History

AVH has a rich, colorful history that started during the silver mining days. In the late 1880s, married men were usually cared for at home by their wives, but single working men—many of them employed in dangerous occupations—made up more than half of Aspen's population. Languishing in their boarding houses, the sick or injured died of neglect as much as illness.

What Aspen needed was a fully-supported county hospital. So in the fall of 1889, the "Citizens' Hospital Committee of Pitkin County" was formed. It was decided that the structure should have 20 nice, clean, well-lighted rooms for patients along with rooms for the doctors and nurses. Committee members agreed to ". . . get out among the people and raise funds."

The hospital was to be executed in Queen Anne style and was budgeted at $16,000. Fundraising efforts were immediately successful. The Rio Grande and Midland Railroads each gave a donation of $3,000, an anonymous donor gave $1,000, and $2,000 was given by both the county commissioners and City of Aspen. By the summer of 1890, construction was well underway. However, the fundraising committee was still $7,000 short of their goal. They began an intensive campaign, saying, "No man who has employment should fail to give a day's wages. . ." or $3.50.

On July 18 an editorial in The Aspen Times said, "If the men in Aspen who smoke ten cigars a day will curtail their smoke to five for a week, each can give the hospital fund $3.50 and be better off physically and better off financially. The sum total of the fund would be increased by about $175. No one would be the loser but the cigar merchant and the government on internal revenue." 

CITIZENS’ HOSPITAL

By fall of 1891, the Citizens' Hospital Association had accomplished its task, and Aspen's first hospital,"the finest on the Western Slope, was finished. Located between Red and Smuggler Mountains, it was the pride of the town and would serve the community for the next 70 years. There was one ward for "subscription" patients and one for indigent patients, a total of 11 to 12 beds.

The careful planning and thrifty management of the Citizens' Hospital could not prevent the nearly crippling blow that fell only two years after it opened its doors: the repeal of the Sherman Act and the demonetization of silver on November 4, 1893. By the end of that year, 80 percent of Aspen's enterprises were bankrupt, and thousands of suddenly destitute Aspenites moved on, taking with them the hospital's most substantial source of income, monthly subscription payments. The hospital struggled to remain open.

By 1921, hospital receipts were only $500 a month, with expenses running at $650 a month. A February article in the Aspen Democrat stated, "The Citizens' Hospital is down to its last dollar," and suggested that since World War I was over, the War Chest Fund of $500 should be transferred to the hospital. By 1933, the hospital was all but broke, and the Association leased it to Aspen's only remaining doctor, Warren Twining. For the next 13 years, Doc Twining and his wife Maude ran the hospital almost single-handedly.

Gradually, in the late '30s, the winds of change began to blow over Aspen. A few hearty mountaineers discovered new potential for the surrounding mountains: skiing. Then, industrialist Walter Paepcke made his first visit. Enchanted with Aspen, he immediately bought property and set about creating his dream of a serene and exclusive cultural and intellectual enclave. All this meant people, and people, for the hospital, meant patients.

When Doc Twining died in 1946, the hospital found itself without a doctor and without a leaseholder. New doctors were recruited, and the Citizens' Hospital Association turned the reins of the hospital over to the county. It was renamed Pitkin County Hospital.

By 1957, in spite of a rising census and revitalized staff, it became clear that the 65-year old hospital was woefully inadequate. Yet another fundraising campaign was embarked upon, and Aspen's second hospital was begun in stages, utilizing the old building, along with new wings, until completion. In the fall of 1959, the first new wing—built behind the hospital and attached by a ramp—opened.

In 1961, the hospital's administrator decided to hold a contest to rename Pitkin County Hospital. Longtime Aspenite Eloise Ilgen picked the winning name: Aspen Valley Hospital (AVH). She won a pass to the Aspen Music Festival for her efforts. 

MIDDLE HOSPITAL

The last phase of the "middle hospital" came in early 1962 when the main portion of the old Citizens' Hospital was torn down and replaced with a final wing that joined the two earlier phases. The entire town turned out with trucks and shovels to help haul away the rubble. But many old-timers mourned its passing. With it went the end of a gentler era in which horses and buggies parked out back, the sheets blew dry on the lines, homemade gooseberry jam was served for breakfast, and fresh fish from the Roaring Fork was served for dinner.

The middle hospital was a 25-bed facility, having twice as many beds as its predecessor. However, the ski industry brought more and more visitors, and there was soon the need for an even larger hospital. No one had anticipated the incredible population surge that hit Aspen. By the late '60s, there was a permanent population of 5,000 people and an annual visitor total of 250,000 people. In the winter, many of them ended up in the corridors of the hospital waiting for treatment. Jan Ortega, Director of Physical Therapy at AVH, remembers that the middle hospital was hopelessly overcrowded by the early 70s. "PT had a little corner in the ER, and that was it. Really, we had no space at all; treatments were done in the halls," she said. The maternity ward was so sub-standard due to overcrowding that authorities threatened to close it.

In July of 1973, after two years of study, the hospital board recommended that a new site for the hospital be selected. They cited the high cost and unpredictability of remodeling, future hospital needs that would exceed the seven acres at the present site, and the fact that, in all probability for only $500,000 more than a remodel, an entirely new facility could be built.

Ultimately, land was acquired on Castle Creek Road, and a hospital district was formed that could issue bonds for financing the bulk of the new building. The Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, under the leadership of President Edgar Stern, Fundraising Chairman Wilton Jaffee, Sr., and Executive Director Eve Homeyer, raised $1.5 million to help fund the construction of the new building. The Foundation's theme was "Join the '91ers," echoing the request that the businessmen of 1891 contribute a day's pay to Aspen's first hospital.

On October 25, 1977, the new 49-bed hospital was dedicated at its new home on Castle Creek Road. At the time of the opening, the board was comprised of James Bulkley, Rose Stanton, Wilton Jaffee, Sr., Russell Pielstick, and Dr. Robert Oden.

Today, AVH is considered one of the most sophisticated small hospitals in the country, and community pride is as evident as it was in the 1890s. An un-named reporter for the Rocky Mountain Sun said it best in September 1891. The following quote refers to the new Citizens' Hospital. "The average citizen acquiesces in the general belief that such an institution, built as it was by private subscription and standing with its doors open for afflicted humanity, is an honor to the city and a most welcome abode for those in misfortune who enjoy its rare benefits."

To receive a full account of the history of Aspen Valley Hospital, contact us by email for a copy of A Picture of Health at 100.
 

0401 Castle Creek Road
Aspen, CO 81611
970.925.1120

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