The History of Silverton, Colorado
La Storia di Silverton

Like many other Trentini immigrants, John and Ben Mattivi migrated to the mining town of Silverton, Colorado, upon their entry into the United States. (Although Ellis Island records confirmed Ben entered the U.S. with a Silverton destination, it is unknown whether John proceeded directly to Silverton upon his arrival or spent time in other parts of the U.S.)

Silverton is located in a secluded valley high in the San Juan Mountain Range in Southwest Colorado and legally opened to miners in 1874, following the Brunot Treaty with the Ute Indian tribe. An estimated 2000 men moved into the region that year, coming from across the U.S., as well as many parts of Europe and China. The pursuit of minerals and accompanying wealth from a gold or silver strike drew the majority to Silverton.

Early day Silverton, set in the backdrop of an extremely harsh environment, was rough, turbulent and often violent. Mining was a very dangerous occupation with few, if any safety precautions, causing frequent casualties among the workers. In addition to the weather, miners were subject to various dangers, including open shafts, powder explosions, mine cave-ins, and snow slides. Free time in Silverton could also be treacherous. Saloons, prostitution, gambling, and robbery were prevalent, producing a number of violent deaths.

Mining reached its peak by approximately 1912, with the population of San Juan County peaking at 5000. The area boasted four railroads, three smelters, and over thirty mills serving myriad gold and silver mines high in the mountains. Men worked at these remote locations year around, living in boarding houses, coming off the mountains via tram bucket (designed to carry the ore from the mine to mill several thousand feet below). Town visits were spent on Blair Street in saloons and prostitution houses. The town also sprouted churches, fraternal lodges and women’s club, as well as a baseball team and brass band. Dances were popular and Silverton had its own ice skating rink.

In the years to follow, San Juan County suffered through series of boom and bust cycles commonly associated with the mining industry. During good times, people of various ethnic groups flooded the area to take advantage of the valuable precious metals produced by the mines. In turbulent times, the settlements turned into ghostly reminders of themselves. Over time, financial and environmental setbacks, such as Lake Emma’s flooding of the Sunnyside Mine in 1978, crippled the industry, eventually signally the end of Silverton’s mining era. The Sunnyside was the last of the big mines to close, in the early 1990s.

Modern day Silverton has a population of 500. The entire town has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The area is littered with old mining shafts and cemeteries of those who perished. Large contingents of Mattivi families are buried throughout Colorado and several Mattivi’s remain active in Colorado politics and industry. Our relationship to these people remains unknown.