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Area History

Set in a magnificent Colorado mountain valley, Telluride was, for centuries, a favored Ute tribe summer hunting site for deer, elk, and mountain sheep. The first Europeans began to filter into the valley in the mid-19th century and when gold was discovered in 1858, the boom was on.

Founded in 1878 with the name of Columbia, it was soon changed to Telluride, which either refers to a gold-associated metal called Tellurium or is a contraction of "To Hell You Ride." Telluride's mines were also rich in silver, copper, zinc, iron and lead, thus the town grew quickly with fortune seekers heading to the mineral riches from all over the continent.

Some great names from history are forever linked to Telluride area—Butch Cassidy and The Wild Bunch robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in 1889, making off with $24,580 (the equivalent of over one million dollars today), Marie Curie purchased uranium ore from just outside the town for her momentous experiments with radioactivity, and George Westinghouse teamed up with electricity genius Nikola Tesla to build the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant (the world's first commercial AC power generator). The electrical engineering building at Cornell University was named Telluride House and it is now used as a housing co-operative.

The turn of the century was marked by serious labor unrest in the mines and the area features prominently in the Colorado Labor Wars. The mines pulled $360 million in gold alone (many times that figure in modern dollars), but by the mid-20th century, the output dropped and the town along with it. Telluride was on the way to becoming another Colorado ghost town when the first ski lift was installed at the Telluride Ski Resort in 1972. The influx of winter worshippers was matched by an alternative culture, the post-hippie migration, which laid the groundwork for the unique cultural attractions and its world-famous music and film festivals.

In the 1980's, the town became a focal point for narcotics trafficking and a favored recreational spot for upmarket dealers, as immortalized by Glenn Frey's "Smuggler's Blues." Tim McGraw later had a hit with his "Telluride." By the mid-1990's, Telluride had outgrown both mining and narcotics to become one of the state's leading resort towns with an added bonus of a very special Western heritage overlaid with a veneer of modern culture.


Telluride Summer Tram Ride and View