For centuries before white people arrived in the beautiful Crystal River Valley, the Marble area was a sacred hunting round to bands of the Native American Ute culture. But by the 1870’s prospectors for gold and silver had filtered over Schofield pass from the Crested Butte area and had begun to settle in the rugged mountain terrain between Lead King Basin and Beaver Lake, the soon-to-be townsites of Clarence and Marble. Though the search for silver never amounted to much, the discovery of marble in 1882 did.
John Osgood had a large block of marble quarried from the beds on Yule Creek in 1882 to be displayed at the 1893 World Colombian Exposition in Chicago, generating enough commercial interest in Yule Marble to supply marble for the interior of the Capital building in Denver, and to supply finishing mills in the east from 1894 to 1896.
By 1905 there were three, more or less active marble quarries operating, and Marble’s population had grown to 150. The Colorado Yule Marble Company, organized in 1906, leased the Crystal River Railroad from Carbondale to Placita and built 7 miles of new track into Marble, naming the spur the Crystal River & San Juan Railroad. A huge finishing mill, 150 by 1,700 feet and a 3.5-mile tramway was constructed, boosting Marble’s population to 1,500 by 1915.
Marble boasted the world’s largest marble deposit and the world’s largest building under one roof. In its boom time, Marble bustled with people who filled the churches, school, a motion picture theater, five general stores, two hotels, a drugstore, a dry goods store, two pool halls, a Masonic Hall, two barbershops, six saloons and two newspapers. At the time of the Great War the market for marble collapsed, most of the Italian stone workers returned to conscription in the Italian army, and marble’s population dropped to 50 people.
Though the quarries reopened in 1922 to provide 500 train car loads of marble to build the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1926, Marble never regained its former vitality. A temporary revival of the quarries and mill in the late 1930’s was brought to a close by World War II in 1941, and by 1943 the tracks were taken up and the machinery sold for scrap metal.
The buildings that avalanche, mudslide, flood and fire had not destroyed were moved or torn down to relieve the burden of property taxes – leaving a jail, the High School, the marble City State Bank Building, the old Episcopal Church and a few other residences intact to serve as a rememberence to Marble’s once vital community.
Over the next two decades, a few hardy souls remained, and more came to maintain a community that prized the beauty of the narrow mountain valley and the quiet solitude, far away from the seat of county government in Gunnison and the gradual development of Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Valley to the north and east.
In 1972 the town was reincorporated to fight the development of a ski area on the southwest-facing slopes above the Town which threatened the residents’ water supply of Carbonate Creek. Although many feel the plan was never more than a land speculation boondoggle, a two-mile long ski lift and an empty 50-unit condo building remain as yet more testimony to the Ute curse that greedy whites will never prosper here. The marble quarry reopened in 1990 but has since gone into receivership and reopened again – never employing more than a half-dozen workers.
Marble has gradually grown into a community of about 125 residents with another 200 in the area surrounding the old town boundaries. On the edge of wilderness, in the midst of striking alpine topography, the current residents have for several terms re-elected a town board which encourages sensible and eco-conscious single family, year-round residences and a reasonable trickle of eco-minded tourism through its few bed and breakfasts, group retreat centers and guest cottages.
Visitors enjoy public access to the historic quarries and ruins of the finishing mill as well as many astonishing hikes and jeep trails, fishing in Beaver lake, the Crystal River and higher up alpine lakes and streams.
The old 1910 High School was recently refurbished to house the K-8th grade Marble Charter School and the Marble Historical Society’s museum. Active citizen committees recently restored the historic Marble City State Bank Building which is where the Marble Board of Trustees holds its monthly meetings. The Marble Mill Site Committee is pursuing a master plan for the Mill Site park. Eventually the park will become home to modern restroom facilities, a fitness trail and a sculpture garden.
Summer events regularly include an art festival, piano recitals, the marble/marble sculpting symposium, as well as the opportunity to visit with artisans and fine artists in their studios, galleries and shops.