Wild West Week: Exploring Western Slope Ghost Towns
KREX News Room
OURAY, Colo. - Western Colorado history may bring up thoughts of cowboys, miners and precious metals.
For Don Paulson, the curator of the Ouray County Museum, he gets to visit that past everyday, no time machine required.
"In the last 1870's and 1880's an enormous amount of silver was discovered up here on Red Mountain and there was a mining boom that lasted for two decades," said Paulson.
A few miles past downtown Ouray, down a historic highway lie ruins of what once were prosperous towns in the 1800's.
NewsChannel 5 headed deep into Red Mountain for a look into Western Colorado history with the first stop being Ironton.
"It's hard to believe that in this town in the late 1880's and early 1890's that there were more than 1,000 people living here in Ironton," said Paulson.
When silver was discovered in the mountain it created a mining boom. When the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1891, requiring the government to buy a certain amount of silver each month, life was good for those living in Ironton until 1893.
"The U.S. and India went off the silver standard and the price of silver went from $1.50 an ounce to 30 cents an ounce essentially over night," said Paulson.
In five years, Ironton was a ghost town.
A short ways up the mountain lies the ghost town of Guston which enjoyed a great success from that silver boom.
"Each one of these mines took between $6-10 million worth of silver out of here and that was in 1890 dollars," said Paulson.
That all collapsed when the silver standard did.
"All the mines closed and if you're living up here on the mountain and there's no mines open, there's no way to live here so very rapidly by about 1900, all these towns up here were pretty much ghost towns," said Paulson.
There's not much left of the town of Guston after many of the buildings were sold for scrap materials during the Great Depression.
The site is also bare at Red Mountain Town, whose history is a little more scandalous than any of the other mining towns.
"It was a wild town, it had lots of brothels, bars and gambling establishments," said Paulson.
Red Mountain Town's notoriety was so well known that a minister from England traveled there to set up a church; town leaders sent him away to Guston instead.
"The day that the church was consecrated, this town, Red Mountain Town burned to the ground," said Paulson.
Although the ghost town mines have long since been shut down, they continue to do their part to contribute to Ouray's local economy.
"Historic tourism is becoming a really important part of South Western Colorado," said Paulson.
Visitors travel from across the country to be able to hike and ride through the ghost towns, which is why city officials have made many partnerships and encourage travelers to do their part to take care of these historic sites.
"It's really important to our economy, tourist economy, and also for our history to preserve these buildings," said Paulson.