You might know of Tim Willoughby from his time teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College, or through his weekly musings on local history in The Aspen Times.
Willoughby, 71, will be in Aspen on Wednesday to promote and sign his new book “Backside of Aspen Mountain: How Five Men Forged a Community.” His talk, hosted by the Aspen Historical Society, begins at 4:30 p.m. at Wheeler/Stallard Museum, 620 W. Bleeker St.
“The goal is to get as much information about Aspen’s history as possible,” Willoughby said in a recent telephone interview. He currently lives near Santa Cruz, California, and stays active in politics and writes columns for two local newspapers. “I’ve spent my lifetime trying to correct misinformation by having a book out there for people to read and understand the history of Aspen.”
A common misconception, Willoughby noted, is that Jerome Wheeler, the mining magnate president of R. H. Macy & Co., lived in Aspen. He did not, but B. Clark Wheeler, no relation to Jerome, paid his Aspen dues in spades — after all, he helped found the town.
Both Wheelers get ample attention in the book, which notes, “If you walk Aspen’s streets today, you will find two iconic Victorian structures associated with the name Wheeler, the Wheeler Opera House and the Hotel Jerome; but that is a different Wheeler, Jerome B. Wheeler. The contrast between the two Wheelers highlights the difference between an outside capitalist and a pioneer.”
That contrast and other stories of Aspen, from its evolution from a mining town to a global skiing destination, are highlighted in the book, which Willoughby actually embarked on writing in 1975.
“That’s when I first started writing it,” he said. “I would write and then I wouldn’t be happy with what I was writing, and I’d given up on it for a long time.”
Willoughby enjoyed access to a trove of documents, photos and other relics of Aspen lore through his family archives, which date back to the 1880s when they arrived to the valley. His new books covers five men over three generations in Aspen.
His grandfather, Fred D. Willoughby, arrived in Aspen in the 19th century and became interested in mining, and his father would be immersed in the trade and get know such old-time miners as John Atkinson, for example, by working at Little Annie mine on Aspen Mountain.
“I have a lot of family archives that no one else has access to,” said the younger Willoughby, an Aspen native whose childhood memories include picnicking on the backside of Aspen Mountain, home of both the Little Annie and Midnight mines.
The Willoughby family holds a prominent role in the book, and the writer said he struggled with that fact. But the facts are that Willoughby family members served as mayor, mine operators and other significant positions during Aspen’s first 60 years.
“It just sort of worked out that way,” he said. “I had all of this information about them and after I did all of this research, they really were important.”
“Backside of Aspen Mountain” is available at Explore Booksellers in Aspen, Bookbinders Basalt and Book Grove in Glenwood Springs.