A historic cabin near the backside of Purgatory ski area was added to La Plata County's Register of Historic Places and
could be headed to the national historic register.
The Harris cabin, also referred to as the Harris ranch, is located on the east fork of the Hermosa Creek drainage and
was used in the summer by ranchers pasturing their cattle in the area from about 1910 until the early 1990s.
The site, which includes a log cabin, tack room and corral, passed through various hands before it was transferred to
the San Juan National Forest in 1991.
County commissioners approved a resolution Tuesday adding it the county's historic register.
Robert McDaniel, who is director of the Animas Museum and wrote about the property in Historic Durango: Dealing with
the Great Depression, called its addition to the list a no brainer."
It's a very historic cabin. No doubt about it," he said.
He said an old geological survey map from the turn of the 20th century marks the spot around where the cabin stands as
old toll gate."
The presumption is that the cabin was built originally as the old toll station," he said.
The toll route would have run between Rockwood and Rico.
The property was acquired by George Pearson through a homestead patent dated July 5, 1910. The Pearson property was
consolidated with two other ranches homesteaded or purchased from the government and sold to John Lord in 1931.
Lord decided that high-country ranching wasn't his cup of tea," according to McDaniel's history, and sold the 480-acre
ranch to the Harris family, who had moved to the region from Oklahoma to homestead a ranch in La Plata, N.M.
Most ranches in the San Juan Basin grazed their livestock in the lush pastures of the high country during the summer,"
Before driving their cattle into the high country, the Harrises gathered supplies for the summer - 100 pounds of
beans, 200 pounds of potatoes (usually purchased from the Zinks or another Animas Valley farmer), and other
The Depression was hard on their operation, according to John Harris, who was quoted in McDaniel's article.
The government killed a lot of our cattle and paid us $20 a head to get rid of them. We had to do it because there
wasn't a market for them," he said.
The Harrises grazed cattle on the property for more than 30 years, until they sold it to Ray Duncan, founder of
Purgatory, in 1971.
The Forest Service received the property in a land swap with the ski area in 1991.
A county staff report on the property states that it is listed as officially eligible for placement on the national
Historic furnishings that remain in the cabin include wooden tables, a 1940s propane-fire refrigerator and a 1920s
Last time I was there it was in pretty good shape," McDaniel said.
The San Public Lands Center is seeking a grant from the State Historic Fund to stabilize the ranch's structures.
Julie Coleman, who is coordinating the project for the agency, said the stabilization will be done in cooperation with
Colorado Preservation Inc. and its history corps," which is similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps of the
The idea is to get volunteer youth and put them to work on historic buildings," she said.
On Tuesday, commissioners approved a letter of support for the grant.
They also approved a letter of support for Center of Southwest Studies, which is applying for state historic funds to
create an exhibit at the old Fort Lewis College site in Hesperus.
The exhibit would cover the history of the site from 1881 to 1956.