There was a time before Durango had a Starbucks, a craft brewery or even paved roads.
And that’s the era Jack Turner said he wants to bring back to life, if only for a night, with his new series, “Durango Native.”
“All of our speakers have been over age 80, but it’s not a historical lecture,” Turner said. “It’s a conversation, like someone sharing their family album with you from someone who’s been here decades and decades.”
About two years ago, Turner, a fifth-generation Durangoan, featured his father in the debut of “Durango Native” talks at the Henry Strater Theatre. People liked the event so much, he said, organizers kept it going.
“People realize how important this is to preserve their knowledge, their experience,” Turner said. “There are fascinating things these people have to share.”
Jokingly, Turner said not all people featured in the series have to have been born in Durango: If a person has lived here more than 70 years, they qualify.
On Thursday, presentations will be given by Rey and Clair Martinez, brothers who grew up in Durango and H. Prescott Blake, who moved here in 1935 when he was 5 years old.
Blake, 87, speaking from his home just east of Durango, said his family migrated West from Missouri, landing in Monticello, Utah. There, his family homesteaded until his father took a job at the San Juan Record, eventually moving to newspapers in Dove Creek, Cortez and Durango.
Blake and his eight brothers and sisters were raised in the old log cabin that still stands within what’s now Island Cove Mobile Home Park. One of his favorite pastimes, he said, was catching boats in the river that hadn’t been tied farther upstream.
His father, notably, was a boatman for an expedition on the then-undammed Colorado River from Moab, Utah, to Needles, California.
“He relived it most of his life,” Blake said. “It was the most exciting thing he ever got to do.”
Growing up, Blake spent his days skiing at Chapman Hill or playing around the Animas River. Most nights, he could be found on his Harley-Davidson with his friends riding motorcycles up and down Main Avenue.
“I had a guy tell me he was going to shoot me with a shotgun ... because we were so loud,” he said. “It was around midnight, but it didn’t make any difference to us. We just cruised Main.”
Over the years, Blake worked in the timber industry, surveyed for the Bureau of Reclamation and eventually started his own plumbing business, which is now run by his son, former La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake.
Brad Blake said he’ll be on stage with his father Thursday.
“I think he’s excited, and we’ll hopefully have some good stories for people,” he said. “He’s seen a lot of change.”
Durango’s population when Blake first moved here in the 1930s was around 5,500. And although that number is now pushing 20,000 people, and the town has drastically changed, Blake doesn’t get too sentimental about it.
“I’m not much concerned with it,” he said. “Life’s been pretty good to me.”
Turner said “Durango Native” will return with another installment in August, featuring Amador Tucson, a member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, musician and renowned barber, and Peryl Kelley Schaaf, whose family homesteaded the area.
“We always start a presentation by saying these are stories,” he joked. “It’s a lot of it’s history, but we don’t guarantee any of it’s true.”