Idarado & Red Mountain Town are a bit of an enigma and is a hard townsite to identify. The final resting place of Red Mountain Town is equal distance between Oury and Silverton Colorado off of U.S. Highway 550. However; the town was moved once and burnt twice. Meaning you can find a few versions of Red Mountain Town. The Denver Times described the town by saying “Red Mountain was the mecca for all who were allured into the San Juan by the fickle goddess of fortune.”
The original town was settled in 1879 when a group of silver deposits were found nearby. At that time it was a small mining camp and went by the name of Sky City. The camp was below the National Belle Mine; however, it would later be relocated. This is because the residents of Sky City first built their camp in wintertime when the ground was frozen solid. Once spring came around the townsite became swampy, fly-infested, and messy.
At the same time, several other settlements and tent cities were also being established in the Red Mountain Pass, including Barilla and Rogersville. Which were also situated below the National Belle Mine.
A surveyor from Silverton Colorado made his way to Rogersville and plotted out the first town plat. It was comprised of four streets and one business. Around this time the people from Sky City decided it was time to get out of the swamp. They packed up and relocated directly next to the Rogersville townsite. This was only a move of a few hundred yards, but it made all the difference for the miners of Red Mountain Town. They were closer to Otto Mears’ toll road (the million-dollar highway) and the National Belle Mine. Not to mention away from the increasingly swampy conditions of the then defunct Sky City.
They had established a town company and petitioned for a post office. The post office was established in January 1883; despite the fact that it was primarily made of tents and had few permanent wooden structures. When the post office was established, it was the first settlement to dawn the name “Red Mountain Town”. In short order, the town had two newspapers, numerous homes, a hotel (The Hudson House), and a multiple story Saloon called the “Assembly Club”. By this time the town of Red Mountain had incorporated the surrounding communities of, Sky City, Sweetville, and Rogersville.
Meanwhile back in Barilla; a competitive townsite had quietly been building up a little further north and today rests on the north side of the Million Dollar Highway (U.S. Highway 550). This town was less than a mile away and decided to take the name “Red Mountain City”. This was controversial and was intentionally designed to irritate the residents of “Red Mountain Town”. Keep in mind that all of the communities in the Red Mountain Mining District were competitive, but the proximity and similar names made the rivalry even more bitter between these two camps.
Almost immediately there was confusion between the two settlements. Shipments of supplies would be incorrectly delivered and seldom were returned. Several disputes were recorded concerning misunderstood deeds and bank transactions. To exacerbate the confusion, both newspapers referred to their town as “Red Mountain”. Acting as though “Town” or “City” were never a part of either town's name. The editors of each newspaper would exchange weekly barbs through open letters, editorials, and occasionally direct accusations.
The entire Red Mountain Mining district was talking about this rivalry. The naming dispute was finally put to an end when Red Mountain City petitioned for a post office. The U.S. Postal Service chooses to call the town “Congress”. Because the town was closest to the “Congress Mine”. The newly coined town of Congress was the loser in more ways than one. This is due to the fact that most of the silver deposits were on the south side of the Million Dollar Highway. By 1887; just 8 years after the feud began, only a few residents remained in Congress and Red Mountain City was a thing of the past.
It seemed as though the miners of Red Mountain Town and the National Belle Mine had a limitless supply of luck. Especially, when in 1887 they found a massive cavern filled with gold and silver. The lucrative find was reported across the United States. Overnight international investors began to pour money into the town and mine. By 1888 the Silverton Railroad was connected to Red Mountain Town. They were happily boasting as having “an escape-proof jail”. Basically; they had come a long way from their humble ad swampy beginnings.
Despite all of the civic improvements it only had a population of 598, by 1890. The town had a reputation as one of the roughest towns in the Red Mountain District. However; at its peak it hit 1,000 citizens and had numerous saloons and a theater.
In the summer of 1892 a fire began in the kitchen of the Red Mountain Hotel. It quickly spread through the wood structures, in spite of the brave efforts of the volunteer firemen and residents. The fire destroyed the majority of the town. By the time it stopped burning all 15 buildings along Main Street were gone. In-fact only the depot and the jail survived. The gritty group of residents that remained soon rebuilt the town. The town suffered its second fire in 1899, at that time, only 12 citizens remained in the town.
Red Mountain Town saw a brief resurgence in 1901. Along with most of the towns in the Red Mountain District. Many people predicted that the town and the mines would thrive again but they never did. At this time, several of the area mines were consolidated into the Idarado Mining Company (later to be acquired by The Newmont Gold Company). The National Belle, Guson, Terusry, Congress, and dozens of other mines were all consolidated. The new mining operation eventually created 100s of miles of tunnels. So extensive that they still connect below the city of Telluride and the remains of Red Mountain Town.
The town limped by until the Idarado mines and mill closed in 1978. At this point, Red Mountain Town was primarily used for seasonal and short-term housing for the miners. In 1983 the State of Colorado filed suit against the Idarado Mining Co. for natural resource damages and the subsequent lead poisoning. A few people remained in Red Mountain Town until 1986, when a study (financed by the Idarado Mining Co.) found 7% of the children tested in the area had above average lead levels, in 1993 the Centers for Disease Control concluded that the lead levels were 3% higher than previously thought and reported.
Today, the Newmont Mining Company (formerly the Newmont Gold Company) and the State of Colorado are working to remove lead, acids, zinc, and heavy metals from the region and its water supply. They are pioneering new methods of revegetation that will one day; hopefully, cover the tailing piles that litter the valley.
The remains of Red Mountain Town can be seen from the top of Red Mountain Pass, 13 miles South of Ouray. For a closer look, the Red Mountain District can be accessed with an ATV or high clearance vehicle on County Road 31; 12.8 miles south of Ouray.
Map of the Area:
Learn More About Idarado and Red Mountain Town:
“Their architecture and construction are not significant for their artistic value or skilled craftsmanship,” the report states. But, it goes on to argue: “Together, these houses form a fine example of company housing in an isolated mining setting — a story important to the history of the region.” ~Samantha Tisdel Wright
Read More of her article in this link
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; Milton (Milt) and Harry 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:
The Million Dollar Highway is a spur of U.S. Highway 50, Also known as U.S. 550. The stretch from Silverton to Ouray is frequently called the Million Dollar Highway, but it goes by other names; such as the “Scenic Byway”. If you are being dramatic it’s referred to as the “Highway to Hell”.
The road has made its way to several large publications and most dangerous lists. Popular Mechanics ranked it Number 3 of 10of the “Most Dangerous Roadways”. It is the only road in the continental US ranked by USA Today’s list of the “World's Most Dangerous Roads”. The automotive blog RoadCrazed and the DangerousRoads.org Rank the Million Dollar Highway as the most dangerous road worldwide. If you are measuring how dangerous a road is by the number of fatal accidents that happened on it the Million Dollar Highway is the winner, with no contest. This is especially astonishing when we consider war zone roads, such as; Kabul-Jalalabad Highway (Afghanistan) and Nanga Parbat Pass (Pakistan) were included in most publications, considerations, and lists. Perhaps, the “Highway to Hell” isn’t such a bad name after all?
While the highway we see today was built in the 1880s, the original trail that it was built upon is one of the roads on the “Trails of the Ancients Byway”. In other words, this passageway dates back to the start of recorded history and then some. It provides insight into the lives and migration habits of the Ancestral Puebloans and the Navajo, Ute, and Apache people. With this much history, it has a big head start on the total death count and continues to add to its total each year.
he first time you drive it, you’ll have sweaty palms. Expect sheer drops; over 2,000 feet, along the entire road and enough hairpins to make anyone seasick. This road claimed over 412 lives since 1992 and is nothing to be toyed with. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) spends an average of $2 million per year, maintaining the 24-mile (38.6 km) section of highway. In an interview with the Telluride Times newspaper a CDOT representative; Nancy Shanks gave a few simple tips for surviving the Million Dollar Highway. Shanks said, “Know the conditions, (obey) the speed limit and, if you’re a truck driver, put your chains on.” But Seriously, if you decide to visits drive with care as this is a mountain road with hairpin curves, dangerous drop-offs, and no guardrails. If you are driving south you'll be on the outside with the “no guardrails view”. Do use caution and enjoy the majestic scenery. But leave the marveling to your passengers. This road requires 100% concentration and limited distractions. So passengers, please be considerate of your drivers' nerves (and perhaps be concerned for their sanity).
In other words, if guardrails aren’t your thing; this road is for you. The Million Dollar Highway also sports some seasonal hazards. In winter this ribbon of asphalt snakes through over 100 named avalanche paths and countless unnamed snow-runs. In the spring it is easily overcome by waterfalls and crumbling rock.
This winter blasted Colorado with its third-largest snowpack to date (since the National Resource Conservation Service started recording data in 1987). The highway had 500 torrents of snow down its slopes that killed three people, fully buried two, and nearly overtook a snowplow. According to data from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center the highway only saw 54 slides in 2018 and 140 in 2017. Meaning we saw a 72% increase in avalanches in the last year. Due to the increased amount of snow, The Million Dollar Highway can expect an increase in falling rock and waterfalls until fall.
The origin of the name “Million Dollar Highway” is very disputed. There are several legends and myths associated with its name. One of the more popular myths believes that the fill dirt used to widen the original trail had over $1 million of gold ore within it. This has been proven possible; however, it would be more like $100 million of ore under this road.
Nancy Shanks weighed in on the topic of the name and pointed to the story of Otto Mears as the most likely origin of the name. Otto was an Estonian immigrant who had become locally famous for building the Galloping railroads and Rio Grande Southern railroads. Otto began dynamiting for a basic toll road above Ouray. At the time it was said that Mears spent $1,000 per foot to construct this road. When it’s all put together this equates to a road the cost a million dollars a mile to build. Shortly after, word of Otto's expensive engineering marvel spread and the small tollway became nationally known as the “Million Dollar Highway”.
While the road has been updated over the years it still holds its old world charm and real world danger. It is an honest rollercoaster of a ride and will weigh on your nerves. People with vertigo, seasickness, or prone to panic attacks should not attempt to drive the Million Dollar Highway. It is a real treat to see, given that you have the right weather conditions, you have an experienced driver, and nerves of steel.
Raw Footage of Rain on the Million Dollar Highway:
Photos From the Day:
This strange property is locally referred to as the Geo-Dome, short for “Geodesic dome”. People who can remember it before it’s current coat of paint often called it the “R2D2” building. Due to its former resemblance to the robotic character from the Star Wars movies. However; this building is neither an homage to R2D2 or one of Buckminsterfuller's famous dome designs.
It was actually a rocket scientist's expanded polystyrene laboratory... Yes, you heard me right this thing is made of styrofoam; we’ll get to the rocket science portion in a moment. While this sounds strange to many westerners, it’s a common building material in places such as; Asia. In fact, the material is preferred in Japan for its durability against earthquakes and water. While in the US we are familiar with this material as packing peanuts or disposable coffee cups. We see it as a material to avoid using for major construction because it does not biodegrade and releases carcinogens if burned.
The building has sat dormant since approximately 2012. Some of the neighbors said that someone lives there and I don’t doubt it. However; it does say it is for lease as an office space. But this doesn’t mean it is not owner-occupied or sublet to someone for the time being.
This property has been many things ranging from a church to an apartment. However; it was primarily used as office space for the “Astrox Corporation”. Which is a privately owned professional engineering company, from College Park Maryland. In other words, it was a group of programmers and rocket scientists. Their website states that they are headquartered in Maryland, with “an office” in Colorado. However; the more substantial structure of the two was the dome and the headquarters is a home address in the North East. That said; Bloomberg estimates Astrox as having an annual revenue of $500,000 to $1 million and employs a staff of only 1 to 4 people. In-fact the company was known in the aerospace and aviation industry for its work on “air-breathing jets”. The revenue is largely due to the president and founder of the company, Dr. Ajay P. Kothari. Who received large federal research grants. Grants that can be verified up until 2012. However; no business under this name was ever registered with the Colorado Secretary of State. The company still operates a website, but it does not seem to be actively maintained. The company name appears as “Astrox Crop” on long and vague national research studies and publicly available email threads dating back to 1985.
Dr. Kothari is a very accomplished individual. He holds advanced degrees and has worked on a number of projects for NASA, the armed forces, and McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing). He is active in many organizations and periodically writes articles.
We are left to wonder a lot about this building. With so much success on paper, why is it left in this condition?
Photos from the day:
Silver Plume is tucked into a narrow canyon at over 9,000 feet. It’s just a few miles from its well-preserved neighbor, Georgetown Colorado. In-fact both towns are part of the “Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic District”.
Initial development of the town was slow and it was composed of only a few buildings. The Pelican mine gave rise to Silver Plume in 1869. The Pelican mine was situated near a competitive mine, the Dive. It was so close the owners of the mines fought often about each other encroaching on what they perceived as "their" vein of gold. This spirit of rivalry and eventually resentment plagued the town for generations.
By 1872 the town bloomed into a community of over 500 residence. It boasted a thriving commercial district and many modern amenities. Disaster struck Silver Plume in 1884 when a fire destroyed most of the business district. The damaged totaled up to $100,000 ($2,821,504 in today's currency) and many lives were lost. Fortunately, the town continued to grow, and by 1893 they had over 2,000 residence, boasted a playhouse, post office, and new church. At this time they also open the town newspaper, “the Coloradoan”.
Tragedy returned to the town in 1899 in the form of a giant avalanche. The newspaper reported that on February 12th, “two mighty avalanches, combining into one, swept down Cherokee Gulch carrying away a dozen or more mine buildings, cabins, and machinery”. This caused a great loss in life. Just how many died is unknown. However, the paper goes on to say, “How many dead bodies lie in this great mass of snow and debris will not be known before spring”. At that time they were able to recover eight bodies and an official count was never released.
As the town grew into a small city it began to notice its neighboring city; Georgetown, was growing faster and retaining more wealth. This was a sobering and bitter fact for the town-folk because all of the local mines were located in Silver Plume, not Georgetown. Much later, a study by the National Park Service revealed the tangled relationship between these two communities. The study states that Georgetown was a “center of concentrated wealth”. Whereas Silver Plume “was the work center”. They when on to state, “Majority of the mines were located in Silver Plume, but the homes were far less permanent or impressive when compared to Georgetown. As the ore was removed from Silver Plume so was the wealth”. This is a fact that does not escape the community to this day. This working relationship between the towns has been the source of much resentment; however, one town would not exist without the other.
Today there isn't a lot of commerce in Silver Plume, but there's still a whole lot to see and experience. Today only a few businesses exist, including a cafe, a boarding house, and a recreational marijuana clearance center. The Silver Plume Tea Room is a must-see if you happen upon it when it is open. They serve home-style foods and baked goods. However; most people visit today to marvel at the relics and take in the atmosphere. I strongly recommend you visit Silver Plume and support the local institutions.
Photos from the day:
Georgetown is a breathtaking community that sits 8,530 feet above sea level. It is nestled on the upper side of Clear Creek Valley, in Clear Creek County Colorado. The town is referred to as a “Territorial Charter Municipality”; however, it is considered a semi-abandoned town. This is because it once housed 10,000 residents and now holds just over 1,000 people. This town is far from dead and is fortunate not to be a complete ghost town or have succumbed to wildfire. In fact, it is one of the most well-preserved mining communities from the mid-1800s.
The town was started as a simple gold mining camp in 1859 during the Pike's Peak gold rush. Gold gave Georgetown its start however, it was silver that made the town the largest silver producer in Colorado (until 1878 when Leadville surpassed it). Although the town is small today, it was a historic cultural, and industrial center through the 19th Century. Earning itself the nickname the “Silver Queen of Colorado”.
The town experienced less violence than its neighbors. Even though it had its share of undesirables and vagrants. Fortunately, it remained a mostly stable community. Allowing the economy and culture to flourish outside of the mine and its camps.
It was this fact that interested a young entrepreneur to heavily invest in the community, shaping it and the surrounding areas for centuries to come. In 1875 Louis Dupuy purchased and renovated an existing building into what we now call “The Hotel De Paris”. The hotel's opulence was unrivaled and unheard of in this region. The demand to stay at the hotel exceeded the rooms it had. Even during slow periods, Dupuy would personally approve each guest. Many were turned away for reasons only known to Dupuy. The hotel quickly became famous for its high-class atmosphere and sophisticated French dining.
The success of The Hotel De Pari was desperately needed by Louis. He was an heir to a vast fortune and had squandered most of his inheritance. During this period he dabbled in many things but succeeded at little. He entered the seminary in hopes of joining the priesthood. When that didn’t work out he went to culinary school. He settled for a time as a writer in New York City, before being caught for plagiarism. Next, he did a stint with the United States Army, but he deserted for unknown reasons. At this time he changed his name from his given name, “Adolphe François Gerard”; to the name, we know today Louis Dupuy. Days later he walked into Denver's largest newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News and began to work as a mining reporter. This is what leads him to Georgetown where he eventually became a miner himself. In 1873 he was working at the nearby 7:30 mine when an explosion injured him severely. He was unable to perform hard labor and had a very long recovery time. During this time the community of Georgetown raised enough money for Louis to rent what was called the “Delmonico Bakery”. This humble building and the adjacent structure is what Dupuy later renovated into the world-renowned Hotel De Paris.
Ultimately Dupy was a French native who cultivated a new life and home for himself by recreating the style of Inns he knew as a child. He had a hard start to his life but was able to live out his days as the administrator of a hotel that we still talk about and visit to this day. His hotel and the adjacent opera hall shaped the region for generations to come.
Today Georgetown enjoys a lively summertime crowd of tourists. You’ll find most of the stores on the main street are open and see hourly rounds of tour buses from Denver. However; in winter the town becomes less busy as tourist and locals tend to visit ski areas. But this is a great time of the year to visit if you want to take it all in without too much of a crowd.
One of the shops that rarely closes is the local grocery store, Kneisel Grocery. In fact, the store is still operated by members of the Kneisel Family. The structure houses three shop bays and was originally built by Henry Kneisel in 1892. The following year he moved his grocery business into one of the store stalls. He built the shelving in 1893 to his personal specifications and they are in use to this day. The Kneisel and Anderson Store is the oldest, continuously-operated business in Georgetown. Today, customers are served from behind the original counter.
The single-bay building to the west was built somewhat later, and it also was initially a grocery store. Around 1912, Kneisel and Anderson purchased it and established their hardware business there, where it continues to this day.
I highly recommend you visit and spend some time in this town. The people are welcoming, the food is good, and the architecture is amazing.
Photos from the Day:
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