Ridgway Public Library
The Ridgway Public Library occupies one of the town’s historic buildings. | Photo by cybrgrl / flickr.com

Staff writer

Ridgway calls itself the “Gateway to the San Juans” for good reasons, and its historic downtown took a star turn in the 1969 movie “True Grit” that won John Wayne his first and only Oscar.

From Ridgway, U.S. 550 runs south through the historic mining towns of Ouray and Silverton to Durango, including the narrow, winding marvel of engineering known as the “Million Dollar Highway” between Ouray and Silverton. Also, Colorado 62 leads from Ridgway across Dallas Divide to Colorado 145, ski town Telluride, Lizard Head Pass, Dolores and Cortez.

Those highways, plus Colorado 160 between Durango and Cortez, form the San Juan Skyway, a scenic and historic route with stunning views of Colorado’s legendary San Juan Mountains.

Ridgway also served as a key rail hub for mines in the region. The town was the northern terminus of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad that ran south to Telluride and for a branch railroad line that ran south to Ouray. Ridgway also was the southern terminus of the Rio Grande Western Railroad that led to Montrose and connections to points east and west for shipments of gold and silver ore.

The town was incorporated in 1891 by Robert M. Ridgway, a superintendent for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, and was named after him. The railroad began hauling not just ore but also tourists the same year, developing the “Around the Circle” tours that followed the route of today’s San Juan Skyway.

The railroad later withdrew from the area, abandoning the line between Ridgway and Ouray in 1953 and the line between Ridgway and Montrose in 1976.

Ridgway made its first movie appearance in the 1956 movie “Tribute to a Bad Man,” starring James Cagney as a rancher battling rustlers, followed by the epic “How the West Was Won” in 1962.

Ridgway’s star turn, however, came in “True Grit.” The downtown was given over to filming for weeks, and a gallows was set up in Hartwell Park, which serves as the town square, for a key scene.

Buildings along Lena Street were coated with dirt, and hitching posts and horse troughs were added to reflect the movie’s setting in Arkansas in 1880. Horses occupied stables at the corner Lena and Charles streets.

In addition to Wayne, the movie starred Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Jeremy Slate, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper.

Ridgway Railroad Museum
Ridgway State Park

Ridgway facts
Population: 924 (2010 Census).
Land area: 2 square miles.
County: Ouray (Ouray is the county seat).
Altitude: 6,985 feet above sea level.
Climate: Cool summers, cold winters and low humidity, with abundant sunshine year-round. Annual precipitation of 17 inches, including average snowfall of 84 inches a year. July averages: 83 high and 45 low. January averages: 40 high and 5 low. More information >>