I enjoy exploring. I find it always interesting to learn about the place I live. Well here in Durango, population 24, I found it more than a challenge to find out about the history of this little place. I wondered why it was even designated a town when it has no post office and no school.
I searched the internet, but found nothing about the history of Durango. Even the abstracts on the QWL property had no tantalizing tidbits about the area. So I went to the library in Dubuque and looked in the local Iowa history section. There was one small book on Durango.
Durango became a settlement sometime around 1833, when the land west of the Mississippi was opened for settlement. People called it Timber Diggings at that time probably because of the lead miners who settled in the area. The largest mine in the area was owned by Ralph Mollart and was right here on Paradise Valley Road. I am curious to explore this large cave on the property that only can be seen in the winter months. It is at the base of a huge bluff where I walk to enjoy the view at the end. I have not gotten brave enough to check out the cave, but maybe one day I will walk down that bluff to check it out.
At the end of the bluff on the side of the roadway is an old miner’s cabin. It is slowly dissolving into the side of the bluff, but it is a good example of the type of cabins built by the miner’s. The red coloring on the cabin was made from ocher that was dug out of the hill tops. It is a powdery substance that is mixed with linseed oil to make the red paint.
The downfall of the town of Durango came with the failure of the area mines. In 1835 discoveries of minerals, like lead, attracted miners. Large numbers flocked to the area and cabins were erected. Goods and groceries were sold and Durango was thriving. But when the mineral was exhausted, the miners left the place.
Although many miners left the Durango digs, some stayed and began farming. The town became known as Durango and a post office was established in 1837. Preseley Samuel was the first postmaster. He was the brother of Rueben Samuels who was married to Jesse and Frank James mother Zeralda. Jesse James visited Durango in 1863 and stayed at the home of Preseley Samuel. Who knows he might even have been down Paradise Valley Road!
Jesse James was not the only desperado that stayed in Durango. Kaintuk Anderson came to Durango in 1834. He was notorious for his hard drinking and total disrespect for the law. He died on the streets of Durango after threatening one of the Sherrill boys and publicly proclaiming that he would shoot Adam Sherrill on sight. One day when Adam saw Anderson, he shot him dead. He was acquitted by the Justice of the Peace.
When the railroad decided to build tracks from Dubuque to Farley, Durango citizens were ready. A one story depot was built in Durango in 1892. Within a short time, the railroad also built a siding on which farmers could load their animals for market and loggers could load flat cars for shipment throughout the midwest.
Many men were employed in the operation of the railroad and soon stores and other establishments opened for business in Durango. A building on Hwy 52 near the west end of Durango once housed a tavern and a dance hall. It was owned by Jacob and Minne Breitbach. The tavern was on the first floor and the dance hall was on the second. The building is the present home of the Wold’s and has 826 as its address. At the rear of the tavern the Richardsville baseball team cleared the land and built a baseball diamond.
In 1947 the tavern building was bought by Cletus Jameson and he expanded it to include a first floor dance hall. It was known as the Durango Dells. Old timers still talk about the prohibition years when people from Dubuque would come and hide their cars in the local caves to avoid detection from law enforcement as they partied at the local taverns.
Jameson later closed the dance hall and it became a boat dealership and chainsaw business. It later became known as Vacationland. A cafe was located at Burtons Furnance Road and later changed to a tavern. The Handle Bar is still in existence and is located at the Heritage Trail entrance in Durango.
After a flood wiped out the railroad depot in 1896, a second depot was built. But in 1968 the Durango line was no longer needed. The railroad removed the tracks in 1981 and a bike trail was erected which is now called Heritage Trail and is a favorite among our guests. The trail is 26 miles long and goes from Sageville to Dyersville.
Today, few people reside in Durango. But the rich history of this small town can still be seen in the structures left behind. So when you come and visit QWL, stop at the bottom of the hill and look at the old miner’s cabin.
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