Telluride Colorado Real Estate

Telluride Colorado

Settlement at the head of the San Miguel River began in earnest in 1875. By 1879 a placer operation at Keystone at the west end of the park was washing the gold dust from the gravel deposits above the river bed.

There may have been gold dust in the gravel but it was the veins of silver bearing ore high on the steep mountain slopes above the upper San Miguel River Valley which shaped the early history of Telluride.

The town, temporarily known as Columbia, was founded in 1878 and assigned a post office in 1880. The name Telluride is taken from an ore combining the element tellurium with a high gold content and some silver. Ironically, tellurium the ore does not occur in the immediate vicinity of Telluride the town.

Despite the wealth hidden beneath the surface of its mountains, Telluride and the San Miguel region suffered the usual slow start resulting from isolation. In 1881 the Russian immigrant and builder of the Rio Grande southern Railroad, Otto Mears provided some relief when his toll road from the town of Dallas in the Uncompahgre River Valley reached Telluride before continuing on to Ophir and its intended destination, Rico. With the completion of each of his toll roads, wagons loaded-with ore could go where only burros and mules packing ore had gone before. But hauling unprocessed ore by wagon was still expensive and continued to eat into mine owners' profits.

The first Rio Grande Southern train rolled into Telluride in 1890. Telluride, in the valley below the mines, boomed. Those mines-the Tomboy, the Smuggler-Union, the Sheridan, among many-became legendary and their managers and absentee owners became fabulously rich and powerful. Their local legacy is the beautiful Victorian architecture that survives in Telluride to this day.

The miners worked deep below the surface in mines whose portals were as high as 12,000 feet above sea level. They worked ten or twelve hour shifts in mines and mills that ran around the clock. They lived in boarding houses precariously attached to plunging mountainsides. In the winter the snow buried the landscape and the trails down to the towns.

The miners lived always on the brink of death ... premature dynamite blasts, fatal gas, underground fires, avalanches, falls, cave-ins, pneumonia. Many died young, leaving widows and orphans in tents and shanties with nothing. The miners earned $3.50 a day ... or less. They had no mansions, private rail cars, nor power. They are often absent from the history of the mining camps.

But in the history of Telluride there is a chapter about the working man written by the working men. In 1896, the Western Federation of Miners chartered a union in Telluride. In 1899, most of the mines granted workers $3 a day for an eight hour day less $1 per day boarding costs. Millworkers did not benefit from this "windfall."

One mine, the Smuggler-Union, held out against the better pay and working hours. On May 4,1901, union members at the Smuggler-Union Mine went on strike. They wanted $3 a day for an eight hour day. The management of the Smuggler-Urdon ignored the strikers and hired strikebreakers for ... $3 a day for an eight hour day. That should have been the end of unions in Telluride. It wasn't. The impasse triggered years of management-labor conflict.

A shoot out between strikers and strikebreakers on July 3, 1901, left one striker and two strikebreakers dead and three wounded including the mine superintendent. After a truce disarmed the strikebreakers, they were beaten and run out of the valley by union members. In 1902, the manager of the Smuggler-Union was assassinated in his living room.

In 1903, millworkers walked off the job and sympathetic mine workers soon followed. Six carloads of state militia men were sent by Colorado's governor into Telluride. Strikers were loaded into railcars and dumped at Ridgway with warnings not to return. Many did. The strike continued until November 29, 1904, when the Western Federation of Miners conceded defeat. The mine owners and sympathetic merchants, backed by armed militia men, had outlasted the by then poverty stricken mining families. Even so, the workers of Telluride had written themselves into history.

Today the mines overlooking Telluride are silent. The decline began soon after the strike was broken and lingered for decades. Today, the aerial trams leading up the mountains do not carry ore and miners. They carry skiers up one of the world's best ski mountains. The parks and halls that once rang with the oratory of Populists, Socialists, and union leaders today resound to bluegrass, jazz, film, and mountain festivals. Snow, the bane of miners, is cheered in modern Telluride and ideas, not silver, are the new source of wealth.


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