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Area History


The first claims in the area were by Engineer Mountain and were staked in 1875, with the town of Ouray being incorporated the next year, named after the Chief of the Utes. Silverton jumped ahead of Ouray as it had a population of over 500 in 1876, however within four years over 2,600 people lived in Ouray, which soon became the shipping and operations point of the entire region. Many grand buildings were constructed in the Victorian age that survive to this day, including St. Joseph's Hospital, Wright's Opera House, The Western Hotel, City Hall and the County Courthouse, where the court room scenes for the John Wayne Western "True Grit" were filmed. Silverton's Victorian architecture featured the Pickle Barrel, Thomson Block, Miner's Union Hospital, the Courthouse, the Town Hall, and the ornate Carnegie Library.

In 1879, the wagon road that crossed Stony Pass opened and Silverton began to boom, especially three years later when the railroad north from Durango reached the town. Due to the unforgiving terrain of Uncompahgre Canyon, that railroad was not able to connect to Ouray. The canyon terrain maintains its supremacy to this day as the drive to Telluride is over 50 miles, but the distance as the crow flies is only 10 miles. The road is known as the Million Dollar Highway, although it cost much more than that to construct. One theory about the name is that there is a million dollars in gold ore in the road's fill dirt.

By the time that The Panic of 1893 hit, Ouray had diversified into a bustling tourist destination thanks to its incredible scenery and bubbling mineral hot springs—a source of income that kept it alive through some very tough times in the first half of the 20th century. Passenger traffic on the railroad ceased in 1936, and the track between Ridgway and Ouray was abandoned completely by 1952.

Silverton slowly withered through some boom and bust cycles of the mining industry, but they were mostly busts. When Lake Emma overflowed its banks and flooded the Sunnyside Mine in 1978 the end of Silverton's mining era was near with the mine closing forever about a decade later. Silverton today has just a little over the same population as it did way back in 1876, 500 very tough and gritty people.

The Ouray and Silverton area is now renowned as one of the most stunningly beautiful places in an amazing state and is a backdrop for many national commercials for companies such as Chevrolet and Coors Brewery.

Animas Forks Ghost Town outside of Silverton, Colorado