Basalt History Tour
The Small Italian Valley of Aosta Played an Important Role in Basalt
While mining and railroads provided stimulus to the Basalt economy, the early ranchers and farmers of the Valley provided the backbone of our culture and were the constant that carried the Valley’s economy from the early 1900s until the ski days.
Although not the only group that played an important role, the small Italian valley of Aosta provided a number of families that framed our future. This wide, Italian valley, snug against the French border and a part of the Italian Alps, was populated by a fair-skinned and broad shouldered citizenry. In those days in Aosta, the tradition was that the eldest son inherited the family lands and was responsible for caring for his parents. The next sons and all the daughters were given nothing; that consequence meant young men and women had to seek their future elsewhere.
Initially attracted to America by the opportunities from mining in the Leadville area in the early 1880s, the first Aostans soon discovered the Roaring Fork Valley. Seeing the similarities to their homeland and recognizing its potential for an agricultural lifestyle, rather than the unfamiliar miners’ lives they lived in Aspen, they soon began to find opportunities to purchase and settle farm and ranch lands. Impressed with the opportunity and the Valley’s familiarity, they soon sent word home, and before long, more Aostans arrived.
Industrious and entrepreneurial, they effectively began to enlarge their holdings and go from subsistence settlers to merchant farmers and ranchers, selling produce, hay, grain and livestock to the miners and railroad crews, and branching into that most effective cash crop, the potato. Many maintained herds of both cattle and sheep. As one descendant said, “…Grandpa said cattle only gave him one paycheck a year, while sheep paid him twice. Once in the spring from wool and once in the fall from meat…”
Who were these Aostans? They were the names you hear so often, on businesses, ditches, parks, streets, trails and in the Mayor’s office. They were led by the Clavell’s and followed by the families of Duroux, Diemoz, Arbaney, Natal, Vagneur, Berthod, Cerise, Gerbaz, Grange, Fiou, Darien, Bionaz, Letey, Vasten, Glassier and more.