Basalt was formed in the late 1880s when the two small communities of Frying Pan Junction and Aspen Junction joined together on land formerly occupied by the Ute Indians. Frying Pan, the first settlement in the area, was established in 1882 on the south side of the trout rich Frying Pan River. It was a tent city where men who worked the nearby charcoal kilns were housed. Aspen Junction was created in 1887 to accommodate workers on the Colorado Midland Railroad.
Construction of the railroad, which had begun in 1885, quickly connected the town of Leadville through Hagerman Pass to Aspen Junction, along the Frying Pan River, and then branching out to Aspen, Glenwood Springs, and Grand Junction. The arrival of the railroad not only facilitated transporting charcoal and ore, it also brought people and supplies. Folks from Frying Pan soon moved across the river and Aspen Junction quickly became a town with a general store, a boarding house, a restaurant and several saloons. By 1890 there was a post office in Aspen Junction but five years later, so as not to confuse the location with either Aspen or Grand Junction, the name was changed to Basalt. (A natural choice due to the basalt rock just north of the settlement.)
The Town of Basalt was officially incorporated in October of 1901. It remained a vital railroad center until 1919 when the railroad closed. Mining, ranching and farming became the main occupations of area residents and their town was lined with Victorian charm. For decades, until the advent of the ski industry in and around Aspen, Basalt was known primarily as a ranching community. Then, in the 1960s, many local residents found employment up valley with the rapid popularity of skiing and the growth of tourism.
Facts: Population approximately 4,000; elevation 6,611 feet; land area 1.9 square miles, situated at the confluence of the Frying Pan and Roaring Fork Rivers.
Walk around downtown Basalt today and you will see remnants of its history in Victorian-styled buildings and the old charcoal kilns not far from the new home of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Innovation Center, a world-famous “think and do” tank. The small town is filled with restaurants, galleries, shops, professional offices, and a contemporary public library. It is the epicenter for many recreational activities: gold-medal fly-fishing, cycling, jogging, hiking, boating on the Reudi Reservoir, rafting, kayaking, and golfing at the nearby Roaring Fork Club. Beautiful scenery exists any time of year. Take a drive or bike ride along the Frying Pan River and marvel at the deep red rock formations in the Seven Castles area and large private properties along the route.
The town is also characterized by a creative arts culture with several galleries, a community arts center and many resident artists. A vibrant music scene is also found in local restaurants and at a variety of outdoor concerts all summer long.
Today the environs of Basalt stretch well beyond the downtown area. Located to the south and west along Highway 82 are Southside, the Basalt Design Center, Willits and Willits Town Center. These more recent developments have expanded Basalt’s residential, commercial and service choices many fold. The newest additions include a Whole Foods Market, several medical and professional offices, loft-style living, and the Westin Element Basalt-Aspen Hotel.
Basalt is still growing as development along the Roaring Fork River and plans for revitalizing the downtown core are on the drawing board.
Those who call Basalt home and tourists who come to visit do not wont for outdoor activities or a robust quality of life. All this and less than 20 miles to world-class skiing and Aspen.