Thinking about the 70th anniversary of Arthur and Morley Ballantine acquiring what became The Durango Herald, two things stand out: what they did and where they did it. Both were remarkable.
Take the where first. Durango in 1952 was in many ways the back of beyond.
The Interstate Highway System did not exist. The Navajo Trail, the road through the Four Corners, was several years in the future.
The airport had recently moved from Reservoir Hill – where Fort Lewis College is today – to its current location, but air service was limited and primitive. And with World War II era DC-3s, unpressurized and piston-powered, a trip to Denver could be an adventure in itself.
By 1952, passenger rail service was limited to Silverton. But only shortly before that one could board a train in Durango and go anywhere in the country. Getting to Denver took only two days.
Fort Lewis College was still at Fort Lewis. It would not move into Durango until 1956.
Television would not arrive until 1957.
In the 1950 census, Durango had fewer than 7,500 residents, almost half the people in the county.
The smelter was gone from Smelter Mountain, but the mills on that site were still operating. So were the mines in Silverton and Telluride.
Seen from the 21st century, Durango in 1952 seems closer to a John Wayne movie than to our microchip-infused world.
Into this scene came Arthur and Morley, he a graduate of Harvard and Yale, she the daughter of a media empire. What they brought, however, was not condescension but – judging from the results – an honest affection for their adopted home and a desire to help it thrive.
I never knew Arthur. But from what I have heard, and from what I have seen in Morley and their offspring, what the Ballantines brought to Durango was a sincere and ceaseless support for education at all levels, an unflinching focus on good government, a love of the arts and an understanding of the importance of community. Those values were – and are – reflected in the Herald.
William Allen White, quoted on the Opinion page, was right to include running a newspaper as one of the things no one can do to the complete satisfaction of another. Reporters and editors make mistakes. And there are those who seemingly live to find fault with the media. But I have never heard anyone who actually knows Durango and its history seriously question the motives and intentions of the Herald and its owners.
Durango has been lucky several times. In 1965, Chet Anderson and Ray Duncan, along with the O’Neil family and other investors, created Purgatory. That gave local businesses another whole season.
In 1980, Charlie Bradshaw bought the railroad. With that, he saved Durango’s premier attraction, and one of its top economic drivers.
But in terms of the community as a whole – and considering the importance of local news, the college and the arts – Durango’s luckiest day may have been 70 years ago.
Bill Roberts is a former Opinion page editor of The Durango Herald.