Durango, Colorado was established in 1881 when the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad decided to build a track to Silverton and established Durango as the hub of its rail system. Many of the original buildings constructed by Durango’s pioneers are still in use today. They can be seen in the historic districts of Third Avenue and Main Avenue. Rio Grande Land,located at the far southern end of Main, contains the restored depot built in 1881. The Strater Hotel, built in 1887, and a reflection of the town’s prosperity, remains a central attraction in downtown Durango.
Durango has an ideal four-season climate with fairly mild temperatures year-round. Winters are mostly mild and sunny with clear, dry streets in the downtown area, but snow in the nearby mountains. Summers are warm but not too hot, and the low humidity makes even the hottest days quite bearable. Fall time usually offers an “Indian Summer” stretching into November, with glorious fall colors, warm days and crisp nights.
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has been in continuous operation for over 120 years. Two museums display at either end of the line. The Durango museum located in the roundhouse of the D&SNGRR offers 12,000 square feet of exhibit space with full-size locomotives, historic coaches, railroad collectibles, books, lamps, locks, art, photos and china.
Southwest Colorado is the archaeological center for the United States. Explore the ancient dwellings once inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloans at Mesa Verde National Park. The park was selected by National Geographic Traveler as one of The Best Places of a Lifetime to Visit as well as named the #1 Monument in the World by Conde Naste Traveler.
Durango Mountain Resort, formerly Purgatory Resort, is located 25 miles north of Durango. 1200 acres of terrain is served by 11 lifts with an average snowfall of 260 inches and 2,029 feet of vertical drop.
Arts & Culture
The Durango area offers a wealth of art and culture. Our numerous galleries feature locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally known artists. The Gallery Guide, which you can download here, provides a complete list of local galleries as well as a map. Additionally, the Durango Art Center, a 35-year old nonprofit organization, supports Durango’s thriving art community through underwriting more than a dozen exhibits, professional dance performances, concerts, Chautauqua lectures, educational programs and a myriad of arts and cultural offerings for everyone. The Fort Lewis College Art Gallery, located in the Art Building of Fort Lewis College, features changing monthly exhibitions of student and professional work in a variety of media.
Bit of Durango History
In 1879 the Denver and Rio Grande railroad, (D&RG) began surveying North of what is now Durango to plan its rails that would trek the San Juan mountains. Durango, Colorado was established in September of 1880. Durango was nearly the town that wasn’t. The tiny community of Animas City had already established itself on the Northern end of where Durango is today.
When the D&RG railroad first came to the area the intention was to make Animas City the center for Southwest Colorado. However,the railroad wished to lay down certain terms in order for the D&RG presence at Animas City to become a reality. The city council did not like the terms the D&RG requested so they refused to allow the railroad to stop in Animas City. As a result the D&RG went just two miles south of Animas City and established its own town, which would be named after Durango, Mexico.
Durango’s industry consisted mainly of the smelter at the base of Smelter mountain and mining coal. The smelter became the center for many of the mines around the area. The smelter was supported by one of Durango’s first entrepreneurs, John Porter, who after a short stint at a smelter in Silverton, Colorado and a small town in Nevada, guided construction on the Durango smelter in October of 1880. Other entrepreneurs began their ventures as well, building restaurants, hotels, blacksmith shops and markets for a variety of goods and services.
In the Summer of 1889 Durango’s growth enthusiasm was dampened by a fire that took out seven blocks from the center of town. Strong winds fueled the fire and increased the loss. Troops were called in to protect what was left and the Durango citizens rallied together to help each other and assist those who were less fortunate and the town of Durango, Colorado rebuilt itself — with bricks and stone. Many of those buildings stand today.
By 1910 Durango had grown to slightly over 4,500 people. In the same year, the automobile surfaced in Durango and residents were told by the city council to make their own license plates to put on their cars. The council also set speed limits for certain parts of town and attempted strict enforcement of the laws. By 1911 Durango had three automobile agencies and an auto club.
Turbulent weather patterns marked the turn of the century.In 1901 a drought practically suffocated the land. The Animas River was nearly dry from drought. Then in 1910 Durango suffered the “100 year flood”.It washed out bridges and flooded homes and streets all around Durango. Some of the waters even flowed onto Main Street. To the east side of the river much of the low land was flooded.
Following World War I, the world-wide flu epidemic of 1918 hit, killing over 30 million people around the world. The Durango area was not immune from the grip of Influenza. When the epidemic was at its worst in the late fall of 1918, the government quarantined the entire San Juan Basin,forbidding anyone to travel in or out of La Plata County by any method.
A good decade in the life of Durango closed with the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. The closing of the smelter was the jolt it took for Durango to realize just how hard the depression had hit. Over 200 smelter employees found themselves without a job and the struggle for existence in Durango became paramount.
The 1940’s brought World War II. Many people moved from the Durango area to take jobs in defense factories and other industrial jobs that Durango no longer had. The smelter reopened under government regulations to process vanadium and mining was strengthened by the search for vanadium. Coal mining also experienced a resurgence although only in some of the area mines.Agriculture did well during the war as a result of the demand for food products.
The 50’s and 60’s saw many changes in Durango. Agriculture took a dip after its rich war years and even the train seemed to be suffering from a variety of circumstances. The presence of better roads and automobiles and the lack of presence of smelters and mines needing product hauled, was a large factor in the reduction of train routes around the area. In 1951 the Rio Grande southern made its final trip and one by one the rail routes in and out of Durango disappeared. Only one remained — the narrow gauge between Durango and Silverton, Colorado, which was increasing in popularity as a tourist attraction.
As the 70’s rolled in, so did more growth. There was much discussion as to how to better control it and more discussion about stopping it. Durango townsfolk were divided with those who wanted it to be the way it was and those who wanted Durango to continue to grow. In 1974 Durango saw another fire that took out nearly a block of Main Street businesses. The Main Mall now stands in their place. Durango’s children were being educated in several elementary schools, two Junior High Schools and One High School. Durango High School moved from its tenth street location to a brand new building on the northern end of Durango in the mid 1970’s.
The La Plata County population saw a staggering increase in the 1990’s. La Plata had a population of 32,284 in 1990 and an estimated population of 43,000 at the end of 1999.
Summarized from the history information available at Durango.com.