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In 1860, Charles Baker and several prospectors entered the San Juan Mountains in search of wealth. They soon found deposits of gold and silver along the Animas River, in an area that was later called “Baker’s Park.”
In 1874 Silverton’s town site was laid out and it soon became the center of numerous mining camps. In July 1882 the first train operated by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad rolled in to Silverton from Durango. By 1883, Silverton boasted of having a population of 2,000 people with four hundred buildings—two banks, five laundries, twenty nine saloons, several hotels, and a bawdy red light district, “Notorious” Blair Street. From the very beginning an imaginary line ran down Greene Street dividing the town between law-abiding, church-going residents on the West side and and the gamblers, prostitutes, variety theatres, dance halls and saloons on the East.
Many of the miners were young and single. Many were immigrants from all around the world. Many were survivors of the Civil War, looking for a new life in the wild, wild West. And what did the young miners do for rest and recreation? They frequented those twenty nine saloons. And where did the beer come from to wet their whistle? Breweries, lots of them. Between 1881 and 1915, Silverton boasted of a dozen breweries! Even Howardsville had one. Brought over by German immigrants, where beer brewing was an art, many of Silverton’s breweries were started by men with names like Fischer, Schultz, and Noll. Not to be outdone, the Italians quickly got into the act, and, along with beer, made wine, importing grapes by the boxcar-full from the San Luis Valley. Silverton also had several bottling works including the Standard Bottling Works which now houses the Silverton Movement Center on East 13th Street. And if that weren’t enough, Silverton also bottled soda pop!
Probably the most famous of those dozen breweries was the Silverton Brewery. It was built in 1901 along the banks of Mineral Creek at the base of Sultan Mountain by Charles Fischer. The brewery had been operating since 1883 and had outgrown its digs in town. The new brewery was managed by William Schultz, who later bought the business from Fischer in 1907. The Silverton Brewery operated until 1919, when Prohibition was enacted in the United States. Prohibition was repealed in 1933, but, out of 1,568 operating breweries in the US in 1910, only 750 breweries reopened in 1933. The Silverton Brewery was reincarnated in 2005 by award-winning brewers Katie and Joel Harvie. (Click here for story.)
An interesting little side note: the stones in the alcove behind the Christ of the Mines Shrine on Anvil
Mountain is made of stones from the old brewery!
Beverly Rich is a life-long resident of Silverton. She is Chairman of the San Juan County Historical Society and has written numerous articles for San Juan Publishing Group and the Silverton Magazine.
Waslsh Smelter and Fisher Brewery, circa 1888. © San Juan County Historical Society. All rights reserved.