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Ridgway
Dallas Divide
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Telluride
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Town View with
Rail Yard c1900

 

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Main Street c1890

 

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View from end of Main Street 2000

 

 

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Related Information

Telluride, CO
Elevation 8,756 feet.
RGS Mile Post 45.1

When arriving in Telluride you can not help but be awe-struck by the mountains shooting up to incredible heights right before your eyes. It seems you can just make out a little trail of burros struggling to keep a foot hold on the narrow switch back trails that go so high it makes your head swim to imagine the view down. Well, today you may see a jeep going up that trail, the burro days have long been gone.

HISTORY

Telluride was first a mining town, and things started to get interesting in the late 1870's. Veins of gold and silver were discovered and several claims began to produce in the area. John Fallon is credited with the initial discovery in 1875. Gold was discovered and true mining frenzy was born.

Prior to the arrival of the railroad in 1890, burro trains carried all the supplies into, and out of the area. Trails really did zig-zag up the sides of the near vertical mountain faces. When the railroad finally arrived in 1890 the town really needed the shipping improvements and made good use of the train. Telluride became a supply center for local mines like the Ajax, Smuggler, and later  Tomboy, Gold King and Liberty Bell.  Hauling ore from the Telluride area mines was a big part of the Rio Grande Southern's revenue

This was your classic boom town and boom it did. Telluride was an important mining area in its heyday and produced over well over $60 million in gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc. The town experienced most of the mining boom town personalities and at one time had ten saloons and one church. 

Even Butch Cassidy and the gang got in on the Telluride action by reportedly robbing the San Miguel County bank in 1889.  The gang made off with $10,500 after bribing Marshal Jim Clark to "be out of town" the day of the robbery.

The Telluride area made even more world news when L. L. Nunn built the Ames power plant. This was the first use of alternating current to power commercial machinery. The power was used in the mines to replace the steam powered equipment. At the time, the area had been well scoured for burnable lumber, and the new AC power provided a lower cost source of energy that ran on water. The  Ames plant is located south of Telluride in the Ophir Loop area.

In 1893 there were 5,000 people living in Telluride. Unfortunately, the whole world went through a silver panic that year. Times were hard but the area still produced gold with silver prices down, and that helped Telluride to carry on. But, as it did in so many boom towns, the mining economy kept fading. By 1930 the business of the area had dwindled to almost nothing and there were only about 500 residents left. Most folks just left town. 

Eventually a new spark of an industry came to life in the late 1930's. People began to realize that Telluride was a fun place to visit, especially in the winter. Skiing became popular, and in 1945 a rope tow was built to take skiers up the snow bound mountain slopes that had troubled the miners so 50 years earlier. 

Just like in the movies, a hero named Joe Zoline came to town in 1968. He planned, built and dedicated the Telluride ski area in 1971, and great skiing became associated with Telluride. However, the new future was slow in coming because the town was still just too difficult to travel into. It took construction of the regional airport in 1990 to really start the pot boiling, and now Telluride has its second great boom. Today you better be well off if you want to buy property in the area. 

The name Telluride derives from "tellurium," a sulfur compound that is sometimes found around gold deposits or even in the gold itself . Experts differ on whether the Telluride area mines contain the compound. But, reportedly the name arose in 1887 after a large piece of telluride ore was found in the San Miguel River near the site.  You will still hear the tale that the name came from "to-hell-you-ride," a phrase that described the difficulties traveling to the area.

 

TELLURIDE TODAY

Most folks have heard of this place today. It is right up there on the Colorado hit list with Aspen and Vail. It is a wonderful place, and yes, one of the Jewels in the crown. The local residents do work hard to keep Telluride's historic look and feel. Not too many big city developers come to town throwing up condominiums and fast food stands.

Telluride is well known for the concerts and other events it throws in the summer months. Great live Jazz, Blues, etc. weekends are hosted by the town, and folks come in from all over the world to participate. 

 

THE RAIL YARD

The railroad in Telluride was arranged with two passing tracks and a wye for engine turnarounds. There was a wooden Depot, Section House, Bunk House, Water Tank, Coal Shed and Engine House in the yard area.


Telluride rail yard c1900

 

ENGINE HOUSE

A board and batten Engine House built in 1892 was used to service locomotives at Telluride. It was a single stall that was 16' x 120' and could hold two small locomotives. In the 1920's the building went the way of many railroad structures when it was destroyed by fire and never re-built.

 

DEPOT

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Telluride Depot c1940

Telluride sported one of the largest Depots on the RGS and it still stands today. It had the classic architecture with wooden siding and shingles. This building was restored by the locals and has been a several types of restaurant in the recent past. 

 

WATER TANK

The was tank was like most others on the RGS, standard design, 50,000 gallons, similar to the one at Rico, CO. In 1940 the tank became unusable and was replaced by a simple water stand pipe.

 

OTHER STRUCTURES

A small coal platform was located near the Engine House. In 1930 a Goose barn was moved into the yard. Previously the building had been the freight house at the Tomboy mine. Other industries included Conoco bulk oil storage, electric supply, warehouses, a lumber yard, packing plants and the Telluride Iron Company.

 

THE MINES

Telluride mines have produced over a quarter billion dollars in revenues in the last century. Much of that was made when a dollar bought a lot more that it does today. Silver was the main ore extracted in the early days and then high quality gold deposits were found. Geologists still estimate there is a lot more metal left in the ground. 

In the early days the ore from the Pandora mine was packed on burros over the deadly high mountains to Ouray. From there it was freighted by wagons to Alamosa, shipped by D&RG rails to Denver where it was processed in the Grant smelter.

The two top producing mines in 1876 were the Sheridan and the Union. Then a fellow named J. R. Ingram took a good look at the claims and noticed they extended 500 feet more than legally allowed. So he proceeded to dig in this middle ground and called it the Smuggler. It turns out that the Smuggler was one of the best mines in the area and by 1900 it had 35 miles of tunnels.

A couple of other important mines were the Tomboy and the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell had been worked for many years and was thought close to useless until paydirt was finally struck in the late 1890's. On the other hand, the Tomboy struck it rich right from the beginning. In 1897 the Rothchilds of London bought the Tomboy for two million dollars.

 

 

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