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Ouray Colorado Vacation Guide and Trip Planning Information for SW Colorado

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History of Ouray - Ouray County Icehouses


In the late 19th and early 20th century, before the invention of the mechanical refrigerator, food was kept cool with blocks of ice, which was delivered in the summer months by wagon to the housewives of Ouray County. The Ouray Museum has a 12” x 12” x 2” cast iron horse tie used by a Ouray ice deliveryman. He would throw the horse tie on the ground and tie his horse to it while delivering ice. Often the home icebox would have a door on the outside of the house for the iceman to place a block of ice without entering the home. Ouray children would be sure and be home when the ice was delivered so that they might get a small piece of ice from the deliveryman.

In order to supply ice in the warm months, large icehouses were constructed and straw or sawdust was used to insulate the blocks so that they would be available all summer long. Sawdust was also placed between the blocks so they would not stick together.

 Piedmont Ice (1)Ice was harvested in January and February from Lake Lenore and from a pond near Piedmont, which was flooded with clear water from Coal Creek. The Lake Lenore ice was hauled to Ouray by wagons. A January 23, 1896 article in the Ouray Herald states “all of the teams were pressed into service hauling ice from Lake Lenore.  The ice is of fine quality this year.”


The attached photo shows ice cutting on the Haskin Ranch at Piedmont. When the ice was about 30 inches thick it was strong enough to bear the weight of the horses and people and thick enough for ice blocks. Each block weighed 300 to 400 pounds.  The ice from Piedmont was loaded onto a Denver and Rio Grande train for the trip to the icehouses in Ouray.

A number of Ouray businesses, often beer or coal distributors, sold 50 to 100 pound blocks of ice all summer long. C. W. Andrew had the exclusive contract for Lake Lenore ice. During the 1890s and early years of the 20th century W. R. Kramer was the manager of the Ouray Ice and Coal Company. S. E. DuPuy was the distributor of Zangs’s Beer and he also sold ice out of his icehouse near the railroad tracks along the Uncompahgre River. The river was the undoing of Mr. DuPuy’s business when on June 15, 1906 the river rose so high that it took out his ice house and sent it several blocks down river. N. P. Sorensen had an icehouse just southwest the Ouray Depot and just northwest of the depot was the Zadra and Zanella San Juan Bottling Works, which also sold ice. Charlie Zadra was the last businessman in Ouray to sell ice blocks.

Ridgway also had an ice business. The Ridgway Creamery, managed by George W. Braman from its opening in 1905 until 1912, began to sell ice during the summer of 1909. The Ouray Herald issue of November 27, 1908 states, “A new icehouse is being erected at the Ridgway Creamery.  The creamery company proposes to store ice for its own use and will be able to supply the ice trade in Ridgway during the summer months next season.” The January 9, 1909 issue of the Ouray Herald indicated that the icehouse was completed and being stocked with blocks of ice. On January 14, 1910 the Ouray Herald reported that over 90 tons of ice was put up at the Ridgway Creamery and on January 27, 1911 the Ouray Herald reported that the Ridgway Creamery was obtaining its ice from Piedmont.

About the Author:  Don Paulson is the curator at the Ouray County Historical Society and Ouray County Museum.  He is also a retired Professor of Chemistry where he specialized in organic chemistry.  Don is an active member of the Ridgway Railroad Museum, and an avid hiker, 4WD (jeep) enthusiast, and photographer in addition to his duties as curator for the museum.



Historical Ouray County


From Mining to Ranching to Soaking in Natural Hot Springs; The Beauty of Ouray County is Everlasting!

cascade falls ouray1The Ute Indians arrived in what is today known as Ouray County about 1300 AD to find a land formed some 35 million years ago by firs and ice. Immense volcanic eruptions resulted in deep, lava formed craters. The most recent Ice Age scoured the mountain valleys, carving great amphiteatres, cliffs and peaks. the Utes valued the Uncompahgres based on abundant wildlife, plentiful streams, and of course the natural hot springs. For ages, the Ute tribe lived in harmony with the land.

million dollar highway.2It is widely believed that the first white men to visit the valley were "Gus" Begole and John Eckles in 1875 in search of gold and silver. Soon the men found the area was rich in possibilities, and soon claims were being made all through the area. 

The following spring, the rush was on. The town was surveyed, streets laid out, and most of the timber in the Ouray area was cut down for cabins. In the fall of 1876, the town was incorporated and given the name of Ouray in honor of the great Ute chief famed for his efforts to maintain peace between the two cultures.

fall.colorsMines were also taking root higher in the mountains in Imogene and Yankee Boy. Pack trains carried supplies and ore between local mines and Ouray, now over 400 strong, boasting a school, four stores, two hotel, a saw mill, an ore sampling works, post office and an assortment of saloons and gambling houses.

In 1883, entrepreneur and engineering genius Otto Mears carved a toll road between Ouray and the towns of Silverton and Ironton to the south. This road is now known as US Highway 550, or more lovingly dubbed the Million Dollar Highway.

trainIn 1887, the area experienced another boom when the Denver Rio Grande Railroad established a depot in town, which allowed the profitable mining of low grade ores. With rich discoveries made northeast of town in the Gold Hill area, and the mining industry booming, the population of Ouray exploded to over 2000 residents by the year 1890. The following year, the town of Ridgway was developed as a travel hub for the railway.

The town suffered a scare in 1893, when the value of silver plummeted, but three years later was again riding high when Tom Walsh struck it rich at the Camp Bird Mine, southwest of town. Between 1896 and 1910, the mine produced over $26 million.

downloadAt the turn of the century, Ouray entered a boom or bust cycle as mining became less productive and tourism became more of a focal point. The Ouray Hot Springs Pool was built, and the city purchased Box Canyon Park.

Ridgway prospered as a railroad transportation center until the Rio Grande Rail Southern Rail halted service in 1951. Today, Ridgway is a successful ranching community, gifted with moderate climate and fertile land. The town continues to serve as an important junction, leading to some of the finest skiing in Colorado, and energy rich mineral deposits in the west.

ouray courthouseThe city of Ouray has been designated as a National Historic District. Beautifully preserved and restored Victorian architecture serves to recall the century old mining traditions and ingenuity of the early settlers. Even the city pool is on the National Historical Register.

The Ouray County Historical Society Museum is housed in what was once the hospital, and offers a sampling of the rich and varied past of the area.

jeep torThere are over 10,000 abandoned mine shafts, tunnels or cuts within a ten mile radius of Ouray, for hikers to seek and discover, as well as access to over 500 miles of four wheel drive trails, most leading to ghost towns and abandoned mines high in the mountains. It is always fascinating to experience in a four wheel drive vehicle trails that were once traveled by hearty men and women on horseback or on foot, often in the winter through feet of snow. Yikes!

The Bachelor Syracuse Mine, just a few miles north of the city now offers tours, taking people over 2,000 feet into the ground to experience a tiny taste of mining at the turn of the century.

Rich in history and overflowing with natural beauty, Ouray County offers a variety of adventures. Whether fascinated by the old town feel, or eager to soak in the natural mineral hot springs, there is something for everyone here.

See you soon!


Ouray, southwest colorado

Ouray County Evenings in History Lecture Series for Summer 2013


historic-building-in-san-juan-mountainsOuray County is home to a wild and rich history of the American West.  In the late 1800s in Southwest Colorado, there were miners and ranchers and hotel operators as well as merchants, travelers, and immigrants moving through the area in search of the American Dream.  Although remnants remain, many on display at the Ouray History Museum, each summer, the Ouray County Historical Society pieces together an interesting array of lectures to bring the Old West back to life through the use of pictures and story tellers.

The 2013 Evenings in History Series Schedule is as follows:

June 18:  "What the Ouray Vanoli Site Can Tell Us About the Old West" 7:30pm

This evening in history is presented by Mary Van Buren, Professor of Anthropology, Colorado State University.

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

June 25:  “What’s in Your Attic Or Basement? The Story of The 1897 Corbett Fitzsimmons Fight Poster and Early Motion Pictures.”  7:30 pm

Tom Hillhouse,Vice President, Ouray County Historical Society, presents.

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

July 2: "Recreation and Celebration in Ouray County Through the Lens of Historic Photos."  7:30 pm

"Gail Saunders, Photo Archivist and Maria Jones, Director, Ouray County Historical Society, present.

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

July 9: "And Many More Moccasins: The Ute, Navajo and Blackfoot Nations and World War I" - 7:30 pm 

presented by Timothy Winegard, Colorado Mesa University.

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

July 16: "History of the Red Mountain Project" - 7:30 pm

Learn about the fascinating history of the Red Mountain project which preserved over 1300 acres of mining history on Red Mountain Pass through purchases from willing sellers. Presented by Bob Risch, Co-Director of the Red Mountain Project and the Mayor of Ouray.

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

July 23: "What is in a Name?" - 7:30 pm

Don Paulson, Curator, Ouray County Museum describes how the Peaks, Valleys, Mesas and Rivers in the San Juan Mountains got their names.

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

July 31: "Ridgway and its Railroads" - 7:30 pm

Karl Schaeffer, President of the Ridgway Railroad Museum, explains that Ridgway was once host to two narrow gauge railroads: The D&RGW Ouray Branch and the famed Rio Grande Southern Railroad. Learn about the history of these two fascinating railroads.

Location: Ridgway Town Hall, 201 N. Railroad Street, Ridgway, CO  81427

Museums of Ouray County


Experience the Vibrant Past of the San Juans!

ouray blacknwhiteThe history of Ouray County is resonant with all of the elements of a good western novel. Settled in the 1800's, Ouray is one of very few towns boasting such spectacular original Victorian Architecture undamaged by natural disaster, and maintained with so much love. Until the early 1960's, Ouray was the booming center of a huge mining community, filled with miners, saloons, churches, hotels, entertainment of many sorts, and its own hospital.

The town is named for Chief Ouray, of the Ute Indian Tribe, and also has the prestige of reaching a peaceful settlement with the Native Americans in the area. With such a rich and engaging history, it is no wonder there are such wonderful museums, celebrating Ouray County with contagious passion.

Ouray County Museum

ouray museumWith the decline of the mining industry and the railroad closing, the population of Ouray County could no longer support a hospital, which depended primarily on the donations of the miners it worked to care for. The building remained empty for some years, until it was purchased by the Ouray County Historical Society and recreated into a 27 room museum filled with the early art, gems, photographs and memorabilia of Ouray and its vibrant history.

In addition to the exhibits within the museum, walking tours of the town and the Evenings in History lectures, take guests on colorful journeys into the past; mining, ranching, and so much more! Every month or so, a special exhibit featuring everything from the development of the Million Dollar Highway to the evolution of fashion serve to entrance visitors with the victories and defeats of the early settlers of Ouray.

Ouray County Historical Society
420 6th Avenue
P. O. Box 151, Ouray, CO 81427
Phone: 970-325-4576

Ridgway Railroad Museum

d&rgDid you know that once the Denver Rio Grande Railroad travelled all the way to Ouray at least a couple of times a day? Transporting passengers and precious metals to and from the Rocky Mountains, the railroad was a large contribution to the revenue coming into and out of the San Juans.

For over fifty years, the Denver Rio Grande Railroad travelled the high country to Ouray, servicing travellers and transporting silver, gold and equipment to and from Ouray County. The town of Ridgway was actually created to accommodate the rail system, and has blossomed into a thriving community even after the derailment of the D&RGR.

Ridgway Railroad Museum transports each traveller back as The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad journeyed across the western states, changing the concept of transportation until it eventually was replaced in this area by highways and the automobile.

Explore the rise and fall of the rails in Southwest Colorado, through photographs, models, and historical documents as you are transported to the early days of mass transit and the trials and achievments of the Denver Rio Grande Railway.

This September, come on out to celebrate the railroad and its origins at the Ouray County Railroad Days Celebration. For thee days, enjoy guided hikes along several of the railroad routes through the San Juan Mountains, and explore the museum and all of the old rail cars and pictures of Ouray County's world-famous railroad heritage. From September 20 through the 23rd, immerse yourself in the colorful history of the rails!

The Ridgway Railroad Museum is located at the Junction of US Highway 550 and Colorado State Highway 62 in Ridgway, Colorado.
Mail: Ridgway Railroad Museum, PO Box 588, Ridgway, CO 81432

Ouray County Ranch History Museum

blacksmith shop ouray colorado bwImages of the Old West are filled with movie images of John Wayne type ranchers and cowboys bustin broncos and battling with the railroads over land rights; stagecoaches travelling across plains, and homesteaders working the fields. Often, the image of Ouray County is one of mining towns and all of the adventure of toiling deep in the mountains to strike it rich. There was however a large number of families coming to the Rocky Mountains to create a more permanent living off of the land, providing crops and livestock to maintain the mining community.

North of Ouray, the land evens out into fields and meadows which have long held a reputation of rich, fertile soil, capable of producing some of the best crops of alfalfa in the state. As Ouray County became famous for its rich mineral deposits high in the mountains and began to grow, ranchers took over the low lands, raising cattle and sheep to sustain the many towns and communities working deep in the earth. Fields were alternated between grazing and raising crops to feed the herds through the long winter months.

The Ouray County Ranch Museum encompasses the image of life as a settler with a variety of exhibits from a sampling of furniture and tools, to photographs of some of the first rodeos that bring to life the trials and triumphs of the early ranchers in Southwest Colorado.

At the edge of Ouray County, in Colona, Colorado, this original museum in the old Colona School and Grange, The Ouray County Ranch History Museum is sure to transport you into another time for a little while to complete the picture of life at the turn of the century.

Ouray County Ranch History Museum
206 County Road 1, Colona, Colorado



Evenings in History in Ouray County Colorado - Summer 2012


Southwest Colorado History Comes Alive During the Summer in Ouray

Historic Ouray ColoradoJust because it is summer doesn't mean you can't be learning!  Throughout southwest Colorado and especially in Ouray and Ridgway, Colorado history buffs as well as Western Heritage neophytes revel in a treasure trove of historic sites, museums, educational programs, and guided tours throughout the region.  

Ouray County Historical Society has announced the schedule of their ever popular Evenings in History Lecture Series for Summer 2012.

June 12: Utes in Colorado - 7:30 pm

An Evening of history with Andrew Guilliford, Professor of History at Fort Lewis College in Durango. Andy will speak on "The Utes in Colorado - The Ute Trail, Ute Peeled Trees & Modern Utes."

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

June 19: Revenue Mine - 7:30 pm

Learn about the history of the Revenue Mine, one of the most important Mines in Ouray County. Ouray mining engineer and surveyor Bob Larson will talk about the over 100 year history of the Revenue Mine. Bob worked at the Revenue Mine in the 1980s.

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

June 26: Wildflowers of the San Juan Mountains - 7:30 pm

Kay Sibold has been studying Rocky Mountain Wildflowers for many years and has become quite an expert.  She will give a presentation highlighting the wild flowers found in the hikes around Ouray County.  Photos of each flower will be shown along with where they can be found in a typical summer.

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

July 10: The Wright Opera House: Past, Present, and Future

Dee Williams, local resident and President of the Friends of Wright Opera House will present facts about the Historic Wright Opera House as well as discuss the ways this theater is being used now that it is owned by the non-profit and she will also discuss their big plans for the future.

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

July 17: The Silvery San Juan: A Liquid History of Legendary Watering Holes: 7:30 pm

Tom Noel, Professor History at the University of Colorado, Denver presents and Evening of History on "The Silvery San Juan: A Liquid History of Legendary Watering Holes."

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

July 24: Ouray County Schools: 1876 to 1950:  7:30 pm

Learn about the history of Ouray County's early schools. Ouray originally had 13 separate school districts ranging from Red Mountain Town in the south to Colona in the north. Talk present by Ouray County Museum Curator Don Paulson

Location:  Ouray Community Center, 320 6th Street, Ouray, CO  81427

August 1: Big Horses, Wild Cows and Outhouses: Stories of the Lester Israel Family: 7:30 pm

Ginny Harrington, former Ouray County Historical Society Director, will present an evening of History on some of the more historic Ouray County Ranches. Note that this event takes place on Wednesday August 1st at the Ridgway Town Hall.

Location: Ridgway Town Hall, 201 N. Railroad Street, Ridgway, CO  81427

If You Visit ANY County Museum, Make it the Ouray County Museum!


ouray county museum ranch roomThe Ouray County Museum is a treasure of memorabilia from the last 150 years of Colorado history.  It has 27 rooms on display including a replica of an old mine, a blacksmith shop, a mineral collection, an old jail cell and many others.  It also includes countless historical photos from its rich archive along the walls and through the corridors of this three story museum.  Plan to spend at least one hour touring their vast collection, although I have never spent less than 2 hours walking through.

ouray county museum evelyn walsh mccleane roomThe Ouray County Museum was the former St. Joseph's Miners Hospital so several exhibits showcase medical instruments, hospital furnishings and even the hospital kitchen.  Their is also a room dedicated to Evelyn Walsh, daughter of the owner of the Camp Bird Mine.  The museum is run by the Ouray County Historical Society and their summer calendar of events include their ever popular "Evenings in History" lectures, a sponsored hike to see the Cork Screw Railroad bed and turntable (June 11th and July 30th), and a dinner and show offered where attendees get to meet Otto Mears (as performed by Steve Lee) on August 26th.

The museum is a highlight on the City of Ouray historic walking tour but if you want even more information, consider scheduling a private guided walking tour with a tour guide from the museum.  These tours are a grand way to learn the history of this town with knowledgable guides leading your journey.

Nicholas Trotter, author of Colorado and the Rockies for Dummies stated, "If you only go to one county museum in the course of your travels, make it this one."  

Ouray County History: Dairies Thrived During Mining Days


When one thinks of businesses in Ouray County, milk dairies do not instantly come to mind, but one hundred years ago dairies were very important to Ouray County.  Many of these dairies were small with only a few cows. They sold their milk to the larger dairies that sold directly to the public using their own milk as well as milk bought from the small outfits. In 1900 the Ouray Herald reported that there were a half dozen large dairies in Ouray County.  

Nineteenth century milkmen would load several five-gallon cans of milk into a wagon for the trip to town. They would stop at each customer’s house and jingle a bell. The buyer would come out with a pail and, using a long handled dipper, ladle out the desired quantity of milk. The driver never left his seat. It wasn’t quite as sanitary as we would demand today, but in the early 1900s the customer got their 12 quarts of milk for a dollar.

One of Ouray’s first dairies was Jim Brown’s Riverside Dairy located in the small flat where the Box Canyon Road leaves the one leading to Sneffels (today’s Camp Bird Road). Just past his dairy the road began a steep climb that today is still known as “Jim Brown Hill.” He sold milk to the Revenue Mine and, in 1896, needing much more space he moved the dairy to the Bachelor Switch area two miles north of Ouray. The Bachelor Switch was a station on the D&RG Railroad on the east side of the Uncompahgre River in front of today’s Whispering Pines Subdivision. By 1900 Brown had changed the name of the dairy to the Revenue Dairy. At that time he was delivering 70 to 100 gallons of milk per day to the Revenue Mine!  

camp bird milk bottleIn 1896 Joe Scales built another large dairy located where the CDOT yard is today on the Camp Bird Road. The 20% grade of the Mears Toll Road began behind the dairy and the hill was known as “The Milk Ranch Hill.” Scales sold the dairy in 1911. It operated for many years and was eventually called the Camp Bird Dairy. (Photo left courtesy of the Ouray County Historical Society).

The V. I. Hoskins Cedar Hill Dairy was located in 1899 just north of the Cedar Hill Cemetery. Dairies often changed hands such as the Boon Flora Dairy (1883) that became the Lewis Dairy (1896) and then the Foley Dairy (1899) and finally the Merling Dairy (1904). The Orvis family ran a dairy at the Orvis Hot Springs during the early 1900s.  

Axel Erickson built the Highland Dairy in 1913. It was located high in the hills across the valley from Lake Lenore. In 1936 it was taken over by Axel’s son-in-law, John Honstein, who operated it into the mid 1940s. Many dairies closed during WWII due to government price controls and a lack of labor.

The Whinnerah Brothers (Robert, Raymond and Richard) had a ranch on Billie Creek just south of Colona. They sold buttermilk door to door, and Richard who usually made the trip into Ouray, was well known as “Buttermilk Dick.” Richard went on to become a well-known Ouray County mining surveyor.

The Ridgway Creamery (the building still stands on Sherman Street) was incorporated in 1905. They did not have any cows of their own but bought milk from area ranchers. It was ably managed by George Braham. In 1910 they produced 260,000 pounds of cream and 70,000 pounds of butter for a net profit of $1400. The creamery lasted until 1920 when it succumbed to competition from creameries in Montrose.  

Victor Dalpaz operated the Dalpaz dairy from 1938 to 1972. It was located west of the Uncompahgre River about 5 miles north of Ouray. Other dairymen I was able to discover include Charles Winstrom, George Hanzel, Fred Jerome, E. W. Roscoe, J. D.Boyce, H. A. Siebert, Ross Gray, Erin Sigfrid and D. E. Pilcher.  

One hundred years ago there were many milk cows in Ouray County that provided additional income to small farms. The miners and their families drank a lot of milk, much more than we drink today. It wasn’t pasteurized but ice was available from the several  icehouses in Ouray.

About the Author:  Don Paulson is the curator at the Ouray County Historical Society and Ouray County Museum.  He is also a retired Professor of Chemistry where he specialized in organic chemistry.  Don is an active member of the Ridgway Railroad Museum, and an avid hiker, 4WD (jeep) enthusiast, and photographer in addition to his duties as curator for the museum.

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