Monday, June 14, 2010

"Silver by the Ton"

Our arrival in Silverton (CO) was unique.

The tracks for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Guage train ended in the center of town--literally.

Shown here is Engine 480 of the second train that makes the daily run between Durango and Silverton. The engine is stopped about five feet from the end of the tracks in the center of town.

When we "de-trained," we stopped for a look at Engine 481, one of the ten Baldwin-K36 locomotives built in 1925 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia. Nine of these ten locomotives are still in use, and the D&SNGR owns four of the nine.

Every day (May through October) each of the two trains brings 250-300 people for a two-hour stop (or longer if people choose to stay overnight) in Silverton. And the town's merchants eagerly greet these arrivals.

Within twenty minutes of our group of 250+ travelers' arrival, the streets were virtually empty. The town's restaurants and gift shops were the secondary destinations--and all travelers arrived safely.

Within 45 minutes, this "arrival-and-scatter-to-restaurants-and-gift-shops" was repeated with a second group of passengers.

In 1873, the Brunot Treaty opened the San Juans Mountains to settlement. The first permanent white settlers came for diverse reasons, but gold and silver served as magnets to the region.

Most of the early settlers came from states east of Colorado, but the middle 1880s saw large numbers come from Europe and Scandanavia. The mining companies advertised in foreign newspapers, promising jobs and the opportunity to own land.

During Silverton's most active period, the population grew to as high as 5,000 residents. Starting as a silver mining camp, Silverton miners boasted that they had "silver by the ton" and the name stuck.

In contrast to the stability represented by the county courthouse of today (right), early day Silverton was rough, turbulent and often violent. The environment was extremely harsh, mining was a very dangerous occupation, and the general lawlessness of the town presented risks to the citizens. Also, in the early years of the town, there were a few lynchings by the local vigilantes.

In contrast to the early days, the Silverton of today is a colorful, inviting community of 700 residents who appear to be having fun.

How could anyone not enjoy some barbecue at this pink BBQ shack

or a cup of espresso at the bright blue Avalanche Café

or a dish of this ice cream shop's specialty

or a cool beverage at the Bent Elbow?

Whimsy or funky? Not really sure. But it is the perfect "per-sonality" for this town that has only minutes to attract a visitor's attention?

Even this chance association of colors of the homes and canoes seemed in character for the town.

Kate was curious about the association between a watering can and flowers and the name Silver Shop, but the curiosity was not resolved.

Other questions that crossed our minds were: Was there a market for chocolate covered insects or was that merely the hook to attract inquiring customers?

And what was the association between the cafe and the bicycle hanging over the entryway?

We chalked up these questions to the quirkiness of Silverton.

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