The fourth annual La Plata County Historic Driving Tour is slated for May 20, and this time, the event will focus on the history of the Hermosa Valley, an area settled years before the town of Durango.
“It will be a good opportunity to learn about Hermosa’s unique history,” said Ruth Lambert, cultural program director with San Juan Mountains Association, a nonprofit dedicated to public land stewardship and education.
The Hermosa Valley was settled around 1873, Lambert said, right after the Brunot Agreement between the Utes and the U.S. government, which removed bands of Native American tribes to make way for mining.
As an onslaught of miners moved to the highly mineralized area around Silverton, farmers and ranchers settled the Hermosa Valley – a relatively flat, lower elevation area more conducive to growing crops.
For years, crops grown in the Hermosa Valley were transported to Silverton, first by wagon road, then by train, to feed and provide lumber to the miners farther north.
“That was really Hermosa’s start: as an agricultural center that provided food for the mining area,” Lambert said. “Because of the particular topography of the canyons, apples and other fruit crops could grow. There were a lot of orchards.”
The tour, sponsored by the La Plata County Historic Preservation Review Commission, will feature many of the places that exist today that were significant to the valley.
At 8 a.m., there will be an orientation at the Animas Museum in Durango, where participants will hear some of the pre-history and history of the area and view historic photos.
The first stop will be at the Hermosa Railroad Station and water tank, just north of County Road 203 and U.S. Highway 550, with a speech from railroad historian Jeff Ellingson. The train is set to pass by around 9:45 a.m., Lambert said.
Around 10:15 a.m., the tour will stop at the Buchanan House on County Road 202, an 1891 Victorian house with orchards. The property previously operated as a farm for 50 years.
And after that, Marie Roessler will open up her 1884 home to guests, and speak about the history of the Kerr House on County Road 203, built by one of the earliest Hermosa Valley settlers, Thomas Anderson Kerr.
According to Roessler, Kerr first tried his hand at mining but found more success in the Hermosa Valley, working the mills that provided supplies to Silverton.
Kerr first settled in Hermosa around 1878, operating a flour mill and then becoming county commissioner from 1880-1882, Roessler said. He eventually went on to own around 240 acres in the valley.
“There are maps out there, where Hermosa is on the map, and Durango is not,” said Roessler, who has done an immense amount of research on the valley’s history. “It was never deliberate that I would own an historic house, all I knew was the house was old.”
Participants will then head to the Animas Valley Grange on County Road 203, where a buffet lunch of local foods will be offered for $9 and Ruth Shock will talk about the history of the grange, built in 1911.
“It was built by a few farmers that felt like they needed to get together and have an organization,” Shock said. “And it’s been going ever since.”
The Animas Valley Grange has evolved over the years, Shock said, now hosting a range of events for homeowners’ associations, 4-H groups and even yoga classes.
The tour will round out with a stop at the Hermosa Cemetery, where earliest burials date back to the late 1890s. The site, deeded in 1906, is home to a number of Hermosa Valley pioneer families and is in use today.
The final stop will be at the Honeyville Store, a family-owned business since 1918. There, owner Danny Culhane will give a presentation on the honey business.
The La Plata County historic driving tour itself has evolved, Lambert said. In its first year, participants went out to the sites on their own. The second year exclusively featured cemeteries, and last year focused on the Old Fort and Aspaas Ranch.
“When we talked about what to plan for this year, we all decided Hermosa has a pretty remarkable history,” she said.
The event is free. People who want to attend must RSVP by calling 403-3862 or emailing Deborah.Paulson@gmail.com by 12 p.m. May 16.