Durango's Electric Street Car - 1880s
By 1884, within three years of the Durango’s inception, nearly half of the 1,780 lots originally laid out by the Founding Fathers of Durango (known as The Trust) had been sold – for an average of $160 each. For the next several years, this land purchasing and new home building trend shifted northward to the Fassbinder Addition – out of the grasp of the Trust. Fassbinder had homesteaded his acreage early on, his land bordering the Animas River just East of Main Avenue at 14th. He was one of the earliest providers of delivered water from his spring (the Fish Hatchery) at 40 cents a barrel.
Within the next six years, the Trust purchased land for residential development North of the Fassbinder Addition known as the Sunnyside Addition. And later, it bought much of Robert Dwyer’s 160 acre homestead located where the Fairgrounds is now – this became the Brookside Addition. At that time, these purchases, though farsighted, were in relative no man’s land, quite a distance between Animas City, (32nd and Main) (the thriving small community that preceeded Durango in the 1870’s) — and the hustling depot town of Durango, located more than a mile South. In 1891, a fledging experiment called the Durango City Suburban Street Railway came into being in the form of a horse drawn street car operating along Main Avenue. Apparently, its operators offended more patrons than they pleased. The horse and trolley
blocked Main Avenue and the operators were notorious for being oblivious to their passengers’ needs – regularly leaving potential riders at the curb. Within a year, the Trust bought out this early trolley experiment and named the new venture The Durango Railway and Realty Company.
The founding fathers therefore had the clever foresight to provide transportation from Durango to their
suburban lots — but simultaneously they were the movers behind Durango upgrading its source of electricity. Just as the trolley system was being electrified, a new power plant was being built in Durango. Without this significant improvement, there would have been inadequate power to run the streets lights as well as the trolley during periods of peak demand. By late 1892, this small trolley system with its big agenda, was one of the first in the State to become electrified. Interestingly, the amount the trolley company paid for electricity was not based on how much was actually consumed but varied according to the receipts for the day’s ridership. Not that this was unfair; but it ratifies the intertwining and powerful involvement that the men of the Trust, (William J. Palmer, William Bell, John Porter and Thomas Graden) had with every aspect of Durango’s early development.
The new street cars came in two versions: 5 heated winter cars with closed in glass windows and 3 summer cars which were open with awnings over the windows. Each had the
latest nickel in the slot apparatus as the ride cost a nickel each way and each car could carry between 24 and 30 people. Initially, as a horse drawn trolley, the tracks extended North from the Depot to where the Animas River crosses Main. By July of 1892, the tracks had been extended some 8 blocks to the Brookside Addition, approximately 24th and Main and where Brookside Park was created. The trolley stopped every hour on the hour at Fassbinder Park at 17th and Main. In this same vicinity, the single track split into two tracks to facilitate the passing of trolleys. Their storage barn was on the East side of Main Avenue, between 14th and 15th.
While the company looked to making a profit as a transportation system, its major purpose was to sell land – hopefully to a captive audience of Durango newcomers. For this reason, it behooved the company to wait 13 years before it extended the line to Animas City at 32nd Avenue. Once this thoroughfare was in place, the trolley/land company continued to market itself, creating reasons to visit these lots for sale. At Brookside Park there used to be a movie machine and a screen. People were enticed to go to the Brookside Addition and watch a movie for free. Many would take a picnic lunch. There used to be a sizable island in the Animas River at the east end of 19th Street. In 1906, the Company invested $3,000 for building summer houses, refreshment stands, boat houses and boats. A bandstand was built on the island and on Sunday afternoons, couples would ride the trolley and walk east to the river. The couples would row out to the island and spend pleasurable Sunday afternoons there. Unfortunately, the Company’s goals of profit, either by land or trolley, never materialized. Several times during the 29 year life of the company, stockholders were requested to make a loan to the company in the form of $5/per share owned. John Porter, long time President of the company, paid the trolley’s deficit each year out of his own pocket.
In 1916, the Company was forced to sell the 40 acres, now known as the Fairgrounds to the County Commissioners for $10,000. For 29 years then, Durango earned the distinction of having one of the smallest street railway systems every to operate in the United States, the Durango Railway and Realty Company. Like many systems, its final demise was brought about by the automobile and the new freedom it provided. For three decades, the trolley’s existence along Main Avenue in Durango was due more to the Company’s tenacious belief in the future than for profit. For most every year of its existence, any ostensible claim that its operation was in the black was facilitated by the generous personal contribution of John Porter. The last year of its operation was no different – the Trolley posted a profit in 1921 to the tune of 25 cents.
5875 Highway 550
Durango, Colorado 81303
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