Durango was founded in 1880 by General William Palmer. William Palmer was a general in the Civil War. In 1880 he was the main developer of Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. This railroad was planned to go from Denver to Texas. When silver and gold was discovered in Silverton Palmer decided it would be financially advantageous to also build a railroad spur to Silverton. Representatives of the Denver Rio Grande Railroad met with the town officials of Animas City asking for a train stop in their new town. The city council told the railroad they could build a train station in Animas City if they would pay for easement and fees. The railroad felt they shouldn’t have to pay any fees since the town would benefit financially from a railroad coming into town. The town council never budged from their position so the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad built the railroad anyway and founded the town of Durango. They built the railroad to go past Animas City without stopping. If the citizens of Animas City wanted to use the train they would have to come to Durango. Although William Palmer built a Hotel and railroad in Durango he only stayed in Durango once on his way to Silverton.
General Palmer built this Hotel in 1898 It was originally called the Hotel Savoy.
The Savoy Hotel was renamed The General Palmer Hotel.
I’m not sure when the above picture was taken but I took the picture below in 2018.
The Strater Hotel
The Strater was built in 1887 by a pharmacist by the name of Henry Strater. Henry had a pharmacy at the corner entrance to the building. He leased out the rest of the building to H. L. Rice who ran the Strater Hotel. Unfortunately the lease Henry Strater wrote up did not exclude the pharmacy and H. L. Rice insisted that the Strater Pharmacy move out of the building. Without a legal leg to stand on Strater did move out of his own building.
The below picture was taken in 1904. The building originally had a clock tower.
You can see from this next picture shot in the mid 1950’s that the clock tower no longer exists. The hotel has also been extended to the west (the right in this picture).
I took this next picture in 2018.
6th and Main Avenue
The above picture was taken in the 1970’s. The Strater and the Francisco’s Buildings haven't changed much but 6th street is now known as College Drive.
I took the picture below in 2018.
First National Bank
The First National Bank is the oldest continuous running business in Durango. It was founded in Animas City in 1880 and the next year this building was built.
The Newman Block
In 1892 Charles Newman built the Newman Block Building. It housed the Smelter National Bank until 1897. Colorado Territorial Governor Alexander Hunt and General Palmer from the D&GR Railroad then opened the Durango Trust Company in the Newman Block.
The Kiva Theater and the Durango Trust are seen in the above picture of the Newman Building taken in 1944. I took the picture below in 2019.
The Burns Bank
In 1892 this building on the corner was built as the Colorado State Bank. The bank failed during the silver crash of 1907. At that time the bank changed hands and became the Burns Bank. In 2000 the Bank of Colorado acquired the Burns Bank and used the building as a branch for a few years. Then the building became the Scoot'n Blues Cafe and Lounge until In September 2008. At that time the Irish Embassy opened in that location.
The above picture was taken in the 1920's. I took the picture below in 2018
Another view of 9th and Main
This is the intersection of 9th and Main. The First National Bank and the Burns Bank are across the street from each other.
The above picture is from the 1960’s. I took the picture below in 2018.
10th and Main
These pictures were taken at 10th and Main in downtown Durango. The above picture must have been taken in the 1930's. I took the picture below in 2019. Notice the El Rancho Tavern and the Central Hotel.
The Fire of 1889
On July 1, 1889 a fire started at the corner of 10th and Main in Durango. The fire quickly spread. Less than half a block away was the City Hall and a newly purchased Silsby fire pumper to put out such fires. The fire engulfed the City Hall and fire pumper before anyone could bring it out into the street to fight the fire. Flames shot high into the air. With few options to fight such a raging fire dynamite was used to destroy buildings in the path of the fire. The wide Boulevard (now called 3rd Ave.) acted as a fire break. By the time the fire was out it burned 11 stores, 6 saloons, 4 restaurants, the court house and 3 churches. The total damage was half a million dollars. Adjusted for inflation this is equivalent to $14 million in today's currency.
Sources: Rocky Mountain Boom Town by Duane Smith and the Durango Herald
The above picture was taken after the 1889*. The fire stared at the corner of 10th and Main at the center of the picture.
I took the picture below in 2019 from the same location.
* 1889 photo by Frank Gonner of the A. E. Wilder's gallery. Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library.
800 block of Main Avenue
This is the 800 block of Main Avenue. Most of these buildings are no longer standing unless you look down the next block where you’ll see the First National Band and the Burns Bank. In 1974 an arson fire destroyed six buildings on the western (left) side of the street. Gilbert Martinez confessed to starting the fire that took the life of a fireman and a police officer. The Main Mall was built where some of the destroyed buildings once stood.
The picture above was shot in 1956. Below is the same view but shot in 2018.
Above and below are pictures of Main and 11th Avenue.
Main Avenue bridge over the Animas
I was unable to recreate the above picture due to all the trees that are now growing in Rotary Park.
I was able to shoot the picture below near the fish hatchery in 2018.
The above picture is very similar to this old post card.
Above Photo used with the permission of the Center of Southwest Studies Fort Lewis College.
In the 50’s the Chief Diner was built at 2127 Main Ave.
Some pictures I’ve found show the sign saying the “Chief Restaurant” some say the “Chief Diner”.
The building has long since been demolished but the sign has been repurposed at the Toh Atin Gallery.
The Hanging Tree
On April 11, 1881 Henry R. Moorman went to the Coliseum Dance Hall in Durango. After getting rather drunk he got out his revolver and started to shoot up the place. He shot into the ceiling and into the floor. One bullet went strait into the chest of James Prindle who died instantly. Henry slipped out of the dance hall while everyone was tending to James. A posse of vigilantes tracked down Henry that night and hung him from a large ponderosa pine. This posse called themselves the "Committee of Safety". After Henry Moorman was dead the Committee of Safety put a note on his body saying "if you cut me down from this tree you will take my place".
This large pine is just to the left of the center of the picture below. This ponderosa was referred to as the "hanging tree" until it was cut down. The Toh-Atin Gallery is where the hanging tree used to stand.
The next and only other hanging in Durango was of George N. Woods in June 1882. This was a legal hanging. A judge sentenced George Woods to death by hanging for the murder of M. C. Buchanan at the Pacific Club Saloon.
Sources: Rocky Mountain Boom Town by Duane Smith and Pioneers of the San Juan Country by Sarah Decker
The picture above was taken in 1880, before the hanging.
I took the picture below of the same area in 2018.
The Durango Chamber of Commerce building was built in the 1960’s.
The above post card was taken in 1985. The picture below was taken in 2017, long after the Chamber of Commerce moved out of the building. The city has recently torn down this building and put up a new Chamber of Commerce at this location. I’ll take another picture of the new building soon.
The Presbyterian Church is at the corner of 12th Street and 3rd Ave.
The Presbyterian Church was built in 1889.
I took the picture below in 2009. You can see several changes, most notably the addition extending toward the west (right).