As one might guess from its name, Silverton was founded in 1874 as a silver mining camp. It became a prosperous boomtown from silver and subsequent discovery of gold through the first quarter of the 20th century. Today it is a very small town. How small? It covers less than 1 square mile and has less than 1,000 people.
The remnants of its past remain in the form of the false-front Victorian buildings that line Greene Street selling all types of tourist things.
The Grand Imperial Hotel, the gold-domed country courthouse, and the cupola-topped City Hall are some of the grander buildings. This street is in sharp contrast the next street to the east.
Notorious Blair Street
Blair Street, the next street to the east, is a sharp contrast to Greene Street. It was home to the former Red Light District, where activity took place 24 hours a day. It had more than 40 bordellos that employed about 120 ladies. Other Blair Street establishments included a number of boarding houses, raucous saloons, gambling halls and, not coincidentally, the city jail.
Many of these buildings including the Shady Lady and Natalia’s Saloons, the Bent Elbow and Avon Hotels and a rusted corrugated steel-faced building (currently an old-time photographic studio) that claims to have been the city’s first bordello.
The Mining Experience
If you wonder what life was like in the mining days. a number of gold mines offer tours. Try your luck panning for gold. Or head to the Mining Heritage Center to learn more about the lives of miners and their families.
The town’s most important tourist appeal, however, comes not from the mines themselves, but from the train that supplied Silverton and other isolated mining towns with food and other provision. The train delivered the gold, silver, and other metal ingots from mountain mines and mills to the commercial hub of Durango for smelting and transport to Denver and beyond.
The coal-burning trains of the historic haven’t carried gold or silver for many decades. However they have continued to run continually since 1881. However, today their cargo is tourists and as well as other passengers that need transportation between Durango and Silverton. The very scenic route takes 3.5-hour one way. Or if you only want a day trip, a 9-hours round trip provides a two-hour layover that is sufficient for exploring Silverton.
Although we planned to eat dinner at Handlebars, which our hotel and others consider to be the best in the city, it was inexplicably closed the night we were in town. With several other restaurants closed for the season, our choices were limited. We ended up at Three Pitt’s Again BBQ. We shared a rack of ribs with sides of BBQ beans and baked potato, a supplementary order of chili, and single-serve bottles of vanilla cream soda and Pinot Grigio. While the ribs were juicy and tasty and the sides credible, we were less impressed by the tomato taste and the meager amount of meat in the chili.
Staying In Silverton
Our first visit to Silverton was a day trip. This time we decided to stay there. Silverton does not have many lodging choices. We stayed on the top floor of the Alma House Inn bed and breakfast. The historic building is filled with period furnishings. The claw foot tub with a shower was interesting but not easy to use. The room seemed a little tired but it was clean and comfortable. And although our room is supposedly haunted, we were not disturbed by any ghosts.