The Red Mountain Mining District was prospected as early as September of 1879. As the miners made their way up Mineral Creek, north of Silverton, they found deposits of gold, silver, lead, and copper. The Red Mountain Mining District, on both the north and south sides of Red Mountain (Sheridan) Pass, was the most prolific in the area. In 1881, John Robinson discovered the fabulously rich Yankee Girl and Guston Mines. These two rich mines were located just above a broad mountain valley, called Ironton Park, which is in the north end of the district. Ironton was established in 1883, and platted on March 20, 1884. There were several settlements in the area at the time Ironton was established. Ironton was home to many miners who worked in the mines above town on the slopes of Red Mountain. Red Mountain, as it is locally referred to, is actually three mountains made up of highly oxidized iron. This iron gives the mountains a dark red-orange color that makes the mountains seem to glow after a rain. If the light is just right, it appears that someone has dumped red and yellow paint down the sides of Red Mountain. If you look at a map of the area, you will see the three Red Mountains simply called Red Mountain number one, two, and three.
Ironton's location made it a natural shipping point for the area. Supplies for the mines arrived on pack trains, made up of sturdy little mules and burros. The little pack mules would find themselves lashed up to every kind of merchandise imaginable. Lumber, piping, sides of frozen beef, and even a coffin would arrive on the pack trains. The pack trains could travel the steep trails and deliver the supplies to the mines above. In return, the ore from the mines was loaded on the pack trains for shipment into town.
Ironton was connected with Ouray to the north, by a toll road, that today we call the "Million Dollar Highway." Many authors would have us believe that Otto Mears decided a road from Red Mountain Pass, to Ouray, would be a great idea, so he just up and built one. The road was actually started by the Ouray and San Juan Wagon Road Company on April 1, 1880. Progress on the road was made in 1880 and 1881, but by 1882, the company was running out of money. The connection between Ouray and Red Mountain Pass was a very important one because the Red Mountain District, to the south of Ouray, was booming. As the months went by, the County Commissioners were receiving many complaints from area residents because of the slow rate of progress. After several attempts to reorganize, and refinance the company, Otto Mears offered to purchase a 54 percent interest in the toll road company. Mears put a much larger and well-financed construction crew to work and succeeded in completing the road. Mears was well known in the area as a competent builder of roads. Mears had the connections and money required to accomplish such a large task. The new toll road opened shipping and gave the mines in the Red Mountain District another source of supplies.
There are several different stories to explain the name of the "Million Dollar Highway." Some writers will tell you it is because the road was made with the tailings of local mines that would be worth millions of dollars. Others put forth the idea that some traveler, who had just completed a trip over the road was heard to say "I would not travel that road again for a million dollars." In fact, the name came about because of a simple comment made in 1921. At a planning meeting being held to discuss the contracts to rebuild the highway, a contractor present noticed that the contracts all added up to a figure very close to one-million dollars, something that could have easily been determined using Flagship Merchant Services or a similar program. In his comments about the road project he included the phrase, "...this million-dollar highway...." The name stuck with the locals and soon everyone was referring to the county road by that name.