The museum has a new home in the old Ridgway railroad depot . . . and long-range plans for a new museum just down the road.

Story by Kathryn R. Burke

Ranching remains a vital part of Ouray County’s economic history. In 2006, the Ouray County Ranch History Museum (OCRHM) was formed to help preserve and protect that history. Their first location was two rooms, on the north side of the old Colona School, built in 1915 and now owned by the Colona Grange. The museum moved part of its collection of historic artifacts to the old school, but much of the collection, especially larger pieces like farm equipment and the wagon from the movie, True Grit (pictured below), had to be housed and stored at private locations. Due to infrastructure restrictions, the facility was also limited to summer time visitation and had no disability-access restrooms. Clearly, a better solution was needed.

The OCRHM Board dreamed of finding a place large enough to display the entire collection and convenient enough for folks to come see, enjoy, and learn more about area ranching history. The dream came true when the historic Ridgway Railroad Depot became available. OCRHM acquired the building in 2016, just ten years after the first museum was established.

BOD President, Joan Chismire, board members, volunteers, and her family began transferring the muesum’s collection to the new location, which, due to modern plumbing, heating, electricity, and restroom facilities, can welcome visitors any time of the year. The museum opened at the new location in June of 2017. Since then, it has been steadily adding to an already extensive collection of historical artifacts. It’s a pretty impressive collection. And growing.

Which means, the museum will need more space. It looks like they’ve got it! Long-range plans for the Ranch Museum include neighboring with the Railroad museum to create a new complex on nearly 17 acres (recently acquired through donor participation). The ranch museum will have a new museum, just east of the Ridgway Library. The railroad museum will move into the old depot, presently occupied by OCRHM. Both non-profit organizations will have adequate room for both indoor and outdoor displays, including railroad and farm equipment. A common entrance off Railroad and Charles Streets will lead to parking areas with easy access to the entire complex. “It’s all pretty exciting,” says Chismire. “We’ve been working on this for quite some time, and we’re really glad to see it is going to happen.”

The new location encompasses 11 rooms of exhibits now, instead of just two. The depot, which had been used as a private home after it was purchased from the railroad in 1965, has plenty of display space. Upstairs, four former bedrooms display a schoolroom, Victorian bedroom, heritage quilt and sewing room, ranchland and water/reservoir room. Downstairs collections include kitchen, pantry, laundry, family history, parlor area, and main lobby museum displays. The garage houses a tool and tack room. Outside displays include 1888 cabin, ranch machinery, tractors, sleigh, and the True Grit Movie Jail Wagon. More displays and artifacts arrive almost daily. What you see today when you visit, may be changed, augmented, or just plain different the next time you check out the museum.

Top: The old Colona School. ©James Burke
Center: The Ridgway Depot, now the Ranch Museum. Wagon from True Grit film in front. ©Joan Chismire
Bottom, Museum with old farm tractor. ©Joan Chismire