Learn the answers to these puzzlers and many more during one of three guided Ouray County Historical Society tours offered throughout the summer. The Guided Tour of Historic Main Street reveals the human stories behind the bricks and mortar of Ouray’s historic sites. Ouray’s colorful and notorious characters buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery are uncovered during the Guided Cemetery Walking Tour. Or, explore all aspects of Ouray’s rich history – from mining, ranching and railroading to daily life in the Victorian era during the Guided Tour of the Ouray County Historical Museum.
Few mining towns can boast as many original, well-preserved buildings as Ouray. The entire city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Learn from a local docent how Ouray’s architecture reflects period styles and values during the Historic Main St. tour. Find out who built what and why. For example, Irish immigrant Francis Carney, built or bricked many of Ouray’s most prominent buildings –Wright Opera House, Ouray County Courthouse, City Hall, and the Western Hotel among them. The enterprising stonemason had developed a brickyard in what is now the fish pond area of the Ouray Hot Springs. His own modest frame house on Sixth Street is the least imposing of all the structures he built. Carney eventually worked his way up in politics to become lieutenant governor of Colorado. An up-close view of some of Ouray's fine old hotels, including St. Elmo, reveals Queen Anne and Romanesque styles designed to soften the mining town's rough edges. Stand before buildings like the Wright Opera House and appreciate the details of a Mesker Brothers cast iron façade. Learn why the beautifully restored Beaumont Hotel was considered the “Flagship of the San Juans,” and why doctors and lawyers preferred to live “up town.” Take a peek at the infamous Vanoli Block, the center of dubious entertainment for miners with a little cash in their hands.
The Cemetary tour expands on the stories of those who shaped Ouray County, but who are beyond caring about fortunes made or lost. Upstanding citizens share the grounds with shady “businessmen,” such as John Vanoli, owner of the Gold Belt Theater and proprietor of Ouray’s Red Light District. To this day, no one knows whether the cause of his death was suicide, syphilis or foul play by the Black Hand mob.
Ouray's graves tell equally interesting tales about less infamous citizens. A grave inscribed “Our Frankie” honors Francis Johnson King, a respectable woman who was married to two Ouray men. No she wasn’t a polygamist. Take the tour to learn her story and how her two husbands agreed on the location of her burial site.
The saddest stories are told in the beautifully carved tombstones of children whose lives were cut short by disease or altitude problems.
Both the Main Street and cemetery tours run one Saturday per month through July and August. The Main Street tour leaves from the museum at 3 p.m. and the cemetery tour begins at 9 a.m. at the Cedar Hill Cemetery. On Saturday, August 1, curator Don Paulson will lead the Corkscrew Railroad Bed and Turntable Hike. Hikers should meet at the museum at 9 a.m.
The Ouray County Museum chronicles the history of this remote yet vital mountain community, from the last years of its original Ute inhabitants through World War II. Join curator Paulson’s guided tour, taking place most Wednesdays at 9 a.m. during July and August. Paulson points out the history behind many exhibits and highlights his favorite items. You’ll hear one of the museum’s 100-year-old Edison Phonographs play and learn details about displays that most visitors miss.
The museum is housed in the St. Joseph’s Miner’s Hospital built in 1886 by – you guessed it – Francis Carney. Among its 25 theme rooms are an authentic operating room from the 1890s and a scary, old-time dentist’s office. Other rooms recreate life in Victorian-era homes, a mine (complete with ore car and track), the railroad business, and frontier ranching. Entries in the museum’s popular photo exhibit, “San Juan Memories” will be on display July 8-August 19.
Visit the OCHS website at www.ouraycountyhistoricalsociety.org for tour days and a complete calendar of OCHS summer events. Tours cost $10 per person ($5 for museum members). To pre-register for tours or for more information, call 970-325-4576. All proceeds from OCHS events benefit the organization and museum.