Our Roots Run Deep
Ouray County is home to four impressive historical collections representing key pieces of local history: railroading, ranching, pharmaceutical, native american and mining. Read on below for a description of our local museums or click below for a direct link to their information.
Ouray County Historical Museum
Deemed “One of the best little Museums in the West” by The Smithsonian Institution, The Ouray County Historical museum offers an incredible experience into the history of this intimate mountain community.
The museum building was originally St. Joseph's Miners' Hospital, built in 1886 thanks to contributions from mine owners and businessmen. During its early years, the Sisters of Mercy operated the hospital with staff from Durango, Colorado and Omaha, Nebraska and remained in operation until 1964.
In 1971, the Ouray County Historical Society began exhibiting in the building and in 1976 purchased the building with plans to transform it to a portal into Ouray's rich culture. Three floors and twenty-seven rooms feature a plethora of exhibits. Additional displays are located in hall cases, alcoves and the original hospital dumb waiters. In addition, the Museum features a Research Center containing original documents and thousands of photographs of historic Ouray. An impressive mineral collection, Ute Indian displays, Victorian era displays mine exhibits, railroading and ranching exhibits, hospital operating rooms from the 1890s and the 1940s, and a patient room are a few options for exploration. The museum is child-friendly with an activity finder book and exhibits dedicated to little visitors.
Ouray County Museum special summer exhibits include the annual Quilt Show, a display of original William Henry Jackson Photos, our annual photo contest and WWI and WWII military memorabilia from Ouray veterans. In addition, we offer guided tours of Ouray’s Main Street, the Cedar Hill Cemetery, and the Silverton Railroad grade on Red Mountain. The museum hosts a series of events each year that include guided walking tours and hikes, evenings of history lectures, Vintage Baseball, and many other special programs highlighting the history of our wonderful town.
Allow yourself two to three hours to enrich your knowledge of Ouray’s history. If you’re interested in Victorian architecture take part in the Historical Society's Walking Tour of the beautifully restored Victorian buildings around Ouray.
Ouray Alchemist Pharmaceutical Museum
With over 40 years of passionate collecting, owners and pharmacists Curtis and Nancy Haggar have crafted a collection that spans over 2,000 years of pharmaceutical history. Their collection is housed in a newly-built mixed-use building on Main Street. Once inside, you are surrounded by an outstanding recreation of a frontier pharmacy, complete with period fixtures, over-the-counter remedies, art objects and the oldest prescription in Colorado. Both Curtis and Nancy personally lead tours of the collection and bring the stories surrounding the artifacts to life.
Ridgway Railroad Museum, Ridgway
The Ridgway Railroad Museum, founded in 1999, is dedicated to preserving the history of railroading in Ouray County. The museum has six narrow gauge cars on exhibit with interpretive displays in several of the cars. The cars include a caboose, stock car, box car, drop-bottom gondola, business car and a water service car. In addition, the museum has an exact replica of the 1931 Rio Grande Southern (RGS) Motor Car no. 1 as well as the recently restored RGS Goose No. 4. The museum also has an extensive indoor display including an 8’ x 4’ diorama of the RGS Ridgway Yard.
Ouray County Ranch History Museum, Ridgway
Located in Ridgway, Colorado, just 9 miles north of Ouray, the Ouray County Ranch History Museum features the ranching history that was the lifeblood of northern Ouray County. The Museum’s collection originated with a gift of a local ranching history archive from Ralph and Ricky Lauren, which grew quickly with enthusiastic local donations. Parts of the collection can now be viewed in the historic depot in Ridgway, where visitors can enjoy rotating exhibitions devoted to the Uncompahgre River Valley’s rich ranching history.
Ute Indian Museum, Montrose
The Ute Indian Museum is one of the nation’s most complete collections of the Utes, featuring exhibits and dioramas that let visitors experience the history, culture and daily life of the early inhabitants of the Uncompahgre Valley. Located on the original 8.65-acre homestead site of Chief Ouray (the leader of the Ute people) and his wife, Chipeta, the museum complex includes the Chief Ouray Memorial Park, Chipeta’s crypt, a native plants garden, shady picnic areas, walking paths, teepees, and a memorial to the Spanish conquistadors who traveled through the area in 1776.
More History & Heritage in Ouray County
Historic Gold & Silver Mine Tours (Ouray & Silverton): The Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour in Ouray and the Old 100 Mine Tour in Silverton let you experience what life was truly like for the miners of the 1800s in the San Juan Mountains. Step back in time for an hour, then try your luck at panning for gold or have a miner's breakfast on weekend mornings.
Ridgway True Grit Film History Tour (Ridgway): a weekly tour of historic filming locations for the origina True Grit. Tours leave the Ridgway Visitor's Center on Fridays at 11:00 AM through the end of October.
Visit a Ghost Town (Ouray, Silverton): There are numerous ghost towns throughout the Ouray, Silverton and Telluride area. Some of these former mining towns were small, inhabited by only a few people, while others had thousands of residents. Most ghost towns in the area, due to the difficult and unforgiving long winter months, are now bare sites with only a few buildings still standing. These historical ruins are “true ghosts.” You'll find shadows of the past. There are towns that can be reached by passenger car, but most are located in remote areas only accessible by four-wheel drive.
Agricultural Adventures (Ouray County): If you’re here for an extended stay, plan a day to take a scenic drive past centennial ranches (ranches that have been family owned for more than 100 years), visit our Ouray County Ranch History Museum, get some fresh local produce at a farmer’s market and taste delicious high plateau wines at our regional vineyards.