To preserve and maintain cultural resources, historic buildings, artifacts, and other antiquities in Silver Plume; to work on preservation and protection of the area; to preserve and display records and other artifacts that illustrate and teach the history and development of the town. All this provides a memorial to the western movement and settlement of the American miners and pioneers.

Main Street, Silver Plume, Colo. [1892-1901], Denver
Public Library, Western History Photographic Collections, X-2180

A History of Silver Plume

In 1859 prospectors began heading into the mountains of Colorado in search of gold. In 1864 high grade silver ore was discovered on McClellan Mountain and in 1865 prospectors were heading into the mountains of Silver Plume-Georgetown to try their luck, realizing the true wealth of this area lay in its silver deposits. By 1870 several mines were producing high-grade ore, and that year residents named the town “Silver Plume.”

Striking Silver

            Miners realized that they were exploring one of the richest silver mountains in the state and that the deposits would last. They replaced their tents with crude shacks and soon with woodframe houses and shops. Streets were cleared, the mountains were stripped of timber for the new buildings, and miners sent for their families to make their homes here. By this time the community was a bustling boom town. Over the next decade businesses sprang up along Main Street – saloons, mining suppliers, dry goods, newspapers, a candy store, even an opera house – and miners and speculators continued to pour into town. On August 19, 1880, the new town was incorporated with the name Silver Plume inspired, some say, by a vein of ore so rich that silver flakes broke off in feather-like patterns.

           The Georgetown Loop railroad was built in 1884 to carry ore from the Silver Plume mines to Georgetown and Denver, but in 1893 the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed and the United States abandoned the silver standard. The price of silver declined. Though there were still large deposits to be mined, only the richest mines could afford to continue operating. Many miners lost their jobs, businesses failed, and the town’s boom days seemed over.

            As the ore dwindled, the Georgetown Loop railroad carried more and more excursionists. The fame of the Georgetown Loop with its high trestle was soon nationwide – it was called one of the engineering marvels of the century – and within a few years five trainloads of sightseers a day were riding up and down the valley. At the beginning of the twentieth century prosperity returned to Silver Plume, and other tourist attractions opened to a thriving business. The Argentine Central Railroad, opened in 1906, wound its way from Silver Plume to the top of 13,587-foot Mt. McClellan, affording tourists some of the most spectacular views in the state. From 1906 to 1915 an aerial tramway carried passengers up Sunrise Peak, southwest of the town. Tourism made Silver Plume famous, but the town never again achieved the size and prosperity of its early mining days.  

Silver Plume, [1882-1900?], Denver
Public Library, Western History Photographic Collections, CHS.J881
Georgetown Loop Railroad, [1884-1898], Denver
Public Library, Western History Photographic Collections, CHS.J4060

Historic Preservation

            Residents realized in the early 1960’s that they were living in a largely unchanged community. A museum opened in the old schoolhouse and efforts began to preserve historic buildings. In 1966 the area was designated a National Historic  Landmark District. People for Silver Plume Inc. was founded in 1974 and has worked towards the restoration and preservation of the town into the twenty-first century. Today, with 170 full-time residents, Silver Plume is a real community rather than a weathered ghost town, but residents and visitors alike realize that it is one of the most authentic survivors of an important period of Colorado history as we woke to preserve it.

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