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About Durango History
Durango was organized in September 1881 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG) to serve the San Juan mining district. The D&RG chose a site south of Animas City for its depot. The city is named after Durango, Mexico, which was named after Durango, Spain. The word Durango originates from the Basque word “urango” meaning “water town.” The name suggestion apparently came from Governor Hunt, a stockholder in the D&RG Railroad, who had recently traveled in Mexico.
A considerable amount of history unfolded in the San Juans before Durango was organized. Spanish prospectors were there in 1775 followed by Father Escalante’s expedition in 1776, the year of Colorado’s statehood. Documented history of the area began with Charles Baker’s discovery of gold in the Silverton area (originally called Baker’s Park).
Some of Baker’s party moved south and formed the original Animas City in 1860. They built a log cabin on the west side of the Animas River. The official city was established in 1876. The population was about 3,000. Animas City officially became a suburb of Durango on January 1, 1948.
A prelude to the demise of Animas City
That Animas City had not dreamed that Durango would ever supplant her is shown by an item in the Animas City Southwest of May 1, 1880, which reads: ”The Bank of San Juan has issued a circular in which it is stated that a branch office will be opened at the new town of Durango on the Rio Animas. Where the new town of Durango is to be or not to be God and the D. and R. G. Railroad only know. If they are in ‘cahoots,’ we ask for a special dispensation.”
How quickly the town was discovered is shown by an item in the first number of the Durango Daily Record of December 29th of the same year, which reads: ”All of Animas City is coming to Durango as fast as accommodations can be secured. Even the Animas City Southwest is coming, despite its small opinions of our dimensions. It will move down some time next week. (The Colorado Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 3, May 1930)
Durango Firsts (a few notable firsts)
The first stake for the survey of the city of Durango was driven by Charles M. Perin on September 13, 1880.
Bruce Hunt, son of Governor Hunt opened the first stock of goods ever offered for sale in Durango in October, 1880.
Rev. C.M. Hoge from Ouray’s Episcopal Church, held service January 16, 1881 in a hotel.
First school was held in the new Episcopal Church.
First wedding of James Luttrell and Katherine Wittman was held November 27, 1880 in the home of the bride.
The first newspaper published in Durango, The Durango Record, made its appearance on December 29, 1880, using the plant of the Leadville Clipper, which Governor Hunt had purchased and shipped to Durango.
The first residence of importance was built by Frank Jackson in 1881.
First baby born on January 31, 1881 was Mary Isabelle Pearson. All the business, saloons and gambling places presented gifts. Among the gifts were a horse, saddle and two building lots! The celebration of birth was heralded in the Police Gazette of New York City.
First telegraph lines were completed to Durango on July 30, 1881. The first telegram was sent to press throughout the nation announcing the Denver & Rio Grande would reach Durango the first of August. Governor Pitkin arrived to give a speech. A train carrying former governors Hunt and Evans and General William Palmer arrive the following day after a delay due to high water.
The Denver & Rio Grand railroad arrived in Durango on August 5, 1881.
The first post office building was just behind the First National Bank Building, 1881.
The first mails were brought from Alamosa to Animas City via Pagosa Springs and then taken to Durango by anyone who happened to be going in that direction. They dumped the mail into a cracker box in the rear of Harry Schiffer’s store, where the mail was hunted out by anyone expecting a communication! LOL
Durango, as first laid out, was almost entirely a box tent town, except for a few small stores, restaurants and a number of saloons and dancehalls.
The Record enumerated the advantages of Durango – “As a place of residence states that there were six stores carrying dry goods and general stocks. three drug stores, four hardware stores, three wholesale and retail groceries, one furniture store, one bank and one smelter, five lumber
companies, four brickyards, twelve firms dealing in real estate and mines, four livery stables, six hotels, twelve restaurants, six lodging houses, four bakeries, six meat markets, three fruit and confectionery stores, three saddlery and harness shops, three paint shops, three blacksmith shops, two tailor shops, two shoe shops, four news depots and cigar stands, three barber shops, three stage and express companies, two wholesale liquor establishments and twenty-five saloons, and as a concession to the fair sex, one millinery store, four jewelry stores and one dressmaker.” (The Durango Record, 1881)
Prehistory and History of the Durango area
Historic Walking Tour Facts
Durango has five (5) diverse and must-see museums:
- R.H. Crossland Foundation Museum — Historical Documents.
- Center of Southwest Studies:Archives, Library & Museum — Connecting others with Southwest’s dynamic heritage.
- The Animas Museum — Keeping La Plata County history & culture alive for present and future generations.
- Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum — History of railroading, especially from the D&RGW line.
- Powerhouse Science Center — Providing an entertaining & inspiring look at “energy — past, present, and future.”
Vintage Durango Photos
Enjoy our selection of Books about Durango!
Durango, Colorado – Parks & Recreation
National Gold Medal Award Winner
Durango Train Ride to Silverton
Enjoy Durango’s railroad history with a trip on the Denver & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad