History of Durango, CO: Explore Durango's Interesting Local History
The city of Durango, Colorado, has almost 150 years of history as a small yet thriving city in the mountains, with roots digging even further in the sands of time. Over 6,500 feet above the sea, this city of almost 19,000 people, like many in Colorado, was officially founded as a mining town after the discovery of gold.
Modern-day Durango is a city influenced by its history. Historic downtown Durango reflects the era of centuries ago, while many businesses, museums, and art galleries are dedicated to the stories of the native people who lived in the region for hundreds of years before European settlement. Those who live in the city cherish its history, and those who visit are fascinated by the stories of the past. Let's take a look at Durango's ongoing history.
The Ute Tribe Calls Durango Home
As part of the Native American tribes that were residents of the northern Great Basin Snake River Plain, the Ute tribe has made Colorado home for centuries. The Ute people appeared in present-day southern Nevada and eastern California around AD 1000–1200 and began their migration into Colorado around 1300. By the earliest part of the 17th century, the Southern and Central Rockies and the Colorado Plateau were part of the Utes territory. There were 13 historic tribes, each set as a family community. The tribes would come together when special ceremonies took place and traded goods. Their hunting and gathering range was expansive, bringing them into areas that are now California, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Wyoming.
The tribes also traded with other Native Americans. In the mid-1600s, the Utes encountered the Spanish, who introduced horses to the tribe, significantly impacting their culture regarding their ability to travel greater distances to procure food and supplies and expand their territory. Horses also enhanced the tribe's standing and power.
By the early part of the 19th century, more Europeans, French Canadians, and Spanish traders, plus newcomer and settler expansion, strengthened the Utes' ability to trade. Today, the Ute Mountain Reservation, consisting of over 553,000 acres distributed between New Mexico and Colorado, is a prosperous self-governing nation.
Settlers Arrive in Durango
The discovery of gold in the mountains led to a rush of miners to the area. This was when life in Durango began to change significantly.
Durango got its start when a prospector discovered "gold in them there hills," meaning the San Juan Mountains. There was also an abundance of silver to be mined. Once the discovery became public knowledge, a flood of people, from farmers to miners, made their way to the area in hopes of striking it rich.
Construction was busy in the Animas Valley, with homes for settlers and businesses supplying goods and services. The town of Durango was no more than a dream in 1880 when railroad officials drew up its plans; by 1881, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad served the area, transporting precious minerals. Just one year after the railroad appeared, settlers established 134 businesses in Durango.
The town continued to grow once the Silverton Branch was completed. The 45-mile line from Durango to the town of Silverton served the many mining camps, which were isolated until the railroad arrived with limited ways of transporting the minerals over the Continental Divide.
Durango has had its ups and downs through the decades, especially during World War II. Today, it remains a sought-after tourist destination and home base for residents seeking the comfort of Durango townhouses or luxury homes amid the beauty of the Rockies.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Arrives>In the mid-19th century, a mining district was developed in the region. By 1880, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Company decided to build a track in the area, and the shape of modern Durango was formed. When the city was established in 1880, there were 2,400 residents. By 1910, nearly 4,700 people called Durango home.
The mining business remained busy until the early part of the 1900s, producing over $65 million in gold and other minerals from 1882 until 1918. When World War II ended, the draw to Silverton was tourism.
In 1981, the Denver and Rio Grande Railway was renamed Durango & Silverton Gauge Railroad. It is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. Today, tourists still enjoy full-day scenic trips aboard the vintage steam train as they ride back in time through the majestic Rocky Mountains, past the Animas River and the San Juan National Forest, and roll into the historic town of Silverton.
The narrow gauge railway that first connected Durango to Silverton is still in operation. However, it is not used by miners trying to get back and forth but by tourists who want to enjoy a peaceful ride through the mountains. Tourism is a prominent industry in Durango, and the community relies on its visitors to return year after year. Downtown Durango is filled with hotels, restaurants, and local shops.
Many residents of Durango work in the tourism sector. Fortunately, the charming downtown area and the breathtaking views of the Colorado mountains make this city an eternally popular place for people to visit.
The Durango Herald Newspaper
The Durango Herald newspaper has had a long and storied history since George and J.S. Marsh began publication on June 30, 1881. Part of the Herald's story begins with Caroline Romney, who wrote, edited, and published Durango's first newspaper, The Record, from a tent in December 1880. Romney was known for not holding back when a story needed to be told, including refusing to retract a published piece about notorious outlaws who rode together as the Stockton/Eskridge Gang.
In 1892, Dave Day moved to Durango and started his newspaper, the Durango Democrat. Another publication, the Trade's Journal, was created by Frank Hartman, who then had a shoot-out with Day, resulting in a gunshot wound to Hartman. Things were quiet until 1922 when Rod Day, son of Dave Day, fatally shot the city editor of the Herald, William L. Wood. Rod Day was found not guilty of the charges.
The Herald and the Durango Democrat merged in 1928 as the Herald-Democrat, and in 1930, Rod Day started publishing the Durango News every week. In 1952, Morley and Arthur Ballantine purchased the merged Herald-Democrat newspaper and Day's Durango News, changing them into the Herald-News. In 1960, the name changed again to The Durango Herald.
Durango Becomes a Winter Sports Destination
Colorado is known for its stunning views and snow-covered mountains, and in 1965, Chet Anderson and Ray Duncan decided it was time to take advantage of the landscape and open it to the public. This resulted in the design and creation of the Purgatory Ski Area. Construction was slow due to inclement weather, but the lodge, lift, and trails were completed in late fall, with the grand opening celebration on January 8, 1966.
Over the next two decades, Purgatory grew with more ski lifts, a learning center, and other facilities. This time was also active with the construction of condos and townhouses. The area has gone through financial woes through the years, rebounded with more than 80,000 skiers visiting, experienced changes in management, and went through the property being sold in 2000. The new owners, Gary and Cobb Engle, changed the name to Durango Mountain Resort. Since then, the resort has sold again, and the new owner changed the name back to Purgatory Resort.
For visitors and Durango residents, the resort is a getaway destination to enjoy during the summer with ziplines, a waterslide, mini-golf, hiking, and biking to experience. Snow enthusiasts will find the slopes a new challenge for skiing and snowboarding, and sleigh rides, snowmobiles, and snowshoe tours to keep busy.
Historic Monuments in Durango
History is preserved in the heart of Durango, CO, where visitors and locals have the opportunity to explore several different national historic monuments. These monuments offer a glimpse into what life was like nearly a thousand years ago in this same region of the world. Anyone who wants to learn more about the ancient civilizations who once called this region home should take the time to visit these historic monuments.
Four Corners National Monument
The Four Corners National Monument is one of the most unique historic locations in the entire country. At this point, the states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet and form four corners. Potentially, a visitor can be in all four places at once if they place themselves strategically on the monument. The monument is located within the lands of the Navajo Nation and is in a fairly remote location. Those who choose to visit the Four Corners will find that the journey is worthwhile, as it is an experience that can't be enjoyed in any other part of the United States.
Hovenweep National Monument
More than 700 years ago, approximately 2,500 people lived in the villages of Hovenweep. Today, the remains of these six prehistoric villages are preserved at the Hovenweep National Monument and can be explored by the modern residents of Durango, CO. It is believed that the villages were occupied by ancient members of the Pueblo tribe. The villages were abandoned in the 13th century, but the reason is unclear. Those who visit the villages today will marvel at the stone structures that still exist despite being abandoned centuries before. The villages were created by expert engineers who considered every detail when building the structures. The hiking trails that exist throughout Hovenweep give people plenty of opportunities to customize their experience and see the various aspects of this monument.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
The Aztec Ruins National Monument is another example of ancient Pueblo life that has been preserved near Durango, CO. This national monument includes a 400-room ancestral Pueblo house that is estimated to be about 900 years old. Visitors will find that there is a half-mile trail that winds throughout the ancient site, taking them through the various rooms of the home. People will discover that there are still original pieces of timber supporting the structure, and there are reconstructed areas that mirror what life would have been like for the people who called this place home.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park was dedicated more than 100 years ago, and its keepers have worked to preserve the archeological heritage site that is located within its borders. At this national park, visitors will find an ancient Pueblo site embedded in the cliffs. It is one of the most unique historic sites in the country and allows people to learn more about the ancient Pueblo way of life. Historic experts note that the Pueblo people lived in these dwellings for more than 700 years, and today, modern visitors can explore the ruins and experience the culture for themselves.
Living in Durango
For those who enjoy nature and all the outdoor activities each season provides, moving to Durango may be a perfect choice, but history buffs will find plenty to engage themselves too. Riding a bit of living history at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum, strolling through downtown and seeing the Wild West across the architecture, or finding new history in the winter snows — there's no shortage of things to take in, whether you're here for life or just for a visit.