In 1891, the Holden Lixiviation Mill sprawled over 22 acres at the edge of Aspen, boasting state-of-the-art technology and industrial design. Just 14 months after the new plant opened, Congress demonetized silver and the mill went bankrupt. Mike Marolt purchased the property for a dollar in 1940 as a family ranch. This site is unique. It tells the stories of both Aspen’s mining and ranching heritage.
Founded as a silver mining camp in 1879, by I890 Aspen was the single largest silver producer in the US. With a population of over 13,000, Aspen was the third largest city in Colorado. Only Denver and Leadville were larger.
Aspen’s big news in 1891 was the building of the Holden Lixiviation works on the west side of town. The newspaper declared that "the sweet day dreams of those who have longed to see Aspen a great city are about to be realized." Completed just fourteen months before Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Act, the plant never cleared a profit and went bankrupt almost immediately. It was one of only eighteen plants built world-wide to utilize the experimental Russell Lixiviation process to refine low grade ore.
The Russell Lixiviation process used crushing, heat, and chemical salts to refine silver from ore as low grade as ten ounces per ton. (Aspen ores averaged 400 to 600 ounces of silver per ton, but much low grade ore had to be discarded.) The fumes from the plant’s Stetefeldt furnaces were emitted from the main smoke stack 165 feet high, reputed to be the highest stack in the state.
One of the reasons that the Sampling building still stands is because it was built to hold large machinery that crushed and pulverized the ore.
By 1904, after several attempts to run the Holden Works as a concentrator (a process of discarding some of the worthless material to make the low grade ore cheaper to transport), the plant was closed. During the quiet years the Marolt family ranched near the mill. In 1940 they purchased the mill for one dollar, and combined it with the Midland Ranch to form the Marolt Ranch. The Marolts raised sheep and cattle and planted potatoes. By the late 1950’s, the Marolts started selling off parcels of their land, due to decreasing Forest Service grazing acreage, financial strains of the kid’s college educations, and Mike Marolt’s deteriorating health.
In the 1940s, the site was considered by the US Army as a training camp for the 10th Mountain Division, however, Camp Hale was established over the surrounding peaks near Leadville for that purpose. Nevertheless, maneuvers frequently brought them to the Ashcroft area and the soldiers soon found Aspen for their "rest and relaxation." Many 10th Mountain veterans returned following WWII to build Aspen into the world class ski resort that we know today.
The Holden site, once a symbol of Aspen’s industrial might, became the symbol of a vanishing ranching economy as skiing fueled the rebuilding of Aspen.