Sharing Ouray’s history with our guests is a way to show them how our home, once a thriving mining town, is now flourishing as a tourism destination with stunning period architecture, astonishing scenery, and relaxing hot springs.
Follow us on a tour through time as we take a peek at what Ouray used to look like, and how it has blossomed throughout the centuries.
Ouray, a Peaceful Ute Chief
The area of Ouray was originally used by the Ute tribe for hunting and fishing, as well as for its ‘miracle waters’ and the beneficial qualities given by these natural hot springs. The area was called Uncompahgre, which loosely translates to “dirty water,” “red lake,” or “red water spring” and is likely a reference to the many hot springs in the vicinity of Ouray.
Thanks to its position at the bottom of the valley, the area was relatively protected from harsh, cold weather and made it easier for the tribe to make it their home; albeit, in a non-permanent, nomadic way.
As white settlers started pushing westwards, they inevitably clashed with the native Ute tribe. Ouray was the Ute Chief who negotiated with the settlers. In the end, they agreed that the Ute would grant the San Juan territories to the settlers and move to the western parts of the area.
When Ouray became a town in 1876, it was given the name of the Ute chief who helped make it happen.
A Mining Town
From its birth, Ouray was closely linked to mining. With the discovery of nearby gold and silver veins, Ouray became a magnet for miners. With miners came all the other necessary and supporting services like food and mining supplies, roads, a post office, and log cabin houses.
As Ouray’s mining wealth became established, more people were attracted to the area. Schools, banks, restaurants, hotels, and saloons were built, and Ouray even had two newspapers in circulation by the 1880s. Soon a city hall, a prison, a library, and a fire department were built, adding to the prestige of the town.
The railway reached Ouray by 1887 and connected it to the rest of the country. It also made transportation of silver and gold ores easier and cheaper.
The Ups and Downs of Mining
Ouray’s story follows the ups and downs of mining. The silver crash of 1893 led to a depression that affected Ouray and its population. But gold-mines helped keep the town afloat, and economic activity picked up again.
Ouray remained a significant mining town until well into the 20th century. During World War II, the mines were put to work producing precious metals for the war effort. But mining was inevitably declining, and Ouray’s place as a major mining town dwindled. The railway stopped reaching Ouray in 1953 and its population declined, reaching record low levels in the 1990s.
Ouray Is Now a Magnificent Tourist Destination
Ouray is blessed to be located amidst breathtaking scenery. Nature has been very generous to us, endowing the town with no less than seven natural hot springs.
Even back during the silver and gold rush, it was obvious that Ouray was much more than simply a mining town. The Ouray Hot Springs were created in 1927 and people started flocking to the area to bathe in the ‘miracle waters’ that the Ute tribe knew so well.
Ouray was also lucky because it never experienced a major fire. Most of its original buildings are still standing, putting Ouray in the National Register of Historic Districts. Beautiful scenery, plenty of authentic and historic buildings, and a rich mining past have turned Ouray into a prime tourist destination.
Those interested in sports can ice climb, walk, bike, fish, and hike. Guests interested in sightseeing can stroll around the town, coffee in hand, and immerse themselves in a 19th-century mining town. And there are, of course, plenty of opportunities for dining, walking, and taking in the dazzling views.
Chief Ouray would be proud to see what his namesake has become—a town filled with admiring visitors from near and far, brought together by a shared love of history, wellbeing, and natural beauty.