Jerome B. Wheeler played an important part in developing Aspen. President of Macy & Co. in New York, he visited Aspen in 1883 and fell in love …
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Jerome B. Wheeler played an important part in developing Aspen.
President of Macy & Co. in New York, he visited Aspen in 1883
and fell in love with the town and its nearby mountains.
He returned to Colorado, bringing a fortune with him and adding
more money as necessary to buy producing mines. He was generous
with his money and was filled with ideas of how to improve
One of the first things he did was build a smelter at the foot
of the mountains and an electric tramway to transfer ore from the
mines to his smelter. (Aspen had electricity; it was the first city
in Colorado to have electric lights.)
He pleased the populace by building the Wheeler Opera House and
the Jerome Hotel, both of which became favorites with Aspen's
elite. Dressed in the latest fashions, the wealthy society members
could dine at the hotel's restaurant on the finest cuisine, seafood
sent from both coasts being its specialty.
Wheeler invested a great amount of money in James Hagerman's
Colorado Midland Railroad. In late 1887, people of Aspen and
surrounding areas had a time of great excitement. The Denver and
Rio Grande Railroad was racing to bring its narrow gauge line up
the Roaring Fork from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, a distance of 42
At the same time, the Colorado Midland was trying to overcome
the mountains and storms to open the Hagerman Tunnel and bring its
standard gauge rails in from Leadville to Aspen. The Hagerman
Tunnel was 2,164 feet long; the digging had to take place at
11,528, the highest altitude of any standard gauge railroad in the
United States. The tunnel was straight, but its approaches had
curves, delicate trestles and steep grades that required three or
four engines to pull the train.
It was almost a foregone conclusion that the Denver & Rio
Grande Railroad would win the race against the Colorado Midland.
All of Aspen greeted president David Moffat of the Denver & Rio
Grande, who was accompanied on the train by Gov. Alva Adams, Sen.
Henry Teller and other notables.
Rockets and Roman candles lighted the sky, and Chinese lanterns
lined the streets as the train pulled in. Nearby dairy cows, within
hearing distance of the station, were so frightened by all the
noise that they stopped giving milk, leaving Aspen residents in
short supply for a few days.
The Colorado Midland completed its part of the race two months
later, becoming the first standard gauge railroad to cross the
Jerome Wheeler, who had taken Aspen to his heart, lost
everything in 1892, when financial disaster spread across the
country. In 1901, he declared bankruptcy, listing half a million
dollars in assets and a million and a half in debts. The loss of
the Wheeler Opera House, his favorite possession, gave him the most
sorrow and regret.
Membership in the Parker Area Historical Society is open to all
who have an interest in the history of the area. Be sure to see the
society's exhibits at the Parker Library. For further information,
call (303) 841-6530.
Ruth Miller is an avid historian and Parker area resident.
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