History Template

Durango - Train Rush Town - 1880

In 1880, before the townsite of Durango was declared and defined, there was little here but sunflowers and sagebrush. At the time, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad was still East of Wolf Creek, busy employing 4,700 men to extend its 551 miles of tracts originating from Denver. So in September when a huge announcement was made that within a year, these railroad tracks would extend to a newly created town called Durango, the announcement was received with a gold rush-type frenzy. Transportation by rail rather than oxen or mule meant freight rates would drop from $60.00 a ton to $16.00 a ton. Durango became a boomtown overnight. Within five months of the announcement, Durango already had a newspaper boasting a circulation of 1800. By March, six months before the railroad arrived, Durango’s population had grown to 2500. There were 150 business houses: 6 dry goods stores, 3 drug stores, the San Juan Bank which eventually became the First National Bank, 5 lumber companies, one smelter constructed at the base of Smelter Mountain – the operation of which would commence upon the arrival of the railroad, 10 real estate firms, 6 hotels, 10 restaurants, 4 meat markets, one variety theater and 59 places where one could get a drink. The main business street at the time was Railroad Street down the center of which would eventually be the railroad tracks, both sides of the street lined with businesses. This was all West and parallel to what was then known as First Street, now Main Avenue. All buildings were hastily constructed of wood. Over the years, fires would wipe out whole blocks of these establishments. When a fire threatened the town, buildings were dynamited in an attempt to restrict a fire’s spread. Over the years, these fires served as the catalyst in moving these businesses onto Main Avenue (then called First) and changing the construction from wood to stone (quarried from Horse Gulch – far East end of Third Street). The original Courthouse, made of wood was located where the Strater now stands. Durango had more than its share of saloons. While Animas City (located at 32nd Avenue and Main Avenue) had three, Durango had 20 saloons five months before the railroad ever arrived. Standing side by side along First Street (or Main Ave), was a solid front of saloons, most of them with gambling houses in the rear. Going North from G Street (9th), there was the Bank of the San Juan, then the Hub, the Oriental, the Keg, the Office, the Red Light, the Gold Room, George Dicksen’s, the Horseshoe and the Turf. Tucked in the middle of this block was a barber shop. The Hub and the Horseshoe were the biggest gambling places. The Horseshoe had an added attraction – a cage of monkeys. The whole town lamented when one of the monkeys died of pneumonia. Whiskey was the drink of the day, the choice was bourbon or rye. The railroad was soon to bring it in by the barrels. These saloons stayed open all night, gambling was with roulette or the faro bank. Craps and poker were the principal games of chance. One of the faro bank dealers was a woman who made a good living supporting two fatherless children. She was a tremendous woman, probably 5’9 tall and weighing some 250 – 300 pounds. When the first bicycles came to town, the ones with the huge front wheels, she got herself one. She wore a voluminous white mother hubbard most of the time, with large flowing sleeves. When she road this bicycle down the street, she looked like a miniature circus tent in motion. Around the corner from the saloons between 9th and 10th sprang up the Red Light district West of Railroad Street. On H Street, (now 10th St.) signs announced the Silver Bell, Elite Parlors, the Big Two, Bessie’s, Jennie’s, Mattie’s and many others. One of these sporting houses was a negro parlor house known as The Hanging Gardens of Babylon located at 11th. It was known to be quite successful because of a superstition at the time that a visit inside would turn around a miner’s streak of bad luck. The first variety theater in Durango was The Coliseum. It stood where McDonald’s is now near the Depot. The Clipper Threatre which had a tougher reputation was located where the Old Tymer’s Cafe is now located before it was Wall’s Drug Store. In those days, all men carried at least a double action six-shooting revolver. Inside the Coliseum one night, Henry Moorman, a gambler, shot another patron in cold blood in sight of everyone else. As Durango had yet to adopt any government or peace officers, Moorman became the subject of Durango’s first lynching. He was hung under the auspices of the Committee of Safety composed of 300 men on April 11, 1881 under a huge pine tree located where Tah-Atin gallery is now situated. Going East from where this pine tree once stood – where 9th now crosses Main Avenue, there used to be a huge boulder that sat in the middle of the street for many years. The boulder was blasted and disposed of in 1884.


5875 Highway 550
Durango, Colorado 81303
We are located 12 miles South of Walmart​

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