Animas Museum: More than a Building

Hi, I’m Beth Drum with Alpine Bank, At Alpine bank, we value the services that our nonprofit community offers. We hope you enjoy meeting some of these change makers as part of the Alpine Bank series, Community Matters.

La Plata County Historical Society discovered a silver lining in the dark cloud of the Animas Museum’s pandemic closure this past year, and that’s that history buffs remained hungry for stories about Durango’s past. Now, you can expect more programs and stories to come out of the museum as it readies for a post-pandemic soft opening on Tuesday, July 6th. Like most nonprofits in the region, the La Plata County Historical Society was forced to close the museum during the pandemic. The society was also forced to lay off all staff members and cancel all educational tours and in-person programming, but that didn’t stop the society from producing a well-attended online lecture series or from conducting research on several projects, including expansion of its popular Law and Disorder exhibit, and the production of a self-guided tour of Durango featuring the devastating fire of 1889. The cause of that fire on a hot, dry windy July date remains a mystery, but it quickly spread through the town, destroying six blocks of highly flammable wood and canvas buildings and leaving more than a hundred families homeless.

That fire destroyed, so it destroyed so much, including three churches, the City Hall, which is where the fire pumper was, and they couldn’t even get the brand new Silsby fire pumper out of the City Hall Fire Department before it burnt down. It was just horrible.

That fire also shaped the Durango we see today. Businesses were required to use fire resistant brick and mortar to rebuild in the Victorian era style that gives downtown Durango its charm. That’s just one of the many stories you can learn about Durango’s past from the La Plata County Historical Society. At the museum, originally built in 1903 as the Animas City School, you can experience an early 20th-century classroom and read about the history of education in the region. The Joy Cabin, believed to be one of the first homes in the area, features an exhibit about the day-to-day lives of Durango’s earliest settlers in the 1870s, and the Peterson House next door, originally built as lodging for railroad personnel, is outfitted as a depression era home. Not luxurious by any standards, but even modest families had electricity and running water. While the museum is headquarters for the historical society, its primary mission is the preservation of local history and history education.

And we’re not just a building. We’re a lot more than the building. Our membership is so important. People from Durango and really people who love Durango but they can’t live here are members, and they’re so supportive. We’ve kind of found the silver lining this past year in the pandemic with Zoom and being able to do webinars and to be able to talk about people and things that happened and businesses and history and safely have talks that people from all over can get involved in. And it’s just been really successful, a lot more successful than we thought. So, yeah, that sharing that knowledge is the big part, not just coming into a building and being quiet, but to learn the stories and the history of this place that we all really love.

Jones said the historical society will resume its educational programming as money, time and resources allow. The society recently hired a new fundraiser to help it recover financially. Meanwhile, it will continue its lecture series and will resume on-site and in-classroom educational experiences for area students. Volunteers recently completed a series of history trunks that contain educational materials that teachers can check out to create lessons about Durango and La Plata County history, and volunteers remain on call to help with local research projects. Jones said the museum will be open from 10 to 4 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Hours will be extended as more volunteer docents come on board to conduct tours. Researchers should make an appointment ahead of a visit. For more information, visit animasmuseum.org. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I’m Wendy Graham Settle.

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