost town just south of Aspen in Colorado. It was once a booming silver mining town but fell on hard times when the silver deposits ran out. 

Here we explore the history of this mysterious place and discover the reasons it was abandoned. 


What is a ghost town?

A ghost town, as you might already be aware, is an abandoned, once occupied, city, town or village.

"Any abandoned city, town, or village can be considered a ghost town. They usually also have visible remains, such as empty buildings. ... In the past, such towns — often called boomtowns — were settled and quickly came to life when mines or mills were built to harness natural resources, such as gold or coal." -

There are many reasons cities, towns and villages become abandoned, but the most common reasons include: -

  • Economic collapse (like Ashcroft).
  • Natural disaster.
  • Drought and famine.
  • Disease and/or contamination.
  • Natural resource depletion (also like Ashcroft).
  • War/capture and sacking and/or massacres.
  • A manmade disaster like Chernobyl.

What's the story behind Ashcroft and where is it?

Ashcroft was once a prosperous town that lies around ten miles (16 km) south of the famous Colorado ski resort of Aspen along Castle Creek Road. It was founded in 1880 after a productive silver seam was discovered nearby. 

First called Castle Folks City, Ashcroft would quickly attract silver prospectors to grow to, at its peak in 1882, a population of 2500 or more.

"In the spring of 1880, prospectors Charles B. Culver and W. F. Coxhead left the boomtown of Leadville to search for silver deposits in the Castle Creek Valley. After vigorously promoting their findings back in Leadville, Coxhead returned to find 23 more prospectors had joined “Crazy Culver” in the camp, they named Castle Forks City." - Aspen Historical Society.

ashcroft ghost town location
Source; Google Maps

Within two weeks or so of its founding, streets had been laid out, a courthouse was built and the town's site was divided into around 840 lots.

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The town's earliest pioneers formed the Miner's Protective Association with each paying $5 for the privilege. Soon after each member paid a further $1 to draw for building lots. 

The town's growth was heavily supported by one man, Horace Tabor -- a Leadville mining tycoon. He invested heavily in the Tam O'Shanter and Montezuma silver ore mines that produced around 14,000 ounces of silver per ton at peak production. 

The town rivaled nearby Aspen in its heyday and had no less than twenty saloons, two newspapers, six hotels, a school, a bowling alley, a doctor's surgery, and even a jail. Ashcroft was also well connected with its own telegraph service, post office and was in close proximity to the railroad in Crested Butte.

The future looked bright for the town. But it wasn't too long-lasting. 

Within only a few years the town was abandoned and left to the elements. Today only a few buildings remain standing including the Blue Mirror Saloon, a post office, and the View Hotel. 

Guided tours and interpretative signage are provided by the Aspen Historical Society for anyone who wishes to learn about the town's ill-fated past. 

The Sad Tale of the Ghost Town of Ashcroft
Source: Mark Byzewski/Flickr

Why was Ashcroft abandoned?

Like many "boomtowns" of the period, the main attraction for residents to the town was the nearby silver mines. As it transpired the seams were shallow and were quickly exhausted.

A new and profitable silver strike was found near Aspen in 1884 and many of the town's residents upped sticks and left. Ashcroft declined almost as quickly as it boomed. 

The much-promised train line to the town from Crested Butte never materialized, and many fled to find their fortune elsewhere.

By around 1885 the town's population dwindled to about 100 from its height of 2500

The remaining residents, mostly aging single men, doggedly remained in the town by the turn of the century. Each of them owned mining claims but spent most of their time hunting, fishing, reading and drinking in Dan McArthur's bar.

Many, in exchange for drinks, would tell their stories which served as a form of informal employment for many of them. From time to time they would also seek part-time employment at what remained of the mines above Ashcroft.

The Sad Tale of the Ghost Town of Ashcroft
Source: krblokhin/iStock

"Every four years they elected municipal officers from among themselves. “Judge” Jack Leahy—who died in 1939—was the last of the original citizens. He cultivated a reputation as a scholar and legal expert and wrote long, melodramatic poetry. Historian Jon Coleman calls these men 'prospectors with dismal prospects, boosters with nothing to promote, and town fathers with no children.'” - Aspen Historical Society.

Ashcroft's last resident, Jack Leahy, died in 1939 officially making it a ghost town.

What happened to Ashcroft after it was abandoned?

A renewed interest in Ashcroft occurred in the 1930s when two international sportsmen, Ted Ryan and Billy Fiske made plans to build a ski resort in Ashcroft. They had plans to build a Highland-Bavarian Lodge and an aerial tramway to serve it.

The Sad Tale of the Ghost Town of Ashcroft
Source: John Holm/Wikimedia Commons

Sadly the onset of WW2 put an end to their plans and Fiske was killed in action. Ryan leased the town to the U.S. Army for $1 a year and the 10th Mountain Division used the Ashcroft for mountaineering training in 1942.

Post-war, a WW2 veteran, Stuart Mace who commanded a canine division during the war, decided to start a dog sled operation at Ashcroft. He had some success with his Toklat huskies being featured in the 1950s TV series "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon". 

Ashcroft was given a facelift and had false fronts fitted to create a Canadian-style set. Mace would spend the rest of his life protecting the site from further development and preserving the area's ecology.

The Sad Tale of the Ghost Town of Ashcroft
Source: DaveAlan/iStock

By 1974 Ashcroft came under the management of the Aspen Historical Society. Under their protection, the town as included on the National Register of Historic Places. The Aspen Historical Society would later receive the first U.S.F.S. permit ever granted to a historical society to preserve and interpret a ghost town.

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