Colorado’s Ouray County Museum collects, preserves and displays natural and cultural historical artifacts related to Ouray County and the surrounding region of the San Juan Mountains. The museum offers 38 exhibits over three floors of a historic 19th century Miner’s hospital. Exhibits are organized by the three main occupations in early Ouray County history, mining, railroading and ranching. Additional exhibits include mineral displays and Native American artifacts from the region.
A mineral room at the museum displays the natural history of the area, and the minerals which gave rise to Ouray’s mining industry. Items come from the collection of John H. Marshall and that of Becky Byrd. Both ore and gangue materials are on display, highlighting the diverse geology of the region.
The museum’s Native American room highlights the history of the Ute Indians, specifically the Uncompahgre who lived in the area before the arrival of fortune-seeking white men. Artifacts include native pottery, beadwork, weaving and leatherwork, as well as a vast collection of arrowheads found in the area.
The Camp Bird Office recreates a typical mining office and specifically reflects that of the Camp Bird Mine, which drove the prosperity of Irish immigrant owner Thomas Walsh. Walsh purchased several bankrupt mines in the late 1800’s when many mines were abandoned after a drop in silver prices. Soon after, gold ore was discovered. The office room contains original ledgers and scales used to weigh the mined gold. In the Walsh-Zannet room, guests see a recreation of the typical upper-class Victorian era parlor belonging to the Walsh family. Ms. Walsh, who at one point owned the Hope Diamond, took full advantage of her wealth, as seen in the furnishings and a commissioned family portrait, which cost $30,000 in 1925, close to one half million by today’s dollar. The room includes a piano from Ouray’s vaudeville Gold Belt Theater. Legend has it that the single bullet hole in the piano was put there by Butch Cassidy. A number of additional artifacts have been saved from the theater, including a mold used to make facemasks and a uniform belonging to the in-house band. Early phonographs and musical instruments belonging to the Ouray band are also on display.
A Ranch Room and adjacent Tack Room are devoted to historical artifacts from the ranches which sprang up to feed the town’s early miners and their animals. Additional displays include a look at mining artifacts, and a 19th century jail cell.
A hospital room display juxtaposes surgical instruments from the 1890’s with those of the 1940’s. Exhibits illuminate the history of the Sisters of Mercy and the Ouray community they served from the late 1800’s through the 1960’s. Dr. Robert Mardock was the last to perform surgery at the Ouray hospital, and his office is preserved to look much as it did after his 18 years of service ended in 1964.
The Ouray railroad opened the same year as the hospital. The museum houses several artifacts from the railroad, including photographs, an old stove and a typewriter. A caboose from 1886, with interior completely intact, is on display outside the museum. After the station burned down in 1948 it was never rebuilt, the railroad ceased operating in 1954.
History: Ouray, Colorado was a silver and gold mining town established in the 1870’s. At the height of the industry, the town had over 30 operating mines. Additional businesses grew to serve the growing population of miners. Ouray’s Main Street is a National Historic District.
The historic 1886 St. Joseph Miner’s Hospital serves as the museum’s home. The building operated as a hospital, run by the Sisters of Mercy, through 1964. After 5 years of hosting exhibits in the building, the Ouray County Museum officially purchased the site in 1976.
Ongoing Programs and Education: While there are no formal tours of the permanent collection, both staff and volunteers are always present to answer questions and provide additional information.
What’s Nearby: The Ouray County Historical Society operates a separate research center nearby, which contains over 30,000 documents and photographs related to the history of the mining town. The research center is home to the W. Ross Moore Mining History Library of the American West, which houses more than 9,000 titles. Ouray is also home to 36 unique historic buildings, from log cabins, to the courthouse, hotels and opera house. 1-2 hour walking tours of Ouray’s historical buildings are offered by the Ouray Historical Society and may be arranged through the museum.
420 6th Avenue Ouray, CO 81427, Phone: 970-325-4576
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