A Brief History of Silverton

Our wonderful town has a unique history both visitors and locals can appreciate. The only incorporated municipality in San Juan County, the town is a former silver mining camp—hence, Silverton. Here’s what you need to know.

When Charles Baker’s group of prospectors found traces of gold in the San Juan Mountains, they knew they had stumbled upon something big. After being forced out by the Ute Tribe in 1861, they returned to the area, finding lode gold in the Little Giant vein at Arrastre Gulch. While the land had originally been awarded to the native tribes in the area, the Brunot Treaty of 13 September allowed the miners to stay in the area—in exchange for 4 million acres, the Southern Ute Indian Reservation received $25,000 per year. One year later, in August of 1873, George Howard and R.J. McNutt discovered the Sunnyside silver vein along Hurricane Peak. The Sunnyside Mine quickly sprung up to take advantage of the discovered riches, but was shut down after the 1929 stock market crash.

The Sunnyside Mine and Mayflower Gold Mills, both of which are still available for residents to explore, were acquired by Standard Metals Corporation in 1959. Sunnyside Mine found gold and reopened in 1973. In the 1970s, half of Colorado’s gold production came from this single mine—a pretty significant number for an already gold-rich state

Unfortunately, disaster struck in the late 1970s when water from Lake Emma collapsed a mine shaft. While no miners were present, the water traveled through the tunnels, shooting out a portal along Cement Creek with enough force to topple a 20-ton locomotive. The mine reopened two years later but was acquired by Echo Bay Mines, operating for another five years.

Silverton has a rich and storied history. While the town no longer has active mining, historical and mineralogical tourism drive the town’s economy. Nearby Silverton Mountain also drives a large portion of tourists to the area; in fact, Silverton was named one of the best places for winter sports in the United States. Nestled between two rugged San Juan Mountain passes, Silverton continues to be one of America’s most beloved small towns.