Regional History

A picturesque escape where you can start your day on the slopes and end it in town indulging in delicious local food and libations. Walking around you will find yourself staring up at the impressive San Juan Mountains that surround this quaint mountain town and you’ll probably ask yourself if you ever have to leave. Soak up all that Telluride has to offer in the winter season and enjoy your stay with us!

History Of Telluride

A Gem In The Rockies

The early history of Telluride, Colorado lies with the nomadic Ute Indians who would summer in the valley where deer, elk, and bighorn sheep were plentiful. The tribes would migrate to lower, more hospitable climes in the winters. This centuries-old pattern changed when the first Europeans discovered the San Juan Mountains in the 1700s. Even though there may have been the occasional trapper or frontiersman in Telluride’s valley, there were no permanent residents here until gold was discovered in the region. The first claim was staked by John Fallon in Marshal Basin in 1875 and the early settlement of the box canyon followed.

Telluride, a small town located in southwestern Colorado, has a rich history that spans back to the late 19th century. Telluride is not the town’s original name. The town was founded in 1878 as Columbia, not knowing a town in California had already adopted this name. To avoid confusion, the U.S. Postal Service forced a change in name. No one is sure exactly how the distinctive name of ‘Telluride’ came about, but it can be speculated that the name came from the chemical compounds known as tellurides. A telluride is a combination of metals or minerals such as gold, silver, zinc, lead, etc. and that of tellurium. While there are ample deposits of these minerals in the surrounding mountains, the ironic twist is that there are very few gold tellurides in the area. One has to guess that after the postal service snafu, the residents wanted to find a name as unique as the place it represents. One local legend has the name originating from the send-off phrase “to hell you ride” in reference to the town’s once rough and tumble reputation, although there is no specific proof despite the reputation being well earned.

The town was initially settled by miners who were attracted to the area by the promise of wealth. The first significant mine in Telluride was the Sheridan Mine, discovered in 1875. By the early 1880s, Telluride had become a thriving mining center with dozens of mines in operation.The town's population grew rapidly during this time, with many new residents arriving in search of work and prosperity. In 1887, the town was incorporated and became the county seat of San Miguel County. Robert Leroy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, robbed his first bank in Telluride in June 1889. Cassidy was a periodic resident of Telluride from 1884 to 1889. Along with three other accomplices, the robbers made off with approximately $21,000 from the San Miguel Valley Bank. Butch then went on to lead a now infamous life of crime never to see Telluride again.

Getting to, and more importantly, getting ore out of Telluride was difficult. Otto Mears opened a toll road that helped commerce in the region, but it wasn’t until the establishment of the Rio Grand Southern Railroad in 1891, also founded by Mears, that Telluride began to flourish. The bustling town was home to thousands of residents throughout the region with a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. The mining boom created a vast amount of wealth in Telluride. By the turn of the century, local lore had it that there were more millionaires per capita in Telluride than in New York City. The mines of the region produced over $375 million dollars of gold in today’s adjusted dollars.

Local entrepreneur L. L. Nunn joined forces with George Westinghouse to build the first alternating current hydroelectric power plant near Telluride in Ames, Colorado. The plant supplied power to the Gold King Mine 3.5 miles away. It served as the first long distance transmission of alternating current power and powered an AC induction motor that was a patented design by Nikola Tesla. AC, as opposed to DC or direct current power, is what is used with our modern power grids. Nunn and his brother Paul went on to build power plants throughout the country. To further develop his research, Nunn went on to establish and fund several educational institutions some of which still exist today.
Despite its success, Telluride also faced a range of social and economic issues, including labor disputes and violence. The Telluride Strike of 1901, for example, was a bloody confrontation between striking miners and company guards and is considered one of the most infamous incidents in the town's history.
After many decades of successful mining, the yields on gold and silver started to decline. With the crash of silver prices and the advent of World War I, the mining boom went bust. Mining shifted to other minerals and metals, but it could not sustain the economy Telluride once had. Miners and their families slowly started to leave the Telluride Valley for places like Moab where uranium mining was booming. Telluride almost became a ghost town.

The town experienced a brief resurgence in the 1920s as a center of the uranium mining industry and played a critical role in the Manhattan Project during World War II. After the war, the uranium industry in Telluride declined, and the town faced economic challenges once again. However, in the 1950s, entrepreneurs recognized Telluride's potential as a winter sports destination and began to transform the town into a ski resort.

The first ski lift in Telluride was installed in 1962, and the town quickly became a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders. In the 1970s, Telluride experienced a cultural renaissance, attracting artists, writers, and other creative professionals.

The town's annual film festival, which began in 1974, has since become one of the most significant cultural events in the United States, drawing visitors from around the world. Today, Telluride is a thriving community with a unique blend of history, culture, and outdoor recreation. Its picturesque location in the San Juan Mountains, surrounded by stunning scenery and pristine wilderness, has helped to make it a sought-after destination for tourists and residents alike.

In addition to skiing, hiking, and other outdoor activities, Telluride is home to a thriving arts scene, with galleries, museums, and performance venues showcasing local and international talent. The town is also known for its excellent restaurants, breweries, and distilleries, as well as its friendly and welcoming community.

Despite its growth and transformation over the years, Telluride remains deeply connected to its past, with many historic buildings and landmarks still standing today. Visitors can explore the town's rich history through a variety of museums, walking tours, and other activities, gaining a deeper understanding of this unique and vibrant community.

Telluride Then & Now Cover