Ironton was a town in Ouray County, Colorado. The remains rest on the north side of the Red Mountain Mining District. It began in 1881 when prospectors discovered rich silver deposits. They soon established the Yankee Girl, Robinson, Guston, Colorado Boy, and Orphan Boy Mines. Giving rise to a population boom throughout Ouray County.
Just below the mine was a slightly sloped valley, that became known as Cooper Glen. It was established as a supply settlement in 1883. In just 21 days they built over 100 buildings. Including four restaurants, twelve saloons, and several stores. Majority of the buildings were chain-stores operated by merchants from the nearby towns of Silverton and Ouray. For the most part it served as a staging area for goods on their way to the regional mines.
In the first few years it was ironically referred to as “Ironton”, not Cooper Glen. This name was intended as an insult because the local mine only produced low-grade Iron (not Gold or Silver). For some reason, when the post office was established, it took that name instead of Copper Glen. The townsite was officially announced in March of 1884. That very same year, Otto Mears completed a toll road between Silverton and Ouray, also known as “The Million Dollar Highway”. Bringing with it miners and travelers who often stopped in Ironton. A June 19, 1884 edition of the Colorado Daily Chieftain (newspaper) declared "Ironton is at an excellent site for a town with an ample supply of water from the Red Mountain creek for a town of 50,000 people."
At this time, all of the supplies and precious metals were carried in and out of the valley by mule and burro pack caravans. They carried all manner of supplies including; lumber, food, equipment, hardware, and basic necessities. This was done with little more than the clothes on their backs and little protection from the elements. Despite these limitations, Ironton eventually became the primary transportation center for the Red Mountain mining district.
By 1889 the Silverton Railroad reached Iornton and began twice-daily service from Red Mountain Town to Silverton Colorado.This officially bridged the railway-gap from Silverton to Ouray and reduced the need for the nearby toll road (the Million Dollar highway) and eliminated the need to use mules for supplies. Furthermore the toll road closed from January and May due to snowpack and avalanches. The railway often closed at this time as well. This caused a supply and demand issue within the mines. To alleviate this issue Otto Mears built a depot, in 1889, at a cost of $2,500. The depot allowed mining operation to resume while the roads and railways were closed. The railway dramatically reduced shipping cost of the ore, but the Ironton depot is what saved the greater region from financial ruin and eventual abandonment. It’s fascinating to consider that a simple $2,500 investment saved a region that is now cumulatively worth billions.
That said; by 1890 the towns population peaked at only 1,800 people. This indicates that operating the depot was the primary industry, not Ironton’s mine. However they still had a wide variety of local businesses; such as, saloons, hotels, restaurants, and mercantiles. But these businesses were primarily designed to serve the passing travelers and not the local community.
In 1893, the U.S. government demonetized silver, which forced majority of the mines in Colorado to close. By 1897, the Silverton Railroad closed its line from Ironton to the later to be abandoned, Red Mountain Town.
The district had a resurgence in 1898. The area boomed again with the discovery of a new vein of gold. This precious metal came from the same mines that had been developed for silver, such as the American Girl, Yankee Girl, Colorado Boy, Genessee-Vanderbilt, Treasury, and a few others were built. This allowed Ironton to limp by until the early 1900s.
Ironton kept going by the grace of the Barstow Mine, which brought the ore down to the Barstow Mill for processing by an aerial tram. The tram was the main employer in Ironton for many years. Despite the renewed activity, the population of Ironton fell to 48 by 1910 and continued to drop. The tram produced $750,000 worth of gold before it closed in 1917.
Three years later Ironton’s post office closed and in 1921 the railroad ceased all operations to Ironton. The postmaster left a heartfelt notice on the doors saying: "The post office at Ironton has been discontinued entirely, and people must now get their mail at Guston, two miles away. Two years ago Ironton was one of the most promising camps in the mountains, a system of waterworks was put in, business and dwelling houses went up on every hand, a new church was erected, the mines were all running wide open and times were good..." Shortly after the closure of the post office, the town suffered several fires.
In 1938, two residents; Harry and Milton (Milt) Larson, convinced investors from Ouray to build a ski lodge for the new sport of downhill skiing, but it was never opened to the public. In 1950 it was sold to the St. Germain Foundation for a religious resort. However, it burnt to the ground shortly after it was purchased. A stone garage on the east side of Highway 550 is all that remains of the lodge.
The last remaining residents of the town was the Larson family. Harry, Charles, and Milton Larson. Harry and Charles died in the 1940s but Milton continued to live alone in the abandoned town until his death in the 1960s. Milton was the self-proclaimed “Mayor” of Ironton and went by “Milt”, He was featured on an episode of “I’ve Got A Secret” on December 18, 1961. His secret for the show was, he was the last inhabitant of his town. Just a few years later he passed away and the town officially became a ghost town in the mid-60’s.
Today many of the structures collapsed under the weight of a century of snow and depending on the time of year streams of water cut through the townsite. The land is owned by the United States Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A) and is a public use land. The public is welcome to stroll around the town site and crystal lake. But the only inhabitants you’ll find are water birds, snowshoe hares, deer, and occasionally moose or elk.
Photos from Our Day
EVP Audio? What do you think?:
“I’ve Got A Secret” from December 18, 1961 with Milton (Milt) Larson:
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