WILLOUGHBY: A roof over your head
Housing provision, especially affordable housing, has been a consistent theme for decades. Having a roof over your head was always a challenge in Aspen, but the definition of what that meant was very different in the mining era.
You can consult Zillow for contemporary listings, and in most recent times, rentals have been advertised in the Aspen Times, and the rent amount is usually listed. If you searched newspapers from 1882 to 1915 with the phrase “house for rent,” you would find only six listings. There were advertisements for three houses for rent in 1890: a furnished 5-room house for $80 a month ($2,162 today), an unfurnished 6-room house for $40, and a 2-room house for only $10.
Rents fell after the Panic of 1893 with one house going for $8, a bungalow in 1895 for $5, and one in the same year furnished with five rooms for $15. ($405 in today’s dollars)
Today, we list properties by number of bedrooms; In those days, they were listed by the total number of rooms in the house. Since rents are rarely mentioned, this suggests that rental amounts may have been negotiable. Rooms for rent are rarely advertised, and none of them mention the monthly rent. “For Rent” signs on the side of the house or word of mouth were probably the primary ways to attract tenants.
In the first decade, there were brokers who sold mining shares and land, and also sold houses and worked with their owners to rent them to others. There was enough competition with NJ Thatcher and James C. Conner, W. B. Wiley, and E. W. Young – all offering their services. The owner of the Aspen Times, B. Clark Wheeler, was part of that group as well. In 1884, he advertised “For Rent – A Beautiful House Furnished and Suitable for an Inn,” and also advertised the sale of the Florentine house managed by Mrs. Creese. Mrs. Fink, owner of the Aspen Boarding and Lodging House, wanted to sell quickly in 1884, because she was planning to travel to Europe.
Many had their own homes, especially families, but for the less fortunate and for single men and women, boarding houses filled the bill, mostly run by women. Mrs. McCauslin’s two-story house on Galena Street opened in 1884, as did Miss Daily Shots’ house in East Durant and Mrs. Mary Newton’s house in Cooper, which included a “French cook of the first class.” As with house rentals, accommodation prices are often not announced. The amount depends on whether you rent just a room, or a bed in the room, and whether you also want meals. One 1885 boarding house advertised $1.50 a day ($37.50 in today’s dollars).
There were two boarding houses in Tortolot Park. One owned by a man named R. Mackey, who hosted parties at his boarding house. Another building, the Surprise Boarding House, measuring 40 feet by 90 feet, collapsed in 1890 under the weight of spring snow. You might think a name like that foretells the future, but the owner had the name AL Surprise.
The boarding house featured in this column was run by Miss Rose McMahon, a long-time Aspenite lady. Her mother came to Aspen in the very early years. McMahon turned to running a restaurant, Rose’s Restaurant, in 1903. She sold meals for $0.25 ($7 in today’s dollars). They opened for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and stayed open until after midnight. This long day of work had destroyed her health; Over the next decade, she became severely ill and was hospitalized at least once a year. She survived until 1952 but moved from Aspen in the 1930s.
One major difference between then and now is that land, in the form of mining claims, was available cheaply. If you need housing, you can build a small log cabin. Racial equity solved the affordable housing crisis.