Telluride Colorado History
During your visit and as a guest in our Telluride ski vacation home, you will find a rich and enchanting history as colorful as the Victorian homes throughout the town of Telluride.
We have researched and highlighted some of the key events that have made this historic region what it is today.
For centuries the Ute Indians would come to the San Juan Mountains to fish the San Miguel River and hunt elk, deer, and mountain sheep. The box canyon where Telluride now sits at an elevation of 8,756 feet was long considered a sacred valley to the Indians. Ute Park on the ski mountain is named for the Utes, as is the state of Utah. In the 1700’s Spanish explorers arrived and named the “San Juan” mountains, but the only Europeans to inhabit the area were trappers and a few adventurous explorers.
Gold was first discovered in 1858 and the first mining claim was made in 1875 called the Sheridan. Others soon followed and the town of Columbia was founded in 1878, but due to confusion by the post office with Columbia, California, (Columbia, Cal. vs. Columbia, Col.) the name was changed to Telluride in 1887. The street that runs parallel and one block north of Colorado Avenue is named Columbia Avenue for the town’s original name.
The name, Telluride, is said to come from the non-metallic mineral tellurium often associated with deposits of gold and silver, which is likely because gold-telluride mineralization was considered to be the richest and had been just recently discovered in Boulder County in 1872. Others say the town is named for the farewell “to-hell-you-ride” by those who knew the town’s well-deserved rowdy reputation. In 1887 a local paper noted, "Ouray has 4 churches and 14 saloons. Telluride has 10 saloons and plans for a church...."
Telluride’s mines were rich in zinc, lead, copper, silver and gold and were mined by many names recognizable in town today: Sheridan, Smuggler, Tomboy, Pandora, Alta, Nellie, Liberty Bell, Gold King, and Ajax. You will see some of these names on the Telluride Ski Resort’s ski runs, road names, and buildings during your vacation. Telluride grew slow and steadily and never went bust, even with the Silver Panic of 1893 there was enough gold in the veins to sustain mining.
The mountains surrounding Telluride are honeycombed with over 800 miles of tunnels and produced over $360 million worth of gold. At the height of the gold rush, Telluride’s population swelled to 5,000 people (2,200 is the population today) and had more millionaires, per capita, than New York City.
In June, 1889, Butch Cassidy robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride of over $24,000, his first major recorded crime. After Telluride, his notoriety grew and he formed his elite corp of outlaw cowboys called the “wild bunch”. Look for the Sundance ski run, and you will pass the streets Butch Cassidy and Sundance on your drive to Mont Maison.
Prior to the arrival of the railroad to Telluride, freighting was done by wagon or pack animal via a toll road constructed by Otto Mears over Dallas Divide intersecting the road from Montrose to Ouray, which is now Ridgway. Otto’s toll road became the grade for a narrow gauge rail line from Ridgway to Durango with a branch arriving in Telluride in 1891 called the Rio Grande Southern Railroad (RGS).
Profitability skyrocketed for a short time, but labor disputes and a declining mining economy after World War I shut most of the mines down by the 1950s and the RGS was abandoned in 1952. The mines were consolidated into the Idorado Mining Company when the demand for base metals increased during World War II and eventually ceased mining in 1979. The 1970 census shows a population of less than 600 in Telluride.
In 1891, Telluride’s L.L. Nunn began exploring the possibility of electric power to reduce the cost of transporting coal to the Gold King mine. He discovered that George Westinghouse was developing an alternating-current motor and built a water-powered electrical-generation plant on the San Miguel River at Ames. The result was the Telluride Power Company at Ames, later to become Utah Power & Light, and the first generation, transmission, and use of modern-day alternating-current to power commercial machinery. As a result, Telluride, Colorado, was the first town to have electric lighted streetlamps. Nunn went on to build the hydro-electric plant at Niagra Falls and Ames Power Plant is still generating electricity for Telluride after over 100 years.
Quick to realize a good thing, the second generation and use of alternating current is the Bridal Veil Falls hydro-electric power plant perched at the top of the 365 foot waterfall at the end of Telluride’s box canyon. The generator was built to supply power to the Smuggler-Union mine and now generates 25 percent of the electric power for the town of Telluride. Bridal Veil Falls are visible a short drive east of downtown Telluride and are not visible from downtown, however the much smaller Ingram Falls, directly east of downtown, are visible from town.
After the crash of 1929, the Rio Grande Southern Railroad economized by building the first “Motor” from a 1928 Pierce-Arrow limousine body and running gear. A fleet of seven Motors, manufactured from Pierce-Arrow and Buick bodies, carried small amounts of freight, US mail, and what few passengers there were. Motors earned the nickname “Galloping Goose” as they “waddled” down poorly maintained track of the cash-strapped RGS Railroad traveling with a horn that sounded like a real goose.
In 1950, the RGS lost the US mail contract to trucking and converted the mail/freight compartment to carry 20 additional sightseeing passengers on the newly renamed “Galloping Goose”. Tourist travel was not sufficient to keep the railroad operational and the Rio Grande Southern was abandoned in 1952. However, many of the Galloping Goose train cars survive today, with #4 normally on display at the San Miguel Courthouse in Telluride but currently being restored in Ridgway.
The Telluride locals, many of Norwegian descent, long skied on the Telluride Mountain and erected the first tow rope ski lift in 1937 powered by an old Studebaker. Some say skiing was popular as miners raced down the mountain to arrive first at their favorite bordello.
As mining declined, Telluride began seeking investors to develop a ski resort. In 1969, Joe Zoline, a Beverly Hills investor, and Bill Mahoney, a Telluride native, began to acquire the land and permits to establish a ski resort in Telluride. In December, 1972, the Telluride Ski Resort opened with 5 lifts.
As mining families moved out, young people with a 1960s world view, which the locals referred to as “hippies”, moved in, attracted by the low cost of living and natural beauty of the region. Hippies were anti-growth and against economic expansion and frequently clashed with the old-timers, however the music festivals were welcomed and flourished.
In 1978, Ron Allred and Jim Wells partnered to expand the ski area and soon added the gondola to connect Telluride with the Mountain Village. During the 80’s this funky mining town with an adventurous spirit began to get noticed by wealthy visitors for its breathtaking scenery and world-class skiing.
By the mid 1990’s, Telluride had successfully distinguished itself from Aspen, and successfully established itself as a premier ski resort. The European style planned community of Mountain Village was incorporated in 1995. Although expensive, Telluride has retained its hippie charm and mining history for a one-of-a-kind experience.
And for spectacular views and luxury accommodations in Mountain Village, there are few luxury rental homes of the caliber of Mont Maison. Although other luxury homes are available as rental properties, Mont Maison is the owner’s personal ski vacation retreat customized with the finest furnishings for the highest standard of comfort. For this reason, this ski-in ski-out vacation luxury home is only available three weeks of the year: Christmas, New Year’s and President’s Day.