Top 10 True Western Towns of 2008

6. DURANGO, CO

Durango’s gain was Animas City’s loss.

Back in 1880, officials at the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad were looking to set up service in the San Juan mining district. The mountain town of Silverton was going to be a major stop on the line. The D&RG wanted Animas City to be another. Except for one little thing—the railroad asked for a “contribution” from the town. The town fathers refused. So the depot was built at Durango—which the railroad created from whole cloth. Result: Durango boomed and is still with us. Animas City declined and isn’t.

Durango has managed to preserve its heritage in spite of some huge economic changes, such as when mining petered out in the 1950s-60s. Tourism and recreational sports (read: skiing) more than made up for the slack. And Victorian buildings have new life as boutique shops, restaurants and lofts. No wonder the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the town one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations last year.

Another reason for the recognition—quality museums. The Anasazi Heritage Center, Center for Southwest Studies, Animas Museum and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum maintain and tell the stories of the various cultures, events and individuals who made this area so remarkable.

Locals are intent on staying on that path.

Renovations are ongoing at the 1893 Power House. It’s the oldest steam AC power plant in the country; plans call for it to be the Durango Discovery Museum when it opens in 2009. Work was completed on the El Rancho Tavern before, sadly, a fire destroyed part of the building. Restoration continues on the Wallace Furniture and McKnight Jewelry buildings.

Work has even improved the legendary Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad—the operation has gone “green.” Faced with a decision of modifying its current fuel or going to steam power, officials opted to burn coal during the day and wood pellets at night. So the railroad throws out less pollution while maintaining its historical accuracy during daylight operations.

Moreover, city fathers, business leaders and concerned citizens have drawn up plans to further economic development while preserving and maintaining Durango’s heritage. This groundbreaking effort promises to be a blueprint for similar towns in coming years. The future is bright, indeed.

Say, whatever happened to Animas City?

Correction, Feb 2008: The print publication stated the power plant in Durango, Colorado, was the oldest AC plant still in existence, failing to point out it is the oldest powered by steam. The oldest, and first, to transmit AC current was the Ames Station in nearby Ophir. Built two years earlier in 1891, this AC plant was powered by water and is still generating electricity today!

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