The town of Ouray is named after a Ute Indian Chief, Chief Ouray. Ouray was raised in the Taos valley but moved to Colorado when he was 17. He became the chief of the Uncompahgre Ute Tribe when he was only 35. During his time leading the tribe, white people were fighting for gold, silver and land in the same area where the Utes lived, and Ouray became known nationwide for his diplomacy in dealing with the U.S. government and protecting his people while valuing peace. Chief Ouray died in 1880 and was highly respected by both Native American tribes throughout the country as well as by the government officials he dealt with throughout his life.
The town of Ouray was first established as a mining camp around 1877. The first prospectors arrived in the area in 1875 and found gold veins just south of the current town. Ouray was officially incorporated on October 2, 1876, and one year later about 1,000 people had moved there. Soon, ore mining in the surrounding hills had also taken off, and Ouray was becoming the central shipping and logistics center for the region.
PHOTOS: Historic Ouray
Through this time, however, Ouray remained relatively inaccessible. But in September 1882, the Denver and Rio Grand Railway was built through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and reached Montrose, just north of Ouray. However, it would take another five years for the line to extend the rest of the way into the town. Finally, in December 1887, the railroad arrived in Ouray and the first narrow gouge tours began in 1888.
Around the same time, in 1887, the Beaumont Hotel opened in Ouray, attracting a new clientele to the area. Designed after the Brown Palace in Denver, the elegant hotel was known as the finest in Western Colorado. During its heyday, guests like Sarah Bernhardt, Herbert Hoover and Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Ouray to stay at the Beaumont. This would be the start of a huge tourism boom in the area.
Though the hot springs in Ouray had been used since at least the 14th century by both the Ute Indians and miners, construction on an actual hot springs pool began in the town in the 1920's. Mineral water from Box Canyon that reaches temperatures from 80 to 150 degrees was fed by gravity into the pool on the south end of the town. The pool opened on July 4, 1927, and one of the largest crowds in Ouray's history attended the opening. The pool has been in operation ever since, and was completely renovated for the first time since that original construction last winter.
Today, the entirety of Main Street in Ouray is registered as a National Historic District with most of the buildings dating back to the late 1800s. A detailed walking tour provided by Ouray Chamber Resort Association as well as interpretive signs along the street explain the history and architectural details of many of these buildings.