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Telluride Heritage

Telluride Heritage

Historic Main Street Telluride

The great valley where the Town of Telluride now exists was once home to nomadic tribes who followed the San Miguel River. Used as a summer camp for centuries by Ute Indians, the area provided ample hunting grounds for elk, deer and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. The Utes would retreat to lower elevations and warmer locales in the winter season and return with spring. For centuries, their way of life was unchanged.

In the late 1700s, Spanish explorers discovered the San Juan Mountains, which they named after the river that ran through them. They reached the area via Santa Fe, New Mexico along what is now known as the Old Spanish Trail, a 1,200-mile route used primarily for trade and exploration. No permanent settling took place during this time, and the trappers and traders most likely moved on for greener pastures farther west toward the coast of California.
By historic standards, Telluride is a fairly modern town. With gold found near present day Denver in 1858, the Colorado Territory once again received attention, and the San Juan Mountains lured fortune seekers with visions of silver and gold. Once gold was discovered here, the boom was on. By the mid-1870s, the Sheridan Mine was the first in a string of local claims and a tent camp was established in the valley below.
Originally called Columbia, the rowdy mining camp became a town in 1878 and changed its name to Telluride because the name “Columbia” was already taken. The name Telluride probably comes from the chemical element “Tellurium” which was actually never found in the region.
With the coming of the railroad in 1890, the remote boomtown flourished. A melting pot of immigrants seeking their fortunes turned Telluride into a thriving community of 5,000. Prosperity abounded, and Telluride was full of thrilling possibilities.
On June 24, 1889, before becoming associated with his gang, "The Wild Bunch,” Robert Leroy Parker made his first major heist by robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank with the help of two friends. He “withdrew” $24,580, and later became the famous Butch Cassidy. Contrary to popular belief, the Sundance Kid was not a part of this heist.
Another historic event took place in 1891, when Telluride local L.L. Nunn joined forces with Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse and built the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant, the world's first commercial-grade alternating current power plant, just outside Telluride. The hydro-powered electrical generation plant supplied power to the Gold King Mine located 3.5 miles away. This was the first successful demonstration of long distance transmission of industrial-grade alternating current power. The invention sparked the "War of Currents" between the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and the General Electric Company headed by Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan.
Due to the mining boom, in a short span of 20 years the town grew from a hodgepodge of cabins and shacks to rows of elegant Victorians and stately brick buildings. Telluride’s most famous historic mines are the Tomboy, Pandora, Smuggler-Union, Nellie and Sheridan mines. From 1905 to 1911 alone, more than $16 million in gold and silver was extracted from the collective mines in the Telluride area. But, with the crash of silver prices, followed by the First World War, the mining boom collapsed. Miners moved on, and the town’s population gradually dwindled from thousands to hundreds resulting in a ghost town.
In the 1970s, Telluride reinvented itself. Legendary powder—a different sort of gold was mined. When the Telluride Ski Resort opened in 1973, the character of the community changed, and the town spun back into high gear. It was, again, a time of thrilling possibilities.

The Telluride Ski Resort is renowned for its world-class slopes and stunning mountain scenery. Born of the same adventurous spirit that birthed the Telluride ski community, many cultural, music and art events and festivals were also founded during the town’s renaissance of the 1970s. From jazz to film, these cultural extravaganzas have grown over the last three decades into modern-day celebrations that draw world-renowned artists and talent. From Memorial Day to October, there is a festival or event almost every weekend.  

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