Silverton, Colorado

Coordinates: 37°48′45″N 107°39′47″W / 37.81250°N 107.66306°W / 37.81250; -107.66306
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Silverton, Colorado
Location of Silverton in San Juan County, Colorado.
Location of Silverton in San Juan County, Colorado.
Coordinates: 37°48′45″N 107°39′47″W / 37.81250°N 107.66306°W / 37.81250; -107.66306
Country United States
State State of Colorado
County[1]San Juan County - seat[2]
EstablishedSeptember 15, 1874
IncorporatedNovember 15, 1885[3]
 • TypeStatutory Town[1]
 • MayorShane Fuhrman
 • Total0.83 sq mi (2.16 km2)
 • Land0.83 sq mi (2.16 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
Elevation9,318 ft (2,840 m)
 • Total622
 • Density750/sq mi (290/km2)
Time zoneUTC-7 (Mountain (MST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-6 (MDT)
ZIP code[7]
81433 (PO Box)
Area code970
FIPS code08-70580
GNIS feature ID0204750
WebsiteTown of Silverton

Silverton is a statutory town that is the county seat, the most populous community, and the only incorporated municipality in San Juan County, Colorado, United States.[1][8] The town is located in a remote part of the western San Juan Mountains, a range of the Rocky Mountains. The first mining claims were made in mountains above the Silverton in 1860, near the end of the Colorado Gold Rush and when the land was still controlled by the Utes.[9] Silverton was established shortly after the Utes ceded the region in the 1873 Brunot Agreement, and the town boomed from silver mining until the Panic of 1893 led to a collapse of the silver market, and boomed again from gold mining until the recession caused by the Panic of 1907.[10] The entire town is included as a federally designated National Historic Landmark District, the Silverton Historic District.

Originally called "Bakers Park", Silverton sits in a flat area of the Animas River valley and is surrounded by steep peaks. Most of the peaks surrounding Silverton are thirteeners, the highest being Storm Peak, at 13,487 feet.[11] The town is less than 15 miles from 7 of Colorado's 53 fourteeners, and is known as one of the premier gateways into the Colorado backcountry.

Silverton's last operating mine closed in 1992, and the community now depends primarily on tourism and government remediation and preservation projects. Silverton is well known because of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a former mine train that is now a National Historic Landmark, and internationally recognized events such as the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run. The town population was 622 at the 2020 census.[6]


Silverton Historic District
Grand Imperial Hotel, Silverton Historic District
Silverton, Colorado is located in Colorado
Silverton, Colorado
Silverton, Colorado is located in the United States
Silverton, Colorado
LocationSilverton, Colorado
Area695 acres (281 ha)
Architectural styleLate Victorian
NRHP reference No.66000255 (original)
97000247[12] (increase)
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966
Boundary increaseApril 3, 1997
Designated NHLDJuly 4, 1961[13]

Mining era[edit]

An abandoned mine in Silverton
An abandoned mine just above Silverton
Remains of an abandoned mine's ore bin along the Million Dollar Highway between Durango & Silverton

Settlements in the area surrounding present-day Silverton began in 1860 after a group of prospectors lead by Charles Baker made their way into the San Juan Mountains searching for gold. The area was soon referred to as "Baker's Park", and the group found traces of placer gold nearby.[10]

Long before settlement, the area was regularly explored by the Anasazi, and later the Utes, who hunted and lived in the San Juans during the summer.[14] There is also speculation that Spanish explorers and fur traders ventured into the area before Baker's 1860 expedition.[14]

After the Brunot Agreement with the Utes in 1873, which exchanged four million acres (6,200 sq mi; 16,000 km2) for the Southern Ute Indian Reservation and $25,000 per year, several mining camps were constructed.[15] These would later become the communities of Howardsville, Eureka, and Silverton.

Silverton was founded by mining entrepreneurs William Kearnes, Dempsey Reese, and Thomas Blair in 1874.[10] The region boomed after George Howard and R. J. McNutt discovered the Sunnyside silver vein along Hurricane Peak. Gold was then discovered in 1882, which helped the region weather the Panic of 1893 far better than other mining communities, such as Aspen or Creede.[16][10] The Sunnyside Mine would become one of Colorado's longest running and most productive mines.[9] The mine was shut down after the 1929 stock market crash, but was acquired by Standard Metals Corp. in 1959, and reopened, finding gold in 1973 with the Little Mary vein. The region's economy was dealt a devastating blow in 1992 when the mine and the corresponding Shenandoah-Dives mill, the last operating in the region, permanently closed.[17][9] The closure meant the end of jobs for over one third of Silverton's workforce.[17]

Tourism era[edit]

The town has a long history of tourism and efforts to market tourism by the Silverton Commercial Club (now the Chamber of Commerce) dates back as early as 1913.[14] By the 1930s, interest in the “Old West” was already attracting tourists from around the world, for which the newly constructed U.S. Route 550 further enabled access.[18] Following World War II, the town's railroad, originally operated by the Denver & Rio Grande Western for the purpose of shipping ore to Durango, became a major tourist attraction after it was featured in several popular western films.[19] By the 1970s, with almost all mining operations in the region shuttered, the train was almost entirely operated for the purpose of tourism.[19]

1911 Brochure inviting tourists to Silverton

Tourism continued to increase in the latter part of the 20th century, but Silverton's harsh winters and isolation made it a summer-only attraction.[14] Following the closure of Sunnyside, Silverton lost much of its tax base as the town's population dwindled to just over 500, a quarter of its peak population one hundred years earlier.[20][21][9]

The town's population, buoyed by strong summer tourism and an emerging winter economy, has since recovered.[16] The construction of the expert-level ski area Silverton Mountain in 2002 marked the beginning of Silverton's year-round tourism. Another ski area, the Purgatory Resort, is marketed as being within the Durango Metropolitan Area but is actually closer to Silverton than it is to Durango. Winter festivals such as Skijoring have brought crowds that rival those in the summer,[22] and the potential for new winter activities such as the expansion of the town-operated ski hill could permanently improve Silverton's winter tourism. The town has also become well known for its winter backcountry activities such as snowmobiling, ice climbing, and backcountry skiing.

Both the town and the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961. In 1966, the entire town was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. These boundaries were expanded in 1997 with the addition of the Shenandoah-Dives mill and other historical structures.[9]

Notable disasters[edit]

The area surrounding Silverton has been the scene of several well-documented disasters, many of them due to avalanches and mining accidents.

1906 avalanches[edit]

Five miners perished in a slide at the Sunnyside mine in January 1906. Only a few months later, twelve miners were killed in another slide at the Shenandoah Mine, making it one of the most deadly slides in the history of Colorado.[23][24]

1918 influenza pandemic[edit]

The Spanish Flu arrived in Silverton near the end of October, 1918, and quickly devastated the community. In a single week, 125 people, more than 5% of the town's population, perished from flu complications.[25] By the time the pandemic waned the following March, 246 people had died, accounting to more than 10% of the population.[26] This gave Silverton the dubious honor of having the highest mortality rate for the Spanish Flu in the entire nation.[26]

Lake Emma disaster[edit]

On 4 June 1978, when the water from Lake Emma collapsed into Sunnyside mine, shooting out of a portal with a force that toppled a 20-ton locomotive.[27] Fortunately, no injuries were reported as disaster occurred on a Sunday when nobody was present in the mine.[27]

Gold King Mine disaster[edit]

In 2015, the EPA and its contractors caused an environmental catastrophe when they accidentally destroyed the plug holding water trapped inside the Gold King Mine, which caused three million US gallons (eleven thousand cubic meters) of mine waste water and tailings, to flow into a tributary of the Animas River.


Historical population

As of the census[16] of 2000, there were 531 people, 255 households, and 149 families residing in the town. The population density was 656.0 inhabitants per square mile (253.3/km2). There were 430 housing units at an average density of 531.2 per square mile (205.1/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 97.36% White, 0.75% Native American, 0.38% Pacific Islander, 0.75% from other races, and 0.75% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.72% of the population.

There were 255 households, out of which 24.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.5% were married couples living together, 9.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.2% were non-families. 36.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 4.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.06 and the average family size was 2.63.

20.7% of town residents were under the age of 18, 4.0% from 18 to 24, 28.4% from 25 to 44, 39.9% from 45 to 64, and 7.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 44 years. For every 100 females, there were 108.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 110.5 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $30,486, and the median income for a family was $39,375. Males had a median income of $30,588 versus $19,886 for females. The per capita income for the town was $16,839. About 14.0% of families and 21.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.4% of those under age 18 and 7.1% of those age 65 or over.

The local school system has a total of 53 K-through-12 students as of November 2006.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.8 square miles (2.1 km2), all of it land. Silverton is one of the highest towns in the United States, at 9,318 feet (2,840 m) above sea level. The town is located in San Juan County, the highest county in the United States, with a mean elevation of 11,240 feet (3,430 meters). Silverton sits in a flat area of the Animas River valley and is surrounded by several thirteeners, the highest being Storm Peak, at 13,487 feet. The town is less than 15 miles from seven of Colorado's 53 "fourteeners", i.e., mountain peaks with a summit elevation of at least 14,000 feet (4,300 meters).


Silverton has an alpine subarctic climate (Köppen climate classification Dfc) with very cold, snowy winters and cool to warm summers with adequate precipitation year-round.

Climate data for 1906-2005 Silverton, Colorado.
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 34.0
Average low °F (°C) −1.9
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.68
Average snowfall inches (cm) 25.8
Source: The Western Regional Climate Center[28]
Climate data for Silverton, Colorado, 1991–2020 normals
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 34.4
Daily mean °F (°C) 14.3
Average low °F (°C) −5.9
Average precipitation inches (mm) 2.04
Average snowfall inches (cm) 30.80
Source: NOAA[29]

Notable people[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

In the novel The Christopher Killer by Alane Ferguson, the main setting is in Silverton.

Country singer C. W. McCall recorded "The Silverton," about the Silverton and Durango Railroad, on his 1975 album Black Bear Road.

Night Passage (1957) was filmed in Silverton and Durango, Colorado.[31]

Shaun White's secret training facility for the Vancouver Olympics (2010) called "Project X" was located on Silverton Mountain.[32]

The board game Silverton by Mayfair Games is named after this location.[33]

For several years in the 1970s and 1980s, Silverton was the site for the International Speed-Skiing Championship.[34]

List of historic structures[edit]

Name Year Built Comments
Teller House, 1250 Greene Street[35]
1896 Brewery owner Charles Fischer built the Teller House as a hotel
Alma House, 220 East 10th Street[36]
1898 Bridget Hughes opened the Alma House in 1902 as a boarding house for miners
Silverton Train Depot, corner of 10th and Cement Street[37]
1882 Now the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gage Museum
Lode Theater, 1309 Greene Street[38]
1909 Originally constructed as a saloon; in 1916 converted to the Star Theatre; in 1925 became the Gem Theatre, and in 1938 became the Lode Theatre
Bausman's Merchandise, 1303 Greene Street[38]
San Juan County Jail, 1557 Greene Street[38]
1902 When the jail was completed it was the third jail in Silverton. It was never used extensively; by the 1930s it was a homeless shelter. It sat vacant for 25 years and then converted into a museum.
First Congregational Church, 1070 Reese Street[38]
1880 The steeple was added in 1892
San Juan County Water and Power Company substation/ Animas Power & Water Company[38][39]
1906 Using hydroelectric power from Rockwood, Colorado, electricity was piped to this substation, where transformers distributed power to surrounding mines
Hillside Cemetery[40]
1875 A 20-acre site on the north side of Silverton, the first recorded burial is of Rachel Farrow, a young girl who died of pneumonia; James Briggs who died in 1878 from a snow slide is the first marked grave. Of 3300 documented burials, 2000 have no identifiable markers—wooden markers have deteriorated and disappeared.
Ye Old Livery, 1120 Greene Street[38][41]
1897 Built as a livery (stable for horses and mules). It had the first elevator in Silverton, and horses were lifted to the second floor while wagons were serviced on the first
County Club Saloon/Benson Block, 1208 Greene Street[38][42]
1901 The corner of the building served as the County Club; since 1902 the building has served as a hotel, saloon, and one of the town's first garages.
Imperial Hotel/Grand Imperial[38][42][43]
1882 Originally a house with private and government offices upstairs. In 1883 the third floor was converted to hotel rooms. Englishman Charles S. Thomson built this grand hotel, a two-story Italianate building with a mansard third story and prominent battery of gabled dormers. Wrought iron columns separate first-floor plate glass storefronts. Above a first story of square-cut, irregularly coursed ashlar are a second story faced in brick with rhythmical rows of arched windows and a third story with rounded dormers set in diamond-patterned sheet metal. The county courthouse occupied the second floor for several years before the present courthouse was completed. In 1950 Winfield Morton of Dallas, Texas, bought the hotel for $60,000 and spent $369,000 to convert its fifty-six rooms and three bathrooms into forty-two rooms with baths. Resplendent with Victorian fixtures, it is now a forty-room hotel with first-floor lobby, shops, dining rooms, and a splendid saloon whose cherry back bar has diamond dust mirrors set in three ornate arches originating from Corinthian capitals.
San Juan County Miners Union Hospital, 1315 Snowden Street[44]
1902 Architect F.E. Edbrooke—whose works include the Colorado State Capitol building—designed the building in the Renaissance style
Public School, 1160 Snowden Street[45][38][42]
1911 This building replaced the original wooden structure, which was a fire hazard. It still functions as the school for Silverton, K-12.
St. Patrick's Church, 1005 Reese Street[38][46]
1905 This building replaced a frame church (1884) erected a block farther up 10th Street. Italian and Tyrolean miners donated much of the masonry work and helped construct the rectory (1906) next door. The large, square, open bell tower with a ball finial and Celtic cross and the corner minarets are unique features of this otherwise standard Romanesque Revival church with its round-arched openings, rose windows, buttresses, and rough stone foundation.
Carnegie Library, 1117 Reese Street, 1371 Greene Street[47][42]
1905 Between 1883 and 1929 Andrew Carnegie, an American industrialist and philanthropist, founded 2,509 Carnegie Libraries world-wide, and 1,689 in the United States alone, representing almost one-half the total number of libraries in the United States. Most were constructed in varying architectural styles, including Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, Baroque, Classical Revival, and Spanish Colonial.
Silverton City Hall, 1360 Greene Street[42][48][49]
1908 In 1908 the bell tower collapsed while under construction. Built of Silverton's distinctive local rosy-purple sandstone, it was restored in the 1970s, then re-restored after the Thanksgiving weekend fire in 1992 caused by a heating system that kept snow off the roof. During this fire the bell tower collapsed; reconstruction took three years. The dome caps the open bell tower of this two-story building with a second-story balcony under a Neoclassical pediment supported by paired Ionic columns.
Wyman Building, 1371 Greene Street[50][38][42]
1902 Built by Louis Wyman who in part gained his fortune by gaining contracts to haul ore from the North Star Mine. On the top corner of the building you can see the image of a burro that he had chiseled into the stone to commemorate the animal that helped make his fortune.
Church on the Hill, 1101 Snowden Street[42]
1898 Originally built as St. John's Episcopal church, it was leased to schools for overflow classrooms until 1901. The belfry came from an old school house in the ghost town of Eureka, Colorado.
San Juan County Courthouse, 1557 Greene Street[42][51]
1907 The dome sits atop this Georgian Revival monument. On the courthouse lawn is a monument imbedded with ore specimens from fifty-one local mines. Native gray sandstone was used for the foundation as well as the trim of this two-story structure of pressed gray brick, capped by a square tower with an elongated, open bell cupola. Paired Doric columns of cast stone support the entry porticos. The interior is pristine, with the original hexagonal tile mosaic floors, oak wood-work, high ceilings, signage, fixtures, and maps showing mining claims and the original town plat.
Old Arcade Trading Company, 1202 Blair Street[42][52]
1929 The last bordello to be constructed on Blair Street, it sold bootleg whiskey and employed prostitutes. It has served as a pool hall, saloon, and gambling house; it is still colored orange as it was in 1929.
Silverton Meat and Produce/Brown Bear Cafe, 1129 Greene Street[42]
1893 Was originally a butcher shop; lodging was provided upstairs. In 1933 it became the San Juan Bar. Most recently it became the Brown Bear Cafe, which has been closed.
Posey and Wingate Building, 1269 Greene Street[42][53]
1880 This is the oldest commercial building in western Colorado and has been a hardware store, a bank, and a pool and billiards hall. It housed the First National Bank Silverton from 1883 to 1934.
General Store, 1304 Greene Street[54]
1880 Built of local gray granite for the walls and a stone false front with a tiny wooden bracketed cornice. Rough-cut granite blocks form the uncoursed walls, inside and out, of this one-story building with its original triple-arch plate glass storefront, hardwood floors, and 12-foot-high ceilings. It operated as a general store until 1900 when it was converted into a saloon; after prohibition it operated as a soda fountain and confectionary store.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Active Colorado Municipalities". State of Colorado, Department of Local Affairs. Archived from the original on December 12, 2009. Retrieved September 1, 2007.
  2. ^ "Colorado County Seats". State of Colorado, Department of Public Health and Environment. Retrieved December 31, 2007.
  3. ^ "Colorado Municipal Incorporations". State of Colorado, Department of Personnel & Administration, Colorado State Archives. December 1, 2004. Retrieved September 2, 2007.
  4. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  5. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. October 25, 2007. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  6. ^ a b United States Census Bureau. "Silverton town, Colorado". Retrieved April 5, 2023.
  7. ^ "ZIP Code Lookup". United States Postal Service. Archived from the original (JavaScript/HTML) on November 22, 2010. Retrieved January 2, 2008.
  8. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  9. ^ a b c d e Bunyak, Dawn (1997). "Silverton Historic District (boundary increase)". National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d Twitty, Eric (March 1992). "Historic Mining Resources of San Juan County, Colorado" (PDF). National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved May 18, 2021..
  11. ^ " • 13er Storm Peak A". Retrieved May 19, 2021.
  12. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  13. ^ "Silverton Historic District". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on January 4, 2008. Retrieved October 13, 2007.
  14. ^ a b c d Smith, Duane A. (2004). A brief history of Silverton (2nd ed.). Montrose, Colo.: Western Reflections Pub. p. 102. ISBN 1-890437-95-6. OCLC 56351338.
  15. ^ Voynick, S.M., 1992, Colorado Gold, Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing Company, ISBN 0878424555
  16. ^ a b c "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  17. ^ a b Russek, Melanie (n.d.). "Resiliency Plan for Silverton & San Juan County, Colorado" (PDF). National Association of Development Organizations. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  18. ^ Weiser-Alexander, Kathy (2021). "Silverton, Colorado – High in the San Juans". Legends of America. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  19. ^ a b Weiser-Alexander, Kathey (2018). "Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad". Legends of America. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  20. ^ "1910 Census Supplement For Colorado (p. 583)" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  21. ^ "Colorado: 2000, Population and Housing Unit Counts (Report No. PHC-3-7) (p. 11)" (PDF). US Census Bureau. 2003. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  22. ^ Owen, Faith (February 2020). "Silverton skijoring: The most extreme sporting event of the winter". 360Durango.Com. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  23. ^ "Shenandoah Mine Avalanche". Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  24. ^ Bohlen, Teague (January 13, 2017). "The Ten Worst Avalanches in Colorado History". Westword. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  25. ^ "The "Spanish" Flu of 1918". Silverton Standard. June 28, 2020. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  26. ^ a b "In 1918, flu pandemic ravaged Southwest Colorado". Durango Herald. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  27. ^ a b "Animas River: EPA's Colorado mine disaster plume flows west toward Grand Canyon". August 8, 2015.
  28. ^ "Seasonal Temperature and Precipitation Information". Western Regional Climate Center. Retrieved March 29, 2013.
  29. ^ "Silverton, Colorado 1991-2020 Monthly Normals". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  30. ^ Ex-spy feels at home in mountain town | Wyoming News | Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  31. ^ Rowan, Terry (2013). The American Western A Complete Film Guide. Lulu Press, Inc. Page 286. ISBN 9781300418580.
  32. ^ "Olympic gold shines on Silverton " " Local News". Retrieved September 24, 2018.
  33. ^ "Silverton board game at". Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  34. ^ Wallace, William N. (April 21, 1982). "SPEED SKIERS DEFYING GRAVITY". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 24, 2021.
  35. ^ "Home".
  36. ^ "The Inn".
  37. ^ "D&SNG Museum in Silverton".
  38. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Corr, Jeff (2014). Images of America: Silverton and the Alpine Loop. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-4671-3155-1.
  39. ^ "Silverton Power Station".
  40. ^ "Hillside Cemetery ~ Silverton, Colorado".
  41. ^ "Silverton, Colorado – High in the San Juans – Legends of America".
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Silverton Walking Tour" (PDF).
  43. ^ "Grand Imperial Hotel". July 16, 2018.
  44. ^ "San Juan County Hospital-Miner's Union Hospital | History Colorado".
  45. ^ "contact us - SILVERTON SCHOOL". Archived from the original on January 15, 2015.
  46. ^ "St. Patrick's Catholic Church". July 16, 2018.
  47. ^ "Carnegie Library (Silverton) | History Colorado".
  48. ^ "SJCHS Historic Preservation Accomplishments".
  49. ^ "Town Hall". July 16, 2018.
  50. ^ "About - the Wyman Hotel - Silverton Colorado".
  51. ^ "San Juan County Courthouse". July 16, 2018.
  52. ^ "Silverton, Colorado Chamber of Commerce".
  53. ^ "Silverton, Colorado – High in the San Juans – Legends of America".
  54. ^ "Pickle Barrel (Sherwin and Houghton Store)". July 16, 2018.

External links[edit]