Telluride, CO History

Telluride, CO History

Telluride is a region rich with American history. The Native American Ute Tribe hunted elk and deer along the San Miguel River for centuries in the harsh environment they called the, "Valley of Hanging Waterfalls" before Spanish explorers and fur trappers passed through. The prospectors and miners seeking their fortune in gold arrived in the early 1870s and were the first to make Telluride their permanent home. 

The town of Columbia, Colorado, founded in 1880, grew rapidly as workers in the surrounding mines needed supplies and services. Hoteliers, merchants, liveries, opera houses, blacksmiths, and ranchers moved in alongside the miners. Brothels and saloons were also an important part of the economy here in Telluride. The doors opened and closed so frequently in the small establishments known as "cribs" on Pacific Avenue, that it is still known today as Popcorn Alley.

In 1887, the town was renamed in order to distinguish itself from Columbia, California, another booming mining town. The name 'Telluride' was chosen as the element tellurium was used an indicator of gold and silver lodes (though, interestingly enough, there was little or no tellurium in the Telluride area). Prospectors flocked to Telluride for its gold deposits, and in 1889, the San Miguel Valley Bank on Colorado Avenue (Main Street) was robbed of approximately $24,000 in mining payroll. Thus began the career of Robert Leroy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy.

In 1890, the Rio Grande Southern Railroad arrived, producing a significant boom to the economy and finally connecting the region with the rest of the country. In 1891, entrepreneur LL Nunn and Westinghouse worked together using Nikola Tesla's discovery of alternating current to run almost 2 ½ miles of power line from a hydroelectric power plant in Ames to the Gold King Mine. Eventually those lines would be brought into town, and Telluride would be the first town in the country to be lit with alternating current.

By the early 1900s, over $250 million in gold had been mined from the surrounding mountains and Telluride's population was close to 5,000. The mines in the area also proved rich in silver, lead copper, and zinc, sustaining the mining industry through wars, the devaluation of silver, and economic downturns.

Today, "white gold", or snow, has replaced yellow gold as the draw to the Telluride valley with the world-class Telluride skiing. By the late 1960s, the mining industry was waning and Telluride's population was declining. While efforts to create a ski area in both the 1930s and the early 1960s had failed, West Coast entrepreneur Joe Zoline finally succeeded, and the Telluride Ski Area was born in 1972. With the opening of the Revelation Bowl in 2008, the Telluride Ski Area currently boasts over 2,000 acres of skiable terrain and an average of over 300 inches of snow annually.  

Summer Telluride festivals have gained international acclaim and are now a major Telluride attraction. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Blues & Brews Festival, Jazz Festival, Chamber Music Festival and other music festivals share the summer calendar with the world-renowned Telluride Film Festival, Heritage Festival, Mushroom Festival, and Tech Festival among many others. Telluride has become known as Colorado's summer festival capital.

Steeped in mining heritage and rich with mountain views, trails, festivals and snow, Telluride has evolved into a Colorado destination filled with the possibility for adventure. Designated a National Historic Landmark district in 1964, Telluride maintains its mining roots, offering much to the Heritage tourist, while offering some of the best skiing, mountain biking, and hiking in the country.