Take a tour of Silverton Co. Gold was discovered here in 1860, and after negotiations with the Ute Indians, the area was opened for settlement. The Town of Silverton was platted in 1874, and by 1875 the population had doubled. The Stony Pass wagon road became a toll road in 1879, and supplies came in over the Continental Divide from Del Norte. The greatest boom to the area was the construction of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (now known as the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad) in 1882. By that time, there were seven towns, including Animas Forks (now a well-visited ghost town in the summer months) and Howardsville, which was the first county seat on the Western Slope. Otto Mears, “Pathfinder of the San Juans,” built his famous “Rainbow Route,” one of three railroads that carried ore to the smelter in Silverton from the high camps. Mining reached its peak between 1900 and 1912, and the population of San Juan County peaked at 5,000, with Silverton as the metropolis of the district. Hundreds of millions of dollars of gold and silver were extracted from the mines. The last operating mine, Sunnyside Gold, closed in 1991.
Silverton’s main business section was built in the late 1800s. Unlike many other mining towns, Silverton never experienced a major fire, and most of the buildings are still standing. The “other side” of town was centered on Blair Street. At one time this notorious street was home to forty saloons and brothels. Almost half of these buildings are still standing today. Today’s business district (with its lodging, restaurants, shops, and galleries), is on Greene (main) Street and Notorious Blair Street, and the side streets between them. Check on the Business Directory for year-round Lodging, Dining, Shopping, and Services (for all other businesses) for more information.
Silverton is now the only town left in San Juan County. Its year-round population of 500 is supported by the tourism industry rather than by mining