Ouray is one of the great little mountain towns you’ll find along the San Juan Skyway scenic byway. And one of the best ways to get to know the town, is by checking out its excellent museum.
The Ouray County Historical Museum was originally the St. Joseph’s Miner’s Hospital when it opened in 1887. One of the best reasons to visit the museum is to see the original hospital rooms, including the operating room, which has been preserved. But, there’s a whole lot more crammed into this building at the end of 6th Avenue… so let’s go inside!
The museum paints a picture of what it was like to live in Ouray over the past century.
There’s a nice collection of insulators, taken from the telephone and telegraph poles that used to connect Ouray with the outside world.
You may also notice this picture of Bear Creek Falls. Notice the bridge and toll booth above the falls — it was here that Otto Mears collected the $5 toll for traveling over the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton. (Check out what the bridge and waterfall look like today.)
One room shows you what it was like to live in Ouray back in the 1920’s — assuming you had money. The life-size portrat shows Evalyn Walsh McLean and her two sons. McLean was the daughter of Tom Walsh, owner of the Camp Bird Mine.
Down the hall on the first floor, you can see an authentic soda fountain…
… and general store set-up.
This room would be a dream for any child in the early 20th century. It’s filled with the kind of toys that would be deemed too dangerous for today’s kids.
Head upstairs to see the medical offices. The dental office contains a scary-looking x-ray machine, most likely the first one to ever be shipped to the area. The dental chair was most likely shipped here via freight wagon.
Nothing makes you appreciate the 21st century more than a look at a turn-of-the-20th-century operating room. From 1887 until 1920, the Sisters of Mercy nuns ran the hospital. In 1920, Dr. Carl Bates bought the hospital, and operated it for 26 years. Eventually the hospital was downgraded to a clinic (in 1957) and then closed (in 1964).
Check out the miner on the table, waiting to be cut open, and you can see a bottle of “anesthesia” next to him. That’s Jim Beam brand anesthesia.
Just like any good hospital, this one has a bear. Jim The Bear, to be specific. Jim was a “pet” of Dr. W.W.Rowan, one of the hospital’s earliest doctors. The Doc kept Jim as a tourist attraction, until the bear started growing up into a full-size, scary creature. Rowan realized that Jim could be dangerous, so he had him killed and stuffed, and put on display in Rowan’s drug store.
Doctor Ed Spangler’s office is also preserved here. Dr. Spangler worked at the hospital in the late 40’s and early 50’s.
One room recreates the law office of Judge Philip Icke, who served Ouray for decades.
Head down to the basement of the Ouray County Historical Museum, and you can check out the hospital’s kitchen.
I don’t know if the kitchen has a problem with rats, but the recreated county jail certainly does.
You can walk inside this jail cell, for a look at what it was like to be on the wrong side of the law, back in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, they don’t let you swing the door closed.
There’s also a room full of rocks… I mean, minerals! (Apologies to Hank Schrader).
It’s hard to conceive of all the different kinds of minerals that are catalogued and displayed in this room.
Another room nearby dazzles you with a look at some of the minerals under a black light.
And, you get to walk through a dimly-lit simulated mine, for an idea of the working conditions these guys faced.
Outside the museum, pay homage to Chief Ouray, a Ute warrior who lived in the area during the summer months. Yes, apparently Ute warriors can be snowbirds.
A collection of authentic frontier buildings surrounds the museum.
You can peek inside for an idea of what life was like in Ouray, for anyone who wasn’t the wealthy daughter of a mine owner.
The Bottom Line
You can easily spend an hour or more at the Ouray County Historical Museum. If you get caught in Ouray on a rainy or snowy day, the museum provides a great place to spend some time. And as a bonus, you’ll learn a lot about Ouray and the surrounding area.
Ouray, Colorado (pronounced sort-of like HOO-ray!) is located along US Highway 550, at the northern end of the Million Dollar Highway segment of the road. From Grand Junction, Colorado and Interstate 70, take US 50 east, then US 550 south through Delta, Montrose, and Ridgway.
The Ouray County Historical Museum is located uphill from Main Street, near the end of 6th Avenue.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive over Red Mountain Pass on the Million Dollar Highway, between Ouray and Silverton: