Ridgway Colorado History & Heritage

History & Heritage

A collection of cultural and economic artifacts and sites awaits your exploration

Ouray County offers something for every history buff, from easy access to ghost towns to scenic ranches and world-class museums. Prior to the mining era of the 1860s to 1950s, Ouray was inhabitated by the native Utes. As mining grew, so did the ranching and railroad industries supporting it. Today, Ouray County celebrates its unique Western heritage with museums dedicated to mining, railroading, ranching and the Utes, as well as private collections and a beautiful historic fairgrounds that hosts the annual Labor Day Ouray County Fair & Rodeo.

True Grit in Ridgway Colorado

A History of True Grit

True Grit was certainly one of the most famous Westerns ever made. The film was directed by Henry Hathaway, famed for his work on a long string of Westerns most notably in the 1950s and '60s, with the top stars of his day: Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott and John Wayne. True Grit's celebrity-studded cast featured Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper.

Spectacular scenery around our charming Colorado town caught the attention of the director of the film that was released in 1969. Ouray County was the main film location with key sets in the movie located right in Ridgway. In six weeks in 1968, the film crew turned the center of this old railroad town into the 1880s-style Fort Smith, Arkansas, complete with Hanging Judge Parker’s three-man gallows. The firehouse now survives as an artist studio, and the livery stable became the post office. The jail wagon, which John Wayne brings back from the Indian Territories, now sits in the front yard of the Ouray County Ranch History Museum, the building that was originally the Old Rio Grand Southern Railroad Depot. A short walk up Clinton Street, past the Sherbino Theater, leads you to the living quarters of Rooster Cogburn. Be sure to visit the John Wayne-themed True Grit Cafe and check out the actor and movie memorabilia.

Read more: A History of True Grit

Regional Museums

From our well-known Railroad Museum to the growing Ouray County Ranch History Museum, Ridgway has a lot of history packed into our little town. Within short drives to neighboring towns, you can also learn about mining, the Utes and other local history. 

Read more: Regional Museums

Ranching Heritage

Ridgway, home of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad, had its beginning as a railroad town in 1890. Otto Mears, known as the Pathfinder of the San Juans for his network of toll roads, and his fellow investors founded the town to be the headquarters of their Rio Grande Southern Railroad (R.G.S.). The R.G.S was to connect the new town with Durango, passing through the rich mining camps of Telluride and Rico along the way. The R.G.S. was 162 miles long,crossed more than 140 bridges and trestles and connected to the Ouray branch of the Denver & Rio Grande at Ridgway.

Read more: Ranching Heritage

Workshops & Lectures

The tight-knit community of Ridgway is full of interesting people with unusual and fascinating backgrounds, as well as historians with deep knowledge of a variety of people and places. From top international athletes to prominent scientists and artists, we have a large pool of experts who are happy to share their stories, insights and knowledge through presentations, films and discussions. Locals also are connected to world-renown presenters who love to make the journey to our beautiful valley, where they can enlighten and inspire.

Read more: Workshops & Lectures

True Grit, filmed in Ridgway Colorado

On The Big Screen

The captivating beauty of Ridgway, Ouray and surrounding areas has attracted a number of production companies making movies, documentaries and commercials. More than 100 films have been made in southwestern Colorado. The rugged peaks, steep canyons, rustic mine buildings and ghost towns of the San Juan Mountains make you feel as though you are still in the Old West of the American frontier. Hollywood filmmakers have always thought so too. Thus, the Ridgway area has served as settings for several classic western movies. Many film sites, buildings, props and embellishments may still be seen in and around our town.

Read more: On The Big Screen

More things to do in Ridgway...

  • Photography all year round!
  • Fishing in lakes & rivers
  • Rafting & Kayaking
  • Fly Fishing
  • Playing in the river at Rollans Park
  • Windsurfing & Sailing
  • Windsurfing & Sailing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Camping & Backpacking
  • Scenic Drives
  • Motorcycle Touring
  • Skateboarding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife viewing & Birding
  • Sledding & Snowmobiling
  • Skiing and Snowboarding
  • XCountry Skiing & Snowshoeing

Visitors Center & Ridgway Area Chamber

The Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce promotes business and community development in the Town of Ridgway and the surrounding area. The chamber operates the Visitors Center, which is open from May 1 through October 1 and is located at 150 Racecourse Road, Ridgway, Colorado 81432 (across from Citizens Bank off of HWY 62).

P.O. Box 544
Ridgway, Colorado 81432

800.220.4959
970.626.5181
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See you in Ridgway

Adventure, night life and all around easy living await you in Ridgway Colorado, gateway to the San Juan Mountains.

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