Otto Mears

Portrait of Otto Mears
Picture courtesy of the Doris Gregory Collection

Otto Mears was known as the Pathfinder of the San Juans. He helped miners and new arrivals by building roads and railroads throughout the San Juan Mountains. Although he became a very wealthy man, he had humble beginnings. He was orphaned at an early age in Russia. He arrived in San Francisco at the age of 11 to live with an uncle, but by the time he arrived, his uncle was long gone. He began building roads in Colorado when he realized how treacherous and unacceptable they were. Most of his roads were toll roads.


Drawing of Otto Mears
Picture by Julia Vann
His famous Million Dollar Highway up to Red Mountain Pass had a toll booth at Bear Creek Falls to cover the enormous costs of building that amazing road. He built the unique and famous narrow gauge railroad from Silverton to Ironton, as well as the rest of the Rainbow route, from Silverton to Durango, then on to Telluride, Ridgway, and up to Ouray. He spoke the Ute language and worked with Chief Ouray to keep the peace in the area. He left a large legacy in Ouray County.

by Jenny Hart

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