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June 1, 2022

Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Train Running the Narrow Gauge Track Through the Animas River Canyon, ca. 1880s

Durango was built as a company town by the Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) Railway in 1880 with the goal of having a depot in the San Juan Mountains that would have given the company access to the ore freight coming from the mines there. The first D&RG narrow gauge train made it to Durango in August 1881. Construction quickly began on a narrow gauge route from Durango to Silverton.

The new forty-five mile-long route, which followed the Animas River through the Animas Canyon, was completed in July 1882. It is the same route run today by the famous Silverton Train of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Photographer William Henry Jackson (1843–1942) took this photograph of a D&RG train high up a cliff face above the Animas River sometime between about 1885 and about 1890.

In 1897, Jackson had joined the Detroit Photographic Company (later the Detroit Publishing Company), bringing with him more than 10,000 negatives for the company to publish as postcards and prints. Copies of numerous of his originally black and white photos were colored by artists, then reproduced by the chromolithographic “Photochrom” process, often meticulously so, as this one was. Although Detroit Photographic sold these prints as standard postcards for the general public, those with deeper pockets could buy them carefully reproduced in books and as very high-quality, frameable prints.

Jackson died at the age of ninety-nine, having produced some 80,000 photographs of the American West in his lifetime.


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