Set in White River National Forest at nearly 9,000 feet above sea level, Crested Butte has only about 1,500 year-round residents and none of the flash and dash associated with places like Breckenridge and Telluride. The main drag, Elk Avenue, is lined with modest square and rectangular structures built in a style often described as “Old West Victorian.” Most have façades that make the place feel like a movie set and are made of wood, because Crested Butte was not a rich town and never had the means or inclination to build the sorts of brick buildings one finds in, say, Aspen, which is only 11 miles or so to the northeast as the crow flies. There are no brand-name retail outlets either, or stoplights, and everyone seems to own a dog.
Long the domain of Native Americans who followed elk, deer and other game to this area in the warmer months and who harvested trout from its cool, clear streams, Crested Butte saw its first European settlers in the early 1800s, most of whom trapped beaver in its waters. As demand for the pelts plummeted, however, the fur traders left. Then came the prospectors, and after they discovered gold and silver in the 1860s, Crested Butte became a vibrant mining town. A crash in the silver market in 1893 shook up the local economy, but the discovery of high-grade coal allowed a shift from one natural resource to another. The coal business thrived into the 1950s, and then came the opening of the ski area in 1961, which marked the beginning of a new era for the town as an adventure destination.
The first settlers in CB (as the locals call it) were Anglo-Saxons, and they were followed by Eastern Europeans, some of whom founded associations through which they could socialize in the New World. One such place was the Croatian Fraternal Union of America, and its headquarters was a two-story hall that stood initially on Elk Avenue but was moved in 1902 to Second Street by miners who hoisted the entire edifice on logs and then rolled it to its current site. Soon after, CFU members started staging dinners and dances there and wedding receptions that lasted as long as three or four days. Today it enjoys a much more sedate existence as the Scarp Ridge Lodge.