Silverton, Colo.: A classic mining town, before the hordes arrive | AspenTimes.com
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Silverton, Colo.: A classic mining town, before the hordes arrive

A walking tour of Silverton highlights the ornate architecture of about 50 buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Scott Condon photo.
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OK, so early May might not be the best time for an offseason getaway to Silverton, especially for Roaring Fork Valley residents sick and tired of cold, wet weather.But later this month, even the rarefied Silverton air at 9,318 feet above sea level should warm up. And visiting the tiny town before Memorial Day weekend pays dividends – the hordes won’t be invading, yet.Silverton hosts around 250,000 visitors per year, nearly all of them during the summer and early fall, according to the Silverton Chamber of Commerce website. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a big draw. Tourists ride the train up from Durango for the day to eat, drink and shop, then many of them leave town.Whether you take the train or not, go for the full Silverton experience and stay overnight. The chamber’s website isn’t just spouting the usual boosterism when it says the town combines “supreme natural beauty and magnificent Victorian charm.”It’s cradled by the San Juan Mountains and the Weminuche Wilderness, which allows one way in and out of the southwest Colorado town. It’s as pretty as anyplace in Colorado and still surrounded by old mines and ghost towns.

The town itself is to history buffs what Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium are to baseball purists. It’s a treat to walk around an old Colorado mining town with as many buildings restored as Silverton. A walking tour boasts about 50 buildings dating from the 1800s and early 1900s, most of them renovated and home to modern businesses.There are numerous general stores, specialty shops and, yes, tourists traps that are fun to check out. There are bars and restaurants galore as well as an abundance of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. (Walking the main drags will make Aspenites yearn for the day when every other Aspen storefront wasn’t occupied by a real estate office.)The regal San Juan County Courthouse, with a soaring clock tower and gold-colored dome, celebrates its centennial anniversary this year.The real treat for me, my wife and daughter was the mile-or-so walk to a hillside outside of town that’s been the cemetery since at least 1875. (It is appropriately, if not creatively, named Hillside Cemetery.)The cemetery is well-kept but part of the fun of browsing is the ramshackle way graves were laid out, seemingly at random instead of grid-style.Tombstones from Silverton’s early years were often ornate, with a miners’ union, Woodworkers of the World, or the Masons going all out for a fallen comrade. Many of the tombstones provide a glimpse into life, and death, in tough times. Babies and sometimes their mothers didn’t survive childbirth. Epitaphs document the constant occupational hazards that miners faced, from cave-ins to avalanches.The entire Silverton experience – the mines outside town, the fabulous old buildings and the old graveyard – can’t help enthralling even people with no prior interest in history.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.


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