Red Mountain Town is 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:
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