Southwest Colorado and Durango History
Durango, Colorado sits in the midst of some of the world’s most beautiful mountain scenery, a richness that is matched only by its colorful history – the Durango History.
Indeed, the hills were filled with silver and gold, and miners by the scores began to flock to the area in the 1870s. The town of Durango itself was the child of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Company, established in 1879. Company management planned and laid out the charming downtown that remains today, though when the railroad first “arrived” in town on August 5, 1881, Durango was dubbed the “Smelter City” and “the new city in the wilderness,” as it was host to the region’s growing smelting, mining, and agricultural economy.
With the then state-of-the-art rail transportation and the “quick money” made by the area’s miners, enterprising merchants, saloon gals, ranchers, and farmers soon settled into the valley, giving a balance to the city’s economy and culture. The newcomers built churches, schools, and many of the fine buildings and Victorian homes still standing today.
Durango was designed to be the most “up-to-date” city in Colorado. Nothing could compare to it, if her boosters had anything to say about it. Signs of progress began to appear everywhere in the late 1880s and early 1890s, including a grand hotel (the four-story brick Strater), electric lights with a home owned electric company, the telephone, an electric trolley, and a three-story sky scraper with an electric elevator (Newman Building – 800 Main).
Over the years, Durango became less and less dependent on mining, and increasingly diversified with tourism, oil and natural gas production, higher education, and clean light industry. Fort Lewis College contributes greatly to the stature and personality of the community.
The area’s rich history actually predates the development of Durango by at least 1,300 years. The mild climate, fertile soils, and abundant wild game first attracted the ancestral Puebloan culture around 700 AD. Some of the most spectacular and well-preserved Puebloan ruins in the United States are found within a 100-mile radius of the Strater Hotel. The government has declared many sites protected for the sole purpose of studying the ancient inhabitants of this area.
The most famous site containing ruins of the complete Ancestral Puebloan development is, of course, Mesa Verde National Park. However, to the south are the Aztec Ruins, Chaco Canyon, and the Salmon Ruins that display the Ancestral Puebloan culture in its various stages of development and decline.