I love it when I stumble upon an excellent local history museum –it’s even better when it occupies a historic building. I recently visited the Animas Museum in Durango, Colorado. Durango is a wonderful town tucked into the foothills of the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern corner of the state. The local history museum, housed in the former Animas City School, features a small collection and several small exhibits. A restored classroom shows what life was like at the turn of the twentieth century in what was still largely the western frontier. Founded in 1876, Animas City served farmers and miners and ranchers who had settled the valley after the Brunot Agreement was arranged with the Ute Indians.
Two miles away the railroad town of Durango, founded in 1880, soon became the larger commercial center and by 1948 had annexed Animas City.
The Animas Museum tells the story of these two towns with exhibits about boots and saddles, fancy and functional footwear, a shootout in Durango, pueblo pottery, and railroads.
Also on site is the Joy Cabin, supposedly the oldest intact structure left in the Durango area. Erected in the 1870s, the 16X25 foot log cabin was restored and interprets life in the early pioneering days of Animas City.
Local history museums excel when they tell local stories within a larger historical context and when they don’t try to tell too much. Often small museums cram too much “stuff” and descriptive text into a small space. The way to engage the broadest audience possible is to recognize that not everyone who visits has a deep insterest in history. When information is layered, visitors can decide how deep they want to go.
Have you been to the Animas Museum? Do you have a favorite local history museum? Tell us about it.