Sherman Townsite

Welcome to Sherman, one of the many small communitites in this region which boomed briefly, then slowly perished.  Named for an early pioneer, Sherman was founded in 1877, four years after the U.S. government and the native Ute Indians signed a treaty which opened up the San Juan Mountains to mining and settlement.

Sherman grew slowly at first, then expanded quickly in the 1880’s.  Mines in this area, such as the New Hope, Smile of Fortune, and Minnie Lee, yielded large amounts of gold, silver, copper, and lead.

The largest mine in this area, however, was the Black Wonder.  The Black Wonder was primarily a silver mine and was located on the hillside north of town.  For many years, this mine was the mainstay of Sherman’s economy.  Sherman, like many other mining towns in the San Juans, was basically a “one-mine town.”  Like a roller coaster, Sherman’s population and prosperity fluctuated with the fortunes of the Black Wonder mine.

Though Sherman was a relatively quiet community, residents here boasted optimistically of their town’s permanence and vitality.  In 1881, the Sherman House opened, offering “Good Accomodations for Travellers, Liquors, Wines, St. Louis Beer, and Cigars.”  A general merchandise store opened the same year, which “tempted the one hundred citizens to spend their money at home.”

During its peak in the mid-1880’s, the summer population of Sherman reached about 300 people, mostly miners.  During the fall, most residents left and few stayed in Sherman over the winter.  However, in the spring, after the snow had melted and the streams subsided, miners and merchants would move back into Sherman, repair their homes and stores, and resume their work.

Like many San Juan mining towns, Sherman’s downfall began in the 1890’s.  When the U.S. government went off the silver standard in 1893, the demand for silver dropped, creating a nationwide depression.  The drop in demand for silver forced the closure of scores of mines in the San Juans, and several in the Sherman area.

A second factor which led to Sherman’s decline was its poor location.  Situated at the confluence of Cottonwood Creek and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, and just downstream from Cataract Creek, the town was frequently flooded during the spring by snowmelt runoff.  Around 1900, a dam 147 feet high was built upstream to hold back the  churning waters, but a few days after completion, runoff from a cloudburst ripped the dam apart, and carried off much of Sherman as well.  Sherman never recovered from these setbacks, and by 1925, the town was deserted.

Little is left of Sherman today.  Still visible are the ruins of a few scattered cabins, many of which sit amidst stones rounded by streams and deposited by floodwaters.  The largest structure, the foundation of the Black Wonder mill, sits before you — a quiet reminder of this once thriving mining town.

Help preserve Sherman and other historic areas in this region so that future generations may enjoy them.  Please take only pictures and leave only footprints.  Thank you.

Bureau of Land Management

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