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". . . In 1874 Silverton's town site was laid out and it soon became the center of
numerous [gold and silver] mining camps . . . By 1883 Silverton boasted of having a
population of 2,000 people with 400 buildings -- 2 banks, 5 laundries, 29 saloons,
several hotels, and a bawdy red light district, notorious Blair Street . . .
The influx of families provided an incentive for citizens to keep at least part of
Silverton respectable. From the very beginning an imaginary line ran down
Greene Street, dividing the town between the law-abiding, church-going residents
and the gamblers, prostitutes, variety theatres, dance halls, and saloons . . ."
~ from a brochure published by the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce
Sounds like a lot of other boom towns in Colorado and California during the gold-and-silver rush in the mid- to late-19th Century, doesn't it? Many of them are ghost towns now.

Fortunately, Silverton survived the demise of its mining industry in the 20th Century. Now it relies primarily on the tourism industry to stay alive. Although those businesses support fewer year-round residents than lived here during the heydays of the hardrock miners, the folks who live here now seem quite contented with their choice and are more than happy to accommodate visitors.

Here are some fast facts about Silverton and San Juan County, Colorado:

  • San Juan County is the least-populated county in Colorado
  • it is also one of its poorest counties
  • Silverton is the county's only surviving municipality
  • the entire town is an established National Historic Landmark
  • the historic structures in Silverton are a major draw for tourism 

San Juan County Courthouse in Silverton

Although my preferred trekking venues are out in the wilderness, it's also fun to take walks through historic towns like Silverton. You  never know what you might see or learn about a place. During the past three weeks I've taken various shots of interesting homes, yards, businesses, public places, and miscellaneous subjects as I've ridden or walked around town.  It was fun to venture onto a few streets that I haven't seen on previous trips here.

A good place to start a visit to Silverton is the Visitor Center (duh). You can get brochures, maps, schedules, walking and driving tour information, local magazines, relevant books, and lots of other information there:

Mining display in front of the Visitor Center

We always stop there when we first arrive in town to pick up the latest information about things to do and see. For boondockers, it's also the place to go for potable water as often as you need it. We've lobbied for a dump station nearby, but that hasn't happened yet.

If you want to explore the countryside, another good place to get information is the Silverton Public Lands Center on Blair Street:

Armed with good maps, you can strike out on your own for runs, hikes, bike rides, or scenic driving tours on the numerous trails and roads (mostly 4WD) through the San Juan Mountains. There are also several tour guides in town that would happily drive you around in their Jeeps.

You may notice in some of the photos that the streets are not paved; dirt streets are more common than paved ones in Silverton. That must save a lot of tax-payer money on upkeep in a town that sits at 9,300 feet in elevation!

OK, let's go on a walking tour of Silverton, starting with where people live.


Houses display a variety of architectural styles from quaint Victorian two-stories built in the late 1800s when the town was first settled to modern A-frames with soaring south-facing windows to catch the sun's rays on frigid winter days. Most of the homes and yards are well-kept, although some are in disrepair.

I'll start with some of the more traditional Victorian houses. This pretty blue one is one of my favorites:

Here are closer views of the intricate wood trim, weathervanes, and entry:


Here's another cute home with interesting Victorian details and an inviting front yard:


These three houses are simpler Victorian designs whose exteriors have been kept in good shape:


This next house has some Victorian influences but appears to have been built in more recent years:

What an attractive house, yard, and view!

Even some of the much simpler abodes like the ones in the next picture have drop-dead gorgeous views:

Some houses have been boarded up, like the gray house in the foreground below:

It doesn't look as neglected as a few of the other houses or yards in town, though, like this house next door:

Note the large, more modern, 2-story frame house in the background of those last two pictures. When neighbors' existing houses obstruct your views of the mountains, build up!

Although there are some newer infill houses in the older sections of town on the "respectable" side of Greene Street, most of the houses built in recent years are on larger lots near the US 550 end of town or the far end of town:

Unusual fence!


Less traditional residences include this earth-sheltered home, which is a great idea in either hot or cold climates:

That takes me back to my Mother Earth days in my 30s and 40s when I seriously wanted to build an earth-sheltered house with south-facing windows and other solar features on hilly property I owned north of Atlanta. That never happened, mainly because the land was just too far to drive to and from work every day. But I still think the idea of an earth-sheltered house built into a slope is appealing for energy conservation reasons -- as long as it has lots of windows on the south side so I don't get claustrophobic.

Some houses in Silverton are even more unusual than the one pictured above. The next one, for instance, may have begun with the small A-frame to the far left. Then it looks like someone went a little berserk with additions over the years:

What surprised me the most on my walks through the residential areas was how many adults were home during the day on weekdays. I would have taken more pictures of houses and gardens that appealed to me if their owners weren't on the porch or out in the yard when I went by! I hope it's because they were simply on vacation or are tourists renting the homes for a week or two, and not a reflection of a high unemployment rate in town. I know some folks have second homes here for use during the summer and rent them out for extra income. The year-round population is significantly lower than the number of folks living here when it's warm.

Some of the older homes near the center of Silverton look like they have been converted to businesses. I'll show a few of them in the commercial building section.


Some of what I consider to be the most interesting architecture and pleasant landscaping in Silverton is public property -- the little city park gazebo, the historical society, the courthouse, even the flower beds near the public restrooms:

Bright poppies

Delicate columbines

Silverton Memorial Park at the far end of town is the location of the Hardrock Pot Lick, the 4th of July Rhubarb festival, summer concerts, and many other group and individual activities:

I noticed this colorful Indian paintbrush at the edge of the parking area when we attended the pot lick:

The San Juan County Historical Society Museum (formerly the "newer" county jail built in 1902) and the Archive and Mining Heritage buildings are located on the county courthouse grounds. I took this picture of two of the buildings across Cement Creek from Greene Street:


The historical museum is undergoing renovations this summer. I'd like to see it when it's completed.

Adjacent to these buildings is the handsome sandstone San Juan County courthouse. I've admired it from more than one side and on more than one occasion!



At the corner of Greene and 14th Streets at the edge of the courthouse property is a 1941 monument to the mining community in San Juan County:

There are little brass plaques on all four sides with names of the mines, including Bandora, Old Hundred, Buffalo Boy, Champion, Silver Ledge, Brooklyn, Henrietta, and Tabor. Colorful rocks are embedded in the monument.

There were many more mines in these mountains. The Hardrock course passes by the remnants of several of them. A very popular tourist activity in the summer and fall is to pile into Jeeps and drive the Alpine Loop and other 4WD roads throughout the San Juan Mountains to visit old mine sites. Many are perched in extremely scenic but precarious places on the mountainsides, making you wonder how the heck they ever managed to build the mines and extract the ore.

Across the street from the courthouse are the Silverton Fire Department/Carriage House, Ambulance Service/Rescue Squad, and clinic:

Also at the intersection of Greene and 14th is the town hall:

And because I dig clock towers, bell towers, copulas, and such . . . here's a close-up of that bell tower:

No town is complete without a public library. Silverton has one of those, too, on Reese Street:

I didn't get a picture of the Post Office. It's close to the library at Reese and 12th Street.

We've had our mail delivered here several times when we've visited Silverton, using their general delivery address. RVers should note that most but not all US Post Offices will accept general delivery mail even though it's sent through the USPS (United States Postal Service). We have found some small PO's, including Silverton and Leadville, CO that will accept FedEx and UPS deliveries but they're few and far between. We have to be careful when we order something online to be delivered to us when we travel. We usually have to use a campground address for FedEx or UPS deliveries. 

There are other "public" places in Silverton that I haven't included here, such as the Christ of the Mines Shrine, K-12 school, several churches, and the railroad museum. I'll include the railroad, ski area, hotels, campgrounds, and other businesses in Part 2.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil