REDSTONE, Colo. — Colorado has always been known for its magical mountain towns.
But Vail, Telluride, Breckenridge and other big names are not the only ones. Colorado’s mountains are dotted with many other small but charming communities worth visiting.
One of these is Redstone, located south of Glenwood Springs, east of Aspen and just over 3 hours from Denver.
Just over 100 people call the unincorporated town home, according to the most recent census data.
Redstone is set up against the Crystal River and is surrounded by majestic red sandstone cliffs. It's also adjacent to the White River National Forest and to the east and connects to the Maroon Bells Wilderness.
Like many of its neighbors, Redstone began as a mining camp. However, it was built with a plan and a vision to be a small utopia amongst the rough communities that were typical during the mining boom.
This story is part of our weekly 9Neighborhoods series, where we visit different Colorado neighborhoods and towns to explore what makes them unique. Join us for a photo tour of Redstone Friday afternoon on Instagram.
An early 1900s planned community
In the early 1900s, John Cleveland Osgood was known as the King of Coal in the West. He was sixth richest of the Robber Barons, a group of elite industrialists.
As a social and industrial experiment, Osgood decided he wanted to build a town in the Colorado mountains that would provide better living conditions for the miners working nearby.
Instead of the tents and tiny cabins common in mining towns, Osgood built Swiss-style cottages – with electricity and running water - along the river.
He also built a clubhouse with a theater, school, library, lodge, community garden and stables. The Ceveholm Manor, now known as Redstone Castle, was a 42-room home and hunting lodge for Osgood, set on 500 acres.
It cost about $3 million to complete the planned community, which was finished in 1902.
Notably missing were saloons and brothels, common in nearly all mining towns of the time. Instead, alcohol was served only in the clubhouse and the streets of Redstone were quiet and clean. In fact, coal workers had to take a bath or shower before they could enter the town.
Redstone’s claim to fame: coking coal
At the time Redstone was founded, there was a large coal mining operation about 8 miles above town in what was known as the Coal Basin.
The coal being mined was extremely low quality, so they decided to use it to make coke – a purified form of coal used to manufacture iron and steel.
This was done by cooking the coal in ovens heated to 2400º, a process called coking.
The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, which was headed by Osgood, built 249 coking ovens in the valley below the mines in 1899.
Coal would travel by narrow gauge railroad to the ovens where it would be cooked into coking coal, then continue to Osgood’s steel mill in Pueblo.
The operation in Redstone was the largest coking facility in Colorado. In only 3 years, the ovens produced almost 5.7 million tons of coke.
Nearly all the workers living in Redstone at that time worked at the coke ovens.
Today, 90 of the 249 original coke ovens in Redstone remain standing. The beehive-shaped ovens were restored in 2014 and are a unique historic site to see while in Redstone.
Re-developing Redstone into a resort
In 1909 the mines near Redstone closed and therefore so did the coking operation.
The town was almost immediately abandoned.
Osgood, who had been living primarily in New York, returned to his castle in 1924 with the idea to redevelop the town into a resort. However, he died before the transformation could be completed.
Osgood’s wife Lucille inherited the estate and continued the mission for a short time.
A large building that was originally used to house unmarried workers was remodeled into the Redstone Inn in 1926.
Lucille attempted to run it as a resort hotel, but very few people came.
By 1941, only 14 people were still living in Redstone.
Over time, Redstone’s population has slowly climbed back up. Its dazzling setting has also led to a modest but steady tourism business.
Things to do and see in Redstone today
Today, Redstone is a hidden gem in Colorado’s popular mountains, beloved by those who have found it.
This time of the year, adventurers come for the Nordic skiing and snowshoeing in the Upper Crystal Valley; climbing at Redstone’s scenic ice pillars; and ice skating on the town’s outdoor pond.
Fishing, hunting, camping, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing are all also popular past times through the year.
After a day outside, two natural hot springs resorts are a popular place to relax and warm up.
The Avalanche Ranch Cabin and Hot Springs, located about five miles outside of town, has three different hot springs pools. Guests can either buy a day pass to enjoy the pools or stay in one of the property’s cabins. The Penny Hot Springs is a rustic area with rock pools built directly into the river. It is free to use.
The historic Redstone Inn continues to welcome guests. The rooms at the resort-style hotel are each different, featuring historic touches and unique amenities. The hotel also has limited access to internet and phone service, forcing visitors to unplug for a weekend.
Osgood’s castle is now open to the public for guided tours every weekend. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time and are $10 - $25. The castle also hosts weddings and other private events and has seven guest suites that are available to rent.
The town also has an art gallery, general store, fly shop and gift boutique for some light shopping.