Telluride, Colorado, wasn’t always a famous ski resort and summer vacation spot. This small town in the San Juan Mountains started out as a mining camp. Whether it’s local geology or the Native American Ute, the preserved town core built during the gold rush or the surrounding ghost towns, these stories have been chronicled by the Telluride Historical Museum.
The Colorado gold rush began in 1858, about ten years after the California gold rush started. Immigrants set out for the Rocky Mountains in hopes of striking it rich. “Pike’s Peak or Bust” described the determination of prospectors. Mining camps and towns sprang up as the miners sought their fortunes. Whether they came from Scandinavia, Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, Cornwall, or China, they were there for one purpose—gold.
Not all prospectors were headed for Pike’s Peak. Many of them went to the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern part of Colorado. The first claim near Telluride was made in 1875 and registered as the Sheridan Mine. It proved to be rich not only in gold, but zinc, lead, copper, iron, and silver. The town was established in 1878, first under the name of Columbia, but changed to Telluride after the U.S. Post Office informed them Columbia was the name of another mining camp.
Mining towns attracted some rowdy characters and Telluride had its share of saloons and brothels. Butch Cassidy got in on the gold and silver boom by robbing the local bank. At its peak, the population was 5,000, and at its lowest–600. The building that is now the Telluride Historical Museum was originally a hospital for injured miners.
The mountains surrounding Telluride still have shacks that were left after the miners pulled up stakes. Some of the ghost towns in the area are Tomboy, Smuggler, Alta, and Black Bear Mine. Telluride’s town core has been a designated National Historic Landmark District since 1964.
The Telluride Historical Museum will be hosting an event Tuesday, July 30, celebrating their recent acceptance as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Local and state officials will join with Smithsonian representatives to talk about how the museums can mutually benefit. For more information about the Telluride Historical Museum, please visit their website.
Written by: Cynthia Collins, Senior Museum Correspondent
Telluride Historical Museum