The Silverton Railroad was one of four narrow gauge lines operating out of Silverton, CO during its heyday. The main feeder route was the Denver & Rio Grande's Silverton Branch out to Durango. The Silverton Branch arrived in Silverton in early July 1882. The three other roads - the Silverton Railroad, the Silverton Northern, and the Silverton, Gladstone & Northerly - sprung up as feeder lines. These feeders would bring supplies up to the mines in the surrounding hills and to bring ore back to the Grande for shipment to the smelters in Durango.
The Silverton Railroad was incorporated on 5-Jul-1887 by Otto Mears and John L. McNeil. Josie Moore Crum notes in "Three Little Lines" that Mears' partner Fred Walsen was also likely an original partner. Some five miles of track to Burro Bridge were completed yet that year, with Red Mountain reached by September of the next year. Trains didn't reach Ironton - milepost 16.5 - until mid-1889. Eventually, sometime before 1892, SRR rails reached their final terminus at the Saratoga Mill in Albany, CO, by 1892.
Crum also notes a serious disparity between the official 1889 timetable mileage and the actual, surveyed mileage in 1892. The actual distance to Ironton? was 16.5 miles, but the 1889 SRR timetable listed it as milepost 20.
Mears' intention for the Silverton Railroad was to eventually reach Ouray?. His Rio Grande Southern already closed the loop between Silverton and Ouray? in 1891 by connecting Ridgway? with Durango?, but that made a 243 mile route to go a mere 8 miles. The sheer ruggedness of the north slope of Red Mountain Pass made the route very hostile to railways. Mears' originally surveyed route - his toll road - had sections of 19% grade, making it very unsuitable for anything but possibly a cog railway.
By late 1891, the "Ouray and Ironton Electric Railway, Light and Power Company" had been founded to build an electrified line Ouray? to Ironton?. The surveyed route would have had 7 percent grades, 35 degree curvature, and extensive tunneling. With the silver crash of 1893 only a bit over a year away, little became of Mears' electric railway.
Due to the mining bust that followed the 1893 silver panic, the Silverton Railroad eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1898. On 3-Nov-1904, its assets were sold and it was reincorporated as the Silverton Railway. It went on for a few years, though operations were clearly in decline. Passenger operations were cut back to Red Mountain by 1912. By 1917, the road was running seriously in the red. Operations wrapped up in 1921, and shortly thereafter the Silverton Railway filed for formal abandonment. By the end of 1922, abandonment was granted, though the rails didn't come up until 1926.
What Remains of the Silverton Railroad
Contrary to popular belief, the wye at the south end of Silverton, CO is *not* the connection between the Rio Grande's Silverton Branch and the Silverton Railroad. The Silverton RR ran on the west side of the Grande's yard, near the western edge of the furthest track today. It then turned west a block north of the wye tail, running down what would have been Sixth Street and then cutting over after the wye tail ended. A 1902 plat map in the Silverton Depot confirms this.
Most of the right of way on the east side of Red Mountain? has been obliterated by US Hwy 550. On the west side, the grade between Red Mountain? and Ironton? is supposedly largely intact, but away from the highway. Even the famous Corkscrew Gulch? covered turntable survives (contrary to Crum's assertion that it was salvaged for the Silverton Northern), sans covering and in very poor shape. Speculation is that the Corkscrew Gulch? cover went to the Silverton Northern turntable at Animas Forks.