By David Singer ...
The Silverton Northern Engine House is a contributing structure within the Silverton National Historic Landmark District. The Silverton Northern Railroad was incorporated in 1895; three years after the Denver and Rio Grande arrived in Silverton from Durango. Railroads were vitally important to the development of mines, especially into regions of lower grade ore, and as lifelines in supplying the needs of the people in the mining communities like Silverton. At one time Silverton was served by four railroads. As mentioned above, the Denver and Rio Grande railroad arrived in Silverton in 1882, but refused to build to mining communities higher into the mountains beyond Silverton. As a result, Otto Mears, the "Pathfinder" of the San Juan's built two railroads which journeyed to the more remote mining and mill sites. The Silverton Northern was one of these lines, servicing areas northeast up the Animas River corridor to Animas Forks. Mears second railroad was called the Silverton Railroad, incorporated two years later in 1897, and it ran northwestward up Mineral Creek to the Red Mountain Mining district. Operations eventually ceased on the Silverton Northern in 1939. The remaining Silverton Northern track, engines, and some rolling stock was sent to Alaska in 1942 for use on the White Pass & Yukon railroad to help with the war effort in building the historic Alcan highway.
Today, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad operates over the 45 miles of track between Durango in La Plata County and Silverton in San Juan County. The railway is a federally designated National Historic Landmark and is also designated by the American Society of Civil Engineers as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
The Silverton Northern Engine House and several sections of track leading to the ghost town of Animas Forks are all that remain of this vital railroad's history.
The San Juan County Historical Society functioning in partnership with the Durango Railroad Historical Society has been working toward establishing a railroad historical park, on which to display the 315 and restored railcars. These efforts have recently culminated in a critical project, which is now underway, connecting the Durango-Silverton line to the Silverton Northern engine house. Realizing the dream of the establishment of a living rail museum with the historic equipment operating on a historic railway is close at hand. This assessment project is critical to moving the project forward and keeping up the "head of steam" we've generated through our current funding efforts and implementation of improvements to the track. The rehabilitation of the engine house is inextricably linked to the urgent need to have the building available for the protection, stabilization and preservation of the historic rolling stock that is part of Silverton's historic railyard before they deteriorate further.
Another related grant awarded from the SHF is being implemented to restore two Denver and Rio Grande Western gondolas. It is critical to have the engine house rehabilitated to protect this investment in their restoration, and to establish a public place for these restored railcars to be displayed. In addition, the engine house will serve as a permanent home for the storage of the 315 engine, which has been painstakingly restored. Both the 315 and Casey Jones railbus need to be kept inside to protect them from the elements, vandals, and thieves.