The name of Gunnison honors the life of John W. Gunnison who first explored the region searching for a transcontinental railroad route. Mr. Gunnison stayed for only three days in 1853 and was never to return to the town and region that would bear his name. He met his fate at the hands of renegade Indians in Utah several months after leaving Gunnison.
Gunnison Country first began to boom in the 1870s along with the rush of mining activity in Colorado. The Ute Indians had been forced out of the area and many ranchers, traders and miners began to move in. Gunnison became the official seat of Gunnison County on May 22, 1877. In 1880 the railroad arrived, welcomed by not only miners but by the ranchers and farmers as well.
Gunnison saw one of the quickest boom and bust cycles ever as the mines and railroads came to town in the 1880s along with all the normal business increases it created. But, by 1883 a mining bust had come to town and half of the population departed. It seems the precious ore veins that were discovered turned out to be shallow and low producing.
In 1909, Gunnison Colorado State Normal School was founded, in 1915 the name was changed to Western State College, and in 2011 Western became Western State Colorado University.
The Gunnison historical museum complex displays a restored turn-of-the-century schoolhouse, the town’s first post office and a railroad depot, complete with a steam engine and cars from the DG&RG Railroad. It also showcases one of the largest antique car collections in the state.