Her dad helped settle Aspen
By Debbie Bruell
Sopris Sun Correspondent
The third graders in Danny Stone’s classroom at Crystal River Elementary School received a special treat for their Carbondale history lesson last week: a visit from one of the student’s 95-year-old great-grandmother, Ruth “Ditty” Perry. The children gathered at her feet as she told stories about “the old days” in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Ditty’s father, David Brown, was born in 1856. He moved from Denver to Aspen in 1880 when “there was nothing there.” Brown built the first building to stand in Aspen: a two-story structure, with living quarters upstairs and a general store on the first floor.
His initial trip from Denver to Aspen was quite a challenge. He travelled by horse-drawn wagon, camping out along the way. There were no roads and sometimes not even a trail. Once he got to Taylor Pass above Ashcroft it took him three months to get all of his things down to Aspen. The terrain was so steep he had to unload the wagon, load up the horses, ride them down to Aspen, then repeatedly ride back up to get more of his belongings and supplies from the wagon. Once he had emptied out the wagon, he had to lower the wagon itself down by rope.
After Brown married and began raising a family they lived part-time in Aspen and part-time in Denver so that the children could be educated in the city. Brown eventually bought a car to make the trek, although it still took up to two days to travel between Aspen and Denver. The car had no windows in the back of the vehicle where the children rode.
“No matter where we lived we had a milk cow,” Ditty told the children. “Even in Denver we had a ranch outside of town so that my parents could provide us kids with fresh milk.”
Ditty married her husband Bob in 1940. They moved to Carbondale in 1942 and began ranching, which they continued to do for the next 67 years.
She described what Carbondale was like in those days: “When we first came the only things here were one tiny grocery store that just sold essentials, one drug store with an ice cream fountain, a little cafe that operated on and off, a store called Bob & Jenny’s that sold the bare essentials for camping, a tiny post office, a hotel (many older men without wives lived upstairs in the hotel), and an auction bar for selling cattle.”
There was no bank, no hardware store, no restaurant and no library. There was no movie theater, she told the children, but “one woman who lived here had five children, and they would put on operas!”
Children were educated in small country school houses including one teacher and about a dozen kids of varying ages. According to Ditty there were at least six country schools throughout the area before such schools were shut down and one central school was built in town. “It’s debatable as to whether that change was all that successful,” she told the students.
The initial school building built in town was the structure that has evolved into today’s Bridges Center on Sopris Avenue. Ditty showed the students photos of the cattle roping they used to do on weekends, just for fun, in a huge empty field in front of the school (where the Carbondale Branch Library now stands).
Ranchers like themselves that lived outside of town had no electricity and no electric appliances, such as washing machines. “When night time came it was dark!” she said.
When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941 it “changed life tremendously,” Ditty told the children. “Gas was rationed, so you could only buy gas with coupons. When you were out of coupons you didn’t go anywhere until the next month. I would save up enough coupons so that I could drive to Glenwood once a week, bringing a three-foot tall canister of cream to sell at the Safeway. Only one time did I have a disaster when the cream can tipped over in the car!”
Ditty’s family made one trip to Glenwood every summer to go swimming in the Hot Springs Pool. She told of her family enjoying the tall, metal slide into the pool. Ditty showed the children a photo of South Grand Avenue entering Glenwood Springs — a narrow dirt road lined with large trees on both sides.
The Crystal River Elementary School children sat rapt in attention as Ditty spoke. Many hands rose with questions as she ended her tales. “What did you do when you got bored?” one student asked. Ditty laughed, “I never had a chance to be bored! I didn’t know the meaning of the word. I was always working on the ranch.”
“Do you have an iPod?” another student wanted to know. “I do have a iPod,” Ditty said. “And an e-mail address and a cell phone!”
(Note: Ditty Perry received the Mt. Sopris Historical Society’s inaugural Hattie Thompson award on Aug. 9, 2014).