The idea for this article began when I met with the director of Durango’s Animas Museum, Carolyn Bowra (now retired) and heard about a special publication they were working on called ‘We Are What We Eat – Sharing Our History Through Food.’ (see it here)
History buff, foodie or not, it’s a fascinating read with compelling stories, beginning with the prehistoric Southwestern Colorado peoples, how communities and towns were established, the introduction of agriculture and orchards, the mining boom, pioneers, “farm to table 1874 style.’ Then goes on to describe Durango’s depression era, stories of feeding the soldiers of Fort Lewis (now Fort Lewis College) …. all this, with vintage photos and menus, many of which residents of the town remember from back in the day.
The following vintage photos are courtesy of The La Plata Historical Society and The Animas Museum. (La Plata means silver in Spanish.)
(Note: This is a re-post of one of our most requested #TBT articles from exactly 2 years ago …)
Food critics were born … the silver and gold boom section tells the story of boarding houses that provided a place for the miners to sleep between shifts, and prepare hearty meals and lunch boxes. Good cooks were in demand. If the food didn’t meet their expectations, the miners were very vocal about it and caused quite a headache for the mining companies until a new and better cook was found.
The population grew. Farmers and ranchers discovered the rich and fertile soil of the Animas Valley and began planting a variety of vegetables and grasses as well as orchards. Farm to table was under way.
“Food connects humanity, not only as life giving nourishment, but socially.”
1920 Children Gardening
Nowadays when we want to go out for dinner, we can zip online and see what tickles our taste buds. In the 1960s, passengers arriving at the Durango Depot would flip through this dining guide …
A spiral notebook filled with copies of local menus. Some are printed in the history museum’s publication … along with photos of signage, and notes from Durango residents sharing memories … ‘Restaurant Reminiscing.’
It’s amazing how oysters have been so immensely popular in this landlocked town. There is a crazy story called ‘History on A Half Shell’ about a quick-thinking restaurant owner who was threatened by a gunslinger when he ran out of the mollusks. Yep, it really was the wild west!
If ‘Sharing Our History Through Food’ piques your interest to visit the museum, be sure to walk through all of the exhibits that are located in old classrooms, as the building was once Animas City School (constructed 1904-05)
… thousands of artifacts, and there’s always an apple for the teacher in the main classroom.
(Animas City that is now northern Durango)
Then walk outside to the log cabin that was once located on Main Avenue.
The photographer who took this photo in 1897 stood not too far from where the museum stands today. Towards the bottom right, there’s a large patch of open ground where you can barely make out a large X. The main street runs just above it, and there is a tiny pitched roof log cabin … in the shadows but look closely, it’s there.
Taken apart and put back together, it’s now located just next to the museum. Walking back in time, into an authentic cabin from the late 1800s that once belonged to the Joy family whose father was a blacksmith.
The mission of the Museum / La Plata County Historical Society is to keep the history and culture of Southwestern Colorado alive for present and future generations. Located five minutes north of downtown Durango. Where “History is always on the menu.”
Phone (970) 259-2402
Located at 3065 W 2nd Ave, Durango, CO 81301
Operated by the La Plata County Historical Society