If you’re looking for mining history and Colorado mountain town ambience, you’ve arrived when you check in at the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton at a heady elevation of 9,318. Located in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado between Durango and Ouray, this historic hotel is on Main Street of what used to be the hottest mining town in the west.
If you’ve been to Silverton, you likely rode in on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a May to October Old West adventure starting in Durango. That’s how I first arrived in Silverton and discovered Grumpy’s Saloon & Restaurant, off the lobby of the Grand Imperial Hotel. After my bartender regaled me with Old West history including a bullet hole in the antique bar, I knew I’d have to return for an overnight in the “haunted” Grand Imperial Hotel.
History of the Grand Imperial Hotel
The Grand Imperial Hotel was built in 1882 with Victorian-style architecture. A Mr. C.S. Thomson, a representative of the Crown Perfumery of London, with significant interest in the Martha Rose Smelter in Silverton, saw the need for a hotel of the highest magnitude in Silverton; the hottest mining town in the west. He had fitting plans drawn of such an edifice complete with Mansard roof, three stories, arched windows, lower level saloon, dining hall, sample rooms, public restrooms, suites, stores, and even initially, the offices and courtrooms of the county. It was, and still is, one of the largest buildings in Silverton. Upon opening, the hotel was referred to as “the finest hotel in the state, outside of Denver.”
The Grand Imperial Hotel is infused with turn-of-the century history from Silverton’s colorful era as a mining boom town. Through the years the Grand Hotel, The Imperial Hotel, and now, The Grand Imperial Hotel, has witnessed the likes of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. Lillian Russell is also known to have spent many summers at The Grand. Her portrait can be seen in the lobby of the hotel. There is a bullet lodged in the antique bar (see below) of the nearby Grumpy’s saloon that is a telltale sign of the wilder times in Silverton.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, a throwback to the bygone days of steam trains and train robberies, stops just a block from their front door.
Arrival in Silverton
One road leads to Silverton, the Million Dollar Highway, US Highway 550. Silverton is located south from Ouray (21 miles) and north from Durango (50 miles). The drive to Silverton is nothing less than spectacular. Today, Silverton is a tourist town, which comes alive around lunch time when the train arrives as it is steps from the terminus of the railroad.
We arrived late afternoon, after the train passengers had departed. The quiet Main Street was almost a ghost town as we drove to the epi-center where the Grand Imperial Hotel is located. The 130 year old hotel features a Victorian décor laden lobby, with an antique piano in the corner at the entrance of the stairs which lead to the accommodations on the 2nd and 3rd floors.
There are no elevator option at this historic hotel, but the stairway is wide with plenty of room to lug your suitcases up to your room. (No matter how fit you are, the stairs will have you struggling for air in this high elevation town.)
It’s an historic hotel, and the rooms are not your typical perfect shaped and pristine condition. To retain the character of the Victorian era, the rooms rang in size from luxurious king beds with private seating areas and family suites with two rooms, to a King or Queen accommodations, some also with seating areas.
All are lovingly decorated in Victorian era furniture, wall colors (even to the point of Pepto Bismol pink…). The bathrooms are somewhat outdated but adequate. The beds are comfortable. The experience — priceless. Alas, no haunting or ghost stories to retell.
To the right of the main lobby’s front desk is Grumpy’s Saloon & Restaurant, open for lunch and dinner. Grumpy’s is a local favorite with a full bar, wines, beer, and local craft brews. As it is so busy, kick back and relax as oftentimes service is a bit slow, but always friendly. Look around the restaurant, ask the bartender/server to point out the bullet hole. We love the burgers here, but the full menu serves traditional American cuisines, such as Rocky Mountain Oysters, Chicken Fried Steak, and great cuts of beef including Prime Rib.
Other dining options are scattered throughout the small town, easily walkable. We attempted dining at Brown Bear Cafe, but after 20 minutes no one greeted us, and the one server we spotted was rude and yelled at several customers, including us. Save yourself the stress — Next door to the Grand Imperial is a lovely coffee shop.
We stayed one night at the Grand Imperial Hotel. The price is affordable, with rates starting at $79 per night. We love stepping back in time, enjoying conversations with the local, and staying in an historic hotel. Is this a fancy, 5-star historic hotel? Not at all, but it truly was a worthwhile unique experience.
Photos Courtesy of Diana Rowe