About 150 years ago, you might’ve seen two Silvertons.
Reads the history kept on the local chamber of commerce website: “From the very beginning an imaginary line ran down Greene Street, dividing the town between the law-abiding, church-going residents and the gamblers, prostitutes, variety theaters, dance halls and saloons.”
A world away but only a block away from the main street was Blair Street. “Notorious” Blair Street, the red light district came to be known, as commemorated by a sign today.
About 150 years ago, it’s believed 2,000 people lived in this remote pocket of the San Juan Mountains that was known as Baker’s Park, for Charles Baker, the man credited with discovering gold and silver in this narrow, vertical valley. Nowadays, the year-round population is fewer than 700. Nowadays, Silverton is very much one Silverton, Greene and Blair streets are roamed alike for their shops and eateries.
Though, there are still split opinions around town. For instance: the decision to allow ATVs and side-by-sides to rumble through Greene Street on their way to vaunted tracks in the high alpine. Peace and quiet should prevail, some contend.
Silverton “feels like a secret that you find out about and want to tell your friends about, but also want to keep to yourself, because it’s so special,” a former mayor once explained to us. “That’s where we struggle as a community. People are so amped about what Silverton is, but being so amped about it, you have the potential to change it.”
Much remains unchanged here above 9,300 feet. The stunning scenery and historic architecture remain from the days of miners.
The attractions, however, are relatively new.
On Blair Street, the old Arcade Trading Co. is a staple. What was once a bordello is now a family- friendly emporium of souvenirs and homemade fudge, conveniently situated steps away from the scenic Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Also on the notorious drag is Silverton Soapbox. Handmade soaps, candles, lotions and balms here at the old town square.
Back on Greene Street, take your pick of gift shops. Fitch’s Mining and Mercantile stocks books, T-shirts, socks and one-of-a-kind rocks and minerals. Shoppers have come by birdhouses across the shelves at Rocky Mountain Gifts. My Favorite Things aims to “bring elegance to everyday living.” You can count on something quirky at Ye Old Livery.
White Eyes Gallery is among stops for art, specializing in Southwest pottery, sand paintings, sculptures and jewelry. Storyteller Indian Store is noted for its collection of Hopi Kachina figurines.
Where chain names seem forbidden, you might be surprised to find the world’s highest altitude Harley-Davidson shop. It makes sense, considering bikers’ love for the ride along the Million Dollar Highway.
Food and drink
Start the day at Coffee Bear, a cozy spot for breakfast burritos and pastries to be enjoyed on the rooftop with 360-degree views. Breakfast is beloved, too, at the old-school Kendall Mountain Cafe.
Steaks and burgers at Handlebars Food and Saloon, which feels like a step back in time to the Wild West. That’s almost the feeling at Shady Lady Restaurant on Blair Street; at last check, the upstairs rooms maintained the wallpaper and carpet from the nights of the namesake.
Farther up Blair Street, dinner-only Eureka Station is a Cornish Tavern in a sleek, modern setting. The bison meatloaf is a hit, best enjoyed with a specialty cocktail.
Back on Greene Street, Thee Pitts Again is a barbecue joint that was formerly based in Arizona and garnered attention from Guy Fieri. The “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” host raved about the smoked turkey.
Avalanche Brewing Co. is a favorite for pizza and beer. The other brewery is Golden Block, with a full menu of bar grub. “Come for a drink, stay for a meal” is the motto at Coal Bank Taqueria and Trattoria. It’s Mexican for lunch, Italian for dinner.
You can’t skip town without a messy delight from Rocky Mountain Funnel Cake Factory.
The main attraction is the train, which rolls between here and Durango through majestic country. You can’t go wrong in the summer for wildflowers, nor in the fall for other colorful displays.
For a self tour of the scenery, Million Dollar Highway runs from downtown Silverton over to Ouray. The pavement travels by abandoned mining settlements, reaching a high point atop Red Mountain Pass above 11,000 feet. Hugging steep drop-offs, the drive can be hair-raising at times.
On Blair Street, Professor Shutterbug operates out of the town’s first bordello. He’ll dress you up for old-timey photos of you and your kin as you might’ve been back in the day. You can also impersonate a prospector at the Old Hundred Gold Mine tour.
Back on Greene Street, the San Juan County Historical Society greets guests to the old jail and offers tours at once-powerful mills.