San Juan County Historical Society Museum and Mining Heritage Center

San Juan County Historical Society Museum and Mining Heritage Center
Miners needing a break underground headed to the two-seater potty car. | Photo by Lincoln Adams / flickr

Staff writer

The San Juan County Historical Society Museum and Mining Heritage Center features a collection of local minerals, mining and surveying equipment from the late 1800s, a collection of Derringer handguns, a frontier schoolroom, and a fully equipped turn-of-the-century kitchen.

The museum is housed in the building that served as the San Juan County Jail starting in 1902, and the second floor still has original jail cells, complete with balls and chains.

The jail was built from a pre-fabricated kit shipped to Silverton by train from St. Louis. The prisoners were housed on the second and third floors and the sheriff’s family on part of the ground floor, which had a living room, a kitchen, and a bedroom. A heavy steel door led from the living room to the jail, followed by two more steel doors.

Jail records show that it was rarely empty in Silverton’s boomtown days but it fell into disuse as crime dwindled by the 1930s and was closed. It served for a time as a poorhouse and then was abandoned. It was donated for use as a museum in 1965.

A tunnel from the basement of the museum leads to the new, three-story Mining Heritage Center, which uses displays and artifacts to tell of the lives of local miners. A mine stope, where ore was excavated, is being built using equipment from the Sunnyside Mine.

The heritage center features displays of miners’ headgear, lighting systems, and tools, mine engineering and geology, blasting equipment, pot-bellied stoves and antique telephones, plus an antique assay lab, a blacksmith shop, and a repair shop for rock drills.

A wooden aerial tram tower from the Iowa-Tiger Mine and Mill has been relocated at the center, as has the log Caledonian Boarding House where miners lived while working at the Caledonia Mine in Minnie Gulch northeast of Silverton in the 1890s.

The museum and heritage center are open from late May until mid-October.

San Juan County Historical Society Museum and Mining Heritage Center
1569 Greene St.
Silverton, CO 81433
(970) 387-5838
Website