Otto Mears

Portrait of Otto Mears, from “Representative Men of Colorado in the Nineteenth Century”, pg 143. Publication date, 1902.

Otto Mears was born in Russia in 1840, the son of a Jewish Englishman and a Jewish Russian woman.  Orphaned at a young age, he was passed between a series of family members, finally arriving in San Francisco in 1851.  His family member there could not be found, so he was placed in a boarding house, where the eleven-year-old boy helped support himself selling newspapers. It was the beginning of a remarkable career for this restless and determined man.

Growing up quickly, Mears leapfrogged from this humble beginning, becoming variously a gold prospector, a volunteer in the Civil War, a business owner, newspaper publisher, land negotiator with local Native American Ute tribes, and an elected representative in the Colorado legislature in the 1880s.  Mears was also a pioneer in building the toll roads and railroads that opened southwestern Colorado for settlement and mining, earning him the nickname “Pathfinder of the San Juan.”  In total, he built over 450 miles of toll roads.  His narrow-gauge railroads, which traversed some extremely tough terrain, included the Silverton Railway (1888), Silverton Northern Railway (1896), and the Rio Grande Southern Railway (1892). 

 In 1897 with partners, Col. Ambrose C. Dunn and Charles Popper, Mears purchased the shares in the Chesapeake Beach Railway.  He established the Chesapeake Bay Construction Company and assumed presidency.  Mears brought David Moffat, prominent banker and one of the richest men in Colorado, into the venture, ensuring a ready supply of much-needed capital.

 In 1898 Mears personally oversaw the ongoing construction of the railway.  By the end of the year, the first passenger service on the line was available as far as Marlboro (today known as Upper Marlboro). Throughout the busy construction years, Otto Mears took a hand in every aspect of the operation – overseeing the contracts, construction, and developing a strenuous publicity campaign to promote the Beach resort for the June 9, 1900 official opening.  Baltimore and Washington newspapers carried ads announcing coming attractions at the “resort created at the cost of $1,000,000 by the men who made Colorado famous.” 

Mears lavishly entertaind investors, contractors, prospective patrons, politicians, and cronies.  He freely distributed 1,500 attractively lithographed railway passes.  But despite his indefatigable determination to create a first-class resort, the operation was plagued by mismanagement, poor investments, and bad judgement. When called to account for the mounting financial losses in 1902, Otto Mears resigned from CBR enterprise and returned to Colorado. (click here to return to the Founders & Vision page)

From Mears’ 1931 obituary; quote by Former Colorado governor and Senator Charles S. Thomas.