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Durango History

Thanks to the Animas Museum for most of this information.

The Animas ValleyIn 1874, the Ute Tribe signed the Brunot Agreement, ceding a large portion of land in Southwest Colorado. The land came from a Ute reservation established in 1868. White settlers soon moved into the Animas Valley, clearing farms and fencing ranches. In the San Juan Mountains, seen to the north in this picture, mining quickly developed, and the town of Animas City, about two miles north of the future site of Durango, was platted in 1876.

The town of Durango actually owes its existence to the railroad. Denver & Rio Grande officials originally intended to extend the line to Silverton from Animas City but the residents and business people raised their asking price for land for the train depot and offices. Denver & Rio Grande executives decided to bypass Animas City and establish their own town to the south. A Denver & Rio Grande director named Alexander Hunt had just returned from a trip to the Mexican city of Durango, and that name was chosen for the new settlement. Once Durango was established, many people from Animas City picked up and moved to the new town, realizing the business the railroad would bring. What was once Animas City is now the north part of Durango.

Historic Homes of 3rd Ave.By 1881 Durango was a fully-functioning town with its own government. Buildings sprang up and the San Juan and New York Mining and Smelter Company built a smelter in town. By the early 1890s Durango had electric power, a streetcar, several newspapers, and over 2,700 inhabitants. The heart of the historic residential district is tree-lined Third Avenue, where many gracious old homes have been restored to their original splendor.

The Historic Strater Hotel on Main Ave.In the past 100 years Durango has grown and changed with the times, growing more rapidly in recent years as big-city dwellers move here to find small-town life in a beautiful rural setting.

The architectural variety of the buildings downtown reflects economic changes during Durango's development. Here are some landmarks to look for in the Main Avenue Historic District:

  • The railroad depot at the east end of Main is a National Historic Landmark.
  • The Wetter Building at 605 Main is the oldest building on its block, and was built in 1883 as a boarding house.
  • La Plata Bottling Works and Saloon were owned by Adolph Coors until 1915. The brewery and bottling works were located at 643 Main, the saloon at 645. During Prohibition, Durango's first Coca-Cola franchisee bought the properties.
  • The Strater Hotel at 699 Main opened in 1888 during a period of wealth brought by the railroad, the mines, and the smelter. The hotel is a Durango landmark and combines Renaissance, Italianate, and Romanesque styles.
  • 713 Main, originally a red brick, Victorian-era storefront, was remodeled with glazed tile and large-pane windows to fit in with Durango's "modern" look, popular in the 1930s and 40s. Now it houses Stuart's of Durango.
  • The storefront at 846 Main was modernized during the same period as 713 Main, the building was given a veneer of Carrera Glass for a streamlined, contemporary look.
  • The Denver & Rio Grande's land development company was housed in the building at 863-871 Main. It was built to be a model for future construction, as the Denver & Rio Grande tried to require property owners to use brick and stone in construction. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful in this attempt, and in 1889 much of the city burned.
  • Between 1890 and Prohibition, saloons and gambling halls sprang up on the 900 block, and the west side became known as the "saloon district."

There are historic buildings and landmarks all along Main Avenue. Find more of Durango's fascinating history at the Animas Museum at the corner of 31st Street and West 2nd Avenue.

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