Durango plaque finds way home after Okla. trip, fire, wind, water

A plaque from the old Durango Mercantile Co., lost in a fire in 1948, was eventually discovered by a tourist fly-fishing in the Animas River in the 1970s. It’s back home now, just sent to the Animas Museum from Tushka, Okla. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

A plaque from the old Durango Mercantile Co., lost in a fire in 1948, was eventually discovered by a tourist fly-fishing in the Animas River in the 1970s. It’s back home now, just sent to the Animas Museum from Tushka, Okla.

A copper plaque identifying the Durango Mercantile Co. that disappeared when a fire leveled the downtown business in 1948 is back home after 64 years.

The plaque, warped out of shape, bearing the inscription “Durango Merc Co.,” was found in the Animas River in the mid-1970s by a visiting angler.

“I was in waders about a mile south of Durango, as best as I can remember,” Lonnie Selby of Tushka, Okla., said Saturday by phone. “I saw something in the water that didn’t look right, so I pulled it out.”

The plaque struck him as being part of a cash register and that perhaps someone had stolen it and dumped it in the river, Selby said.

“But I had fishing on my mind, so I just took it home with me and stored it in an outbuilding,” said Selby, 71, who retired after contracting with AT&T for 34 years to lay cable.

The fire, of undetermined origin, started Feb. 16, 1948, in the headquarters and warehouse of the Durango Mercantile Co., on Main Avenue, consuming that structure and the Graden Mercantile Co., next door.

It also damaged three smaller businesses adjoining Graden to the south.

Selby saw the plaque again in debris left after an April 2011 tornado that hit Tushka and leveled the outbuilding.

Selby said he reasoned that someone would like to have the plaque. But it wasn’t until a week ago that his granddaughter located the Animas Museum.

The plaque arrived Friday in Durango.

“I was tickled because they were tickled to get it,” Selby said. “I didn’t catch a fish that day in Durango, but I caught a piece of history.”

daler@durangoherald.com