Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Forgotten Railways of Silverton, Colorado

While Silverton, CO is most famous as the terminus for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, the town was a terminus for three abandoned railroad lines which ran to points north. During the operation of these lines, the Durango & Silverton was the Denver & Rio Grande's Silverton Branch, which came into service in 1882.

Nope, not this one! Image: D&S 481, c.1980. Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places Photo Collection
The Silverton Railroad ran from Silverton to Ironton, CO between 1888-1926. It, along with the other two abandoned lines discussed in today's blog were owned by Otto Mears to reach various mines in the area north of Silverton. According to DRGW.net, "Mears' intention for the Silverton Railroad was to eventually reach Ouray. The sheer ruggedness of the north slope of Red Mountain Pass made the route very hostile to railways. Mears' originally surveyed route - his toll road - had sections of 19% grade, making it very unsuitable for anything but possibly a cog railway." (DRGW.net) Another Mears attempt to link to Ouray and Ironton was the Ouray & Ironton Electric Railway. The project was graded, but never built.

Silverton Railroad, Red Mountain Pass, 1888. Image via Legends of America.
The longest named road, the Silverton, Gladstone and Northerly Railroad, was ironically also the shortest, as it ran 7 miles north to Gladstone, CO. After 1915, it was the Gladstone Branch of the Silverton Northern Railroad. Chartered and built in 1899, it was abandoned in 1942. While Mears would come to own this line, he did not construct it, as the owners of the Gold King Mine did after his initial refusal to build another route in Colorado.

Image Link
Finally, the Silverton Northern Railroad ran 13 miles northeasterly toward Animas Forks, CO. In 1942 after years of inactivity, the track was repurposed for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad to aid in the US war effort. Built in 1895, this was the last Mears project in the Silverton area. Mears originally envisioned this line to run to Lake City, CO, where it could connect to D&RG's Lake City Branch, but the line never ran past Animas Forks.

In 2013, it was proposed by the San Juan County Historical Society to reconstruct a section of the old right-of-way between Silverton and Howardsville, CO. I cannot find any information on their current status, as the website was last updated in 2016.

Map of Silverton, CO Railroad Lines:
In Blue (Left): The Silverton Railroad. In Green (Center): The SG&N. In Yellow (Right) the Silverton Northern.
In Red: The D&S south of Silverton to Durango.

Thanks as always for reading!


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