Western author Louis L’Amour once said, “Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.”
Those words of the late part-time La Plata County resident turned out to be prescient as a plaque honoring L’Amour and his wife was dedicated at The Strater Hotel early Saturday afternoon.
L’Amour and his wife spent a number of summers at the hotel while he was writing several of his novels. Those novels often have references to the scenery and people of the area.
The event at Room 222 was co-hosted by The Strater and The Friends of the Durango Library. It featured L’Amour’s widow, Kathy. The family still owns the family ranch west of Durango, but Kathy L’Amour lives in Los Angeles, the L’Amours’ full-time home.
Room 222 was designated a National Literary Landmark, just one of two such designations in Colorado. The other is the former Denver home of late Colorado Poet Laureate Thomas Hornsby Ferril. Louis L’Amour and Ferril died in 1988.
Kathy L’Amour and Strater co-owner and CEO Rod Barker unveiled a plaque on the wall just outside the room. The Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations designated the site as one of just 122 such places in the country.
“What a sweet day for me,” Kathy L’Amour told a group of about 30 friends and well-wishers gathered outside the room. “It became our summer home.”
L’Amour said it was fitting the honor came from The Friends of the Durango Library and the national association because “most of Louis’ education was obtained in libraries.”
She said after being laid off at the age of 18 from a timber mill in the Northwest, he spent many hours in the Portland, Ore., library. To hide the fact he did not have any money, he would take off for an hour at noon as if he was going somewhere to eat. Instead, he would just walk around until it was time to go back, she said, adding that Louis L’Amour had a great love for libraries and reading.
L’Amour explained that her husband, she and their children would stay in Room 222 and adjoining rooms for about a month, in August. They brought research materials with them, and L’Amour would write in the mornings. The afternoons usually were reserved for horseback riding and other activities, she said.
Also attending Saturday’s event was Hesperus resident Don Demarest, a longtime friend and colleague of the L’Amours. Demarest said he helped L’Amour research material for his books for about 20 years.
Kathy L’Amour added that Demarest also was their driver, picnic buddy and did other work for them.
The Strater’s Barker emphasized that “the hotel business is one of relationships,” such as the long-term relationship the hotel had with the L’Amours. In fact, he said, the idea of naming the hotel’s rooms actually arose from the L’Amours because so many guests through the years wanted to know which room Louis L’Amour stayed in while writing his novels.
Because of that, the hotel started calling Room 222 “The L’Amour Room.” In addition to the newly installed plaque next to the door, there’s a small, oval, engraved sign on the door that reads, “Louis and Kathy L’Amour Room.”
Local historian Duane Smith knew L’Amour and told the crowd Saturday that his favorite L’Amour novel is Comstock because of the local connections.
Smith, who is professor of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College, said L’Amour “was a writer who loved his fans” and would stop what he was doing to sign autographs for them.
“You can find the places Louis wrote about,” Smith said. “He loved history. He made people love history (from reading his novels).”
He said even though L’Amour’s characters were fictional, readers could feel as if “they could have been alive.”
The Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations plaque is foundry-cast and joins others commemorating important literary places. Among other authors so honored by the association are Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe.
The ceremony was presided over by Friends of the LIbrary Vice President Wayne Bedor. The dedication occurred just hours before the hotel’s 125th anniversary celebration.