Photographer's Note

Silverton is in south west Colorado in the heart of Colorado's mighty San Juan mountains


A Little history of the town

The Silverton district opened legally to miners in 1874, following the Brunot Treaty with the Utes. An estimated 2000 men moved into the region that year. They came from across the U.S., many parts of Europe and even China, to endure severe winters and dangerous mining conditions in their pursuit of the minerals they hoped would make them rich.

Not all who settled were miners. By 1875 the 100 sturdy souls who lived in Silverton proper worked in the post office, sawmills, blacksmith shop, mercantile, newspaper, liquor stores, smelters or assay office. The towns population grew to 500 by 1876. Life was not easy for any of them. Statistics from Silvertons cemetery note causes of death in early Silverton as 117 from snowslides, 143 from miners consumption, 161 from pneumonia, 138 from influenza (most in the 1918 epidemic) and 202 from mine accidents.

People came to the Silverton area on foot and astride mules. In 1879, the wagon road over Stony Pass (12,590 feet) opened. Three years later the railroad reached Silverton, coming north from Durango, relieving Silvertons isolation. In 1884 Otto Mears operated his toll road between Silverton and Red Mountain town, and then, on into Ouray. By 1887 the railroad had reached Ouray from the north, but it never connected to Silverton from the north due to the rugged Uncompahgre canyon.

Mining reached its peak between 1900 and 1912, and the population of San Juan County peaked at 5000.

The area boasted four railroads, three smelters, and over thirty mills serving myriad gold and silver mines high in the mountains. Men worked at these remote locations year-round, living in boarding houses, coming off the mountains via tram bucket over long cable tram lines designed to carry the ore from the mine to the mill several thousand feet below. On the rare occasions miners came to town, many of them spent their money in Blair Streets saloons and houses of ill repute.

On a more wholesome note, the town sprouted churches, fraternal lodges, womens clubseven a baseball team and brass band. Dances were popular and Silverton had her own ice skating rink.

Prior to the twentieth century, the most permanent structures in Silverton were the stone building that is now the Pickle Barrel and the Thomson Block, a four story stone and native brick building built in 1882 which housed the Grand Hotel. The first decade of the 1900s saw a flurry of civic construction: the courthouse, jail, town hall, Miners Union Hospital and the jewel-box Carnegie Library were all built at this time. Water and sewer were put in, concrete sidewalks were installed and a municipally owned light plant provided electricity to the burgeoning town.

In the years since that glittering decade, San Juan County saw several of the boom and bust cycles typical of the mining industry. The boom cycles saw an influx of people from practically every ethnic group on earth and yielded millions of dollars worth of precious metals, and the bust cycles saw the settlements of the county turn into ghostly reminders of themselves. Financial and environmental setbacks, such as Lake Emmas flooding of the Sunnyside Mine in 1978, sounded an eventual death knell to Silvertons mining era. The Sunnyside, the last big mine in the region, closed in the early 1990s.

Todays Silverton, with a population or 500, is a tribute to the survival of a gritty, tough community for whom quitting was never an option. The entire town has been designated a National Historic Landmark. It is a favorite destination for train fans, history buffs, and outdoor enthusiasts. Silverton remains Silver Queen of Colorado, beloved by those who live here and those who come to visit.

by Carol McDermott and Bev Rich with Samantha Tisdel
courtesy and copyright Silverton Magazine

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Additional Photos by Paul Gana (PaulGana) Silver Star Critiquer/Silver Note Writer [C: 12 W: 0 N: 11] (60)
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