Welcome to the Beaumont Hotel in Ouray, Colorado, founded in 1886.
Nowadays, many travelers enter Ouray from the south after having experienced the description-defying road known as “The Million Dollar Highway.” As you round the final bend before descending into Ouray, stop for a moment and contemplate the town below and what the valley might have looked like to a hopeful miner as he entered the area in the 1870s, before there even was a town.
(According to Mary at the town’s visitor center, the correct pronunciation of OURAY is YIR-RAY. It’s not YOU-RAY or OOO-RAY.)
WHAT A SIGHT—We don’t know if that early prospector came into this box canyon from the north or the south. However, we must presume that, as he surveyed mountains that rose from the valley below, he had a jaw-dropping, breath-catching moment that only nature’s grandeur can inspire. But enough of the beautiful setting; there was silver to be found!
Word of abundant minerals spread quickly through Colorado’s mining grapevine and by 1876 a little town in the valley was incorporated and began shipping ore. It was nothing more than a few tents and even fewer log cabins, but Umcompahgre City’s population hit 400 in no time. By 1880, the settlement was called Ouray—after Ute peacemaker, Chief Ouray—and mines had sprung up all through the surrounding mountains. Mining in the Rockies was difficult, but the dreams of the hopeful persisted.
Ouray was a rough town, as was the case with most of Colorado’s mining communities. Streets were always either dusty or muddy. Saloons and brothels were successful, taking most of what the miners dug out of the hillsides. Since Ouray’s early economy was formed from difficult-to-mine silver, wealth was slow in coming. But when the railroad made its way to Ouray in 1879, things started moving quickly. Investment capitalists and their families arrived, more shops and businesses opened, boardwalks made walking down Main Street a bit less dirty, and things were looking up. By this time, gold was also being mined in the area. It was fortunate that the gold held out and Ouray did not lose its way during the Silver Panic of 1893.
IF WE BUILD IT, WE HOPE THEY WILL COME—People came to Ouray before there was a hotel of any substance to house them. Fortunately, Colonel Charles Nix sold his Albany Hotel in Denver and saw fit to invest the profits in a new accommodation in Ouray. His vision was to build a fine hotel that would lure mining investors from the East and would also become a social hub for the town.
Nix provided the funds and a board of directors formed the basis of the Ouray Real Estate and Building Association whose purpose was to build and manage the hotel, named the Beaumont. The directors knew that, to impress investors, the new hostelry had to be every bit as magnificent as the surrounding mountains and able to blend its Victorian elegance into the raucous mining town.
As the hotel was being constructed, it became evident that more guestrooms would needed, so the architectural plans were amended to include a third story. Dominated by a large tower, the hotel’s imposing presence gave the Beaumont a grand air. Atop the tower, a fancy cast iron weather vane announced the 1886 completion date. With the directors’ lofty aspirations, $75,000 of Nix’s money and at the height of the gold boom, the hotel opened in July 1887, amidst bright lights, floral arrangements, orchestral music, and finely dressed ladies and gents. What started as Nix’s dream became the most outstanding and recognized building in Ouray.
“THE FLAGSHIP OF THE SAN JUANS”—Gentlemen entered the Beaumont from 3rd Street (now Main Street) and the more modest ladies’ entrance was around the corner on 5th Avenue. Even in this rough-around-the-edges mining town, a refined lady would not dare enter from 3rd Street unless escorted by a gentleman.
Upon entering the Beaumont, guests were greeted by an elegant rotunda with a grand staircase that rose from the lobby and split, like a wishbone, into two stairways at the second floor. Hand-made brass corner and tread plates protected the stairs. A large clock dominated the second-floor landing.
Sleeping accommodations on the upper floors were grouped around a hallway underneath the rotunda skylight. On a bright Colorado day, the entire lobby was bathed in sunlight. From any room, guests at the Beaumont had spectacular views of the mountains that surround Ouray. Appropriately, the hotel’s name means “beautiful mountain.”
A GRADUAL DECLINE—Upon the hotel’s completion, the business was immediately leased to Nix to take advantage of his knowledge of the hotel industry. Even though it looked like the hotel was a rousing success, the directors were worried that business wasn’t quite as brisk as they had initially envisioned. When the Silver Panic hit in 1893, the directors had to default on the loan made by Nix and he became the sole owner.
Excellent managers were hired by Nix and the hotel was able to hold on for several decades. But by the 1940s, travelers were gravitating to less formal, less expensive accommodations. Room stays were down at the Beaumont. After a dispute with the city in the mid-1960s, then-owner Wayland Phillips painted the hotel’s exterior pink, boarded it up and vowed it would never reopen. Indeed, it remained vacant for 35 years during which time the elements took their toll. The hotel was precariously close to being razed.
A NEW LIFE FOR THE OLD HOTEL—Thankfully, in 1998, the Beaumont was purchased at auction before the wrecking ball took down the building. The new owners vowed to reconstruct, repair and restore the Beaumont. The pink facade was returned to its earlier glory by individually torching each brick to bubble up the paint and then meticulously scraping off the goo. Furniture was salvaged from wherever it had been tossed or stored. Original floors, ceilings and woodwork were reclaimed. The entire structure was renovated to meet the expectations of modern-day guests while still preserving the property’s historical grandeur and elegance.
A lofty vision driven by passion and several million dollars in restorative funds allowed the magnificent Beaumont Hotel to once again claim her place as “The Flagship of the San Juans.”
Next and final stop on the road trip . . . . . The New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Colorado.
IF YOU VISIT—
The Beaumont Hotel
505 Main Street
Ouray, Colorado 81427
For information about the town of Ouray: www.ouraycolorado.com
The Amphitheater at sunset: Sit on a bench outside the town police station (620 6th Avenue) and wait for the setting sun to cast its evening colors on the nearby rock formation known as the Amphitheater. Gold to shades of gray then majestic pink . . . . . Have patience and you will be rewarded!