Durango’s Wild Years
From the outset Durango boomed. The Main Avenue and 2nd Avenue business districts flourished. Lots in the 3rd Avenue residential district sold for much higher prices than in nearby towns. Soon the town had a newspaper, the Durango Record. Coal mining around Durango led to construction of a smelter across the river. The coal mining accelerated construction of the railroad. Durango fortunately had several business dynamos like John Porter and General William Palmer of D&RG for planning and developing the town and its primary businesses. By 1880 Durango had seven hotels, dozens of saloons and dance halls, two theaters and many other businesses, including those that populated a “red light district” along the riverfront. Houses of prostitution proliferated.
By mid-1881, with over a thousand residents, Durango welcomes the first D&RG passenger train. Durango had become the commercial hub of San Juan County. In July 1889 the town proved its resilience by joining reconstruction after a potentially disastrous fire downtown. Reconstruction, however, was done in brick and stone replacing frame buildings. In 1887, the iconic Strater Hotel added to the town’s attractions, respectability and prominence. In 1890, with Durango’s population approaching 3,000, Otto Mears” Rio Grande Southern Railroad arrived in town. The rail line connected Durango to the north, up the Dolores River via Lizard Head Pass, with the towns of Rico, Ophir, Telluride, and then on to Ridgway where it connected with the D&RG Railroad.