There’s a ghost town in Colorado that draws me in every time I drive by. It’s Independence Ghost Town. It’s almost as if an old miner is sitting on a porch of one of the buildings calling to me to come stay awhile and hear his stories. A little eerie, yes, but as you explore the ghost town sitting at 10,830 feet in elevation you get a glimpse of what mining life was like in the late 1800s.
It’s easy to pass by Independence Ghost Town as the old Farwell Mill perched close to the road is really the only noticeable thing you see as you drive by. It’s easy to get lost in the incredible scenery or the twists and turns of Highway 82. But, you should get out of your car and explore the town. On one of my visits, I pretty much had the ghost town to myself, along with Anna Scott from the Aspen Historical Society, which helped to restore and preserve the ghost town.
Independence Ghost Town is a step back in time in a living history lesson. Back in the late 1800s, Ashcroft, Aspen, and Independence were booming mining town. While Aspen is still thriving today, Ashcroft and Independence are ghost towns. Independence Ghost Town is on Independence Pass, 16 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82. As you drive down from the summit of Independence Pass heading west towards Aspen, about three miles down you’ll see the pull off on the left for the ghost town. If driving east up from Aspen, you can’t miss the Farwell Mill on the right as your marker you’ve arrived at Independence Ghost Town. The mill and town are about a half mile apart and it’s an easy walk between the two. As you walk it, you’re following in the steps of miners. The path was part of the road connecting Independence to Aspen and Ashcroft.
Independence Pass closes in winter, but the drive is one of the prettiest in Colorado in summer or fall.
In the 1870s, the Hayden Survey showed the area would be rich in silver and possibly gold. Independence was a mining town that was very short lived. According to legend, one of the early prospectors on the pass struck a rich vein of gold in the mountains by the Roaring Fork River on July 4, 1879. The camp had been known as Farwell, Chipeta, Sparkhill and other names. But the strike it rich find of the Independence Gold Lode was the spark that led to the name Independence. In true boom and bust style of mining towns of the American West, in the early 1880s, the town had grown to a population of about 1,500 and the mill processed over $190,000 worth of gold in 1881 and 1882. But by 1883, the ore production dramatic dropped and settlers went in search of fortune elsewhere. Independence quickly became a ghost town.
Aspen Historical Society has been involved in the preservation of Independence Ghost Town since the 1970s. There is no charge to visit Independence, but they do ask for a $3 donation.
In its heyday, Independence had over forty businesses, including blacksmiths, butcher, post office, and of course a general store. Today, you can still walk into the old general store building to learn more about the history of the ghost town and even buy small souvenirs like candy or fake gold.
As you wander through the ghost town, notice how many doors each building has. It’s a clue to what the building was used for in the 1880s. Multiple doors on a building mean it was likely a store, or perhaps even two. Most of the businesses also housed homes. As you wander inside of what’s left of the buildings, you’ll notice the roofs are low. That was to keep heat in. There would have been multiple people living in a home instead of just one or two. More people meant more heat.
In addition to businesses housing homes, there were also some cabins up on the hillside.
Independence was a transient town with a tent city. Miners would bring their tents down, set them up and live there while in town to replenish their supplies before heading back out on the mountainsides in search of fortunes. Today, you can still see the old platforms and tent plots and envision what the tent city would have looked like.
Life at 10,830 feet high was rough because of the isolation from the steep, tough terrain and the harsh weather. Even in summer, it can be cold here. Make sure you have a jacket, even on a beautiful summer day. If the clouds roll in or the winds pick up, you’ll need it.
The main travel road, Aspen Street, went right through Independence. You can still walk the road, which is now a trail, to the Farwell Mill. If you walk the trail, you’ll see the old stables.
Once a bustling mill crushing ore, Farwell Mill is now crumbling into a pile of wood.
When you visit, you see the remnants of mining life in a great educational and interesting stop on a road trip. Instead of just reading about history, if you stop at Independence Ghost Town, you get to experience it seeing the old buildings and even remnants like cans and bottles of everyday life in the late 1800s. In addition to a history lesson, you also get a geology and environment lesson.
Take a tour with me and explore Independence Ghost Town.