Ledgers reveal history, character of Durango
DURANGO — “An ordinance concerning bawdy and disorderly houses, houses of ill fame or assignation and providing a punishment for frequenting same” can be found in city of Durango Ordinance Ledger Book Volume One at the Durango Public Library.
In modern English: It’s illegal to frequent a brothel or solicit a prostitute. Further examination of Ordinance No. 0286, written in 1895, reveals the fine was between $5 and $100.
Such ordinances tell something about the history of a town. Durango’s laws tell the story of a rich Western history, which featured ranchers, prostitutes, mischievous children, loose animals, war efforts and changes brought on by the introduction of automobiles.
It’s a history many are anxious to protect: All these ledgers, once stored in a vault at City Hall, are now behind a locked glass case at the library.
In the early 1890s, bicycles were transitioning from the high-wheeled penny-farthings to the more modern design with evenly sized tires. Bicycling’s boom brought about the creation of the Durango Bicycle Club, but safety concerns arose.
For instance, in 1896, an ordinance was passed stating that cyclists could not ride their bikes on the sidewalk, which is still true today, and riders could not pedal faster than 8 miles an hour.
Though some of this may seem silly, local historian Duane Smith has records of incidences of bicycle-pedestrian collisions dating to the 1890s.
A solution homeowners took to the menacing sidewalk cyclist was to throw nails onto the sidewalks to puncture tires, an act later prohibited by city law, Smith said.
Many older ordinances have been repealed or amended. For instance, ordinances regarding bicycling on the sidewalk now include other riding machines such as skateboards, roller skates and scooters.
An 1898 ordinance outlawed bathing in the Animas River within five miles of Durango to protect drinking water, Smith said. A monetary reward was given to anyone who turned in an unlawful bather responsible for contaminating the drinking water.
In what was heavily a ranching community, several ordinances were put in place to control and restrict livestock, loose animals and dogs. Smith said one reason for passing such ordinances was because children were getting trampled by cattle.
With the introduction of cars in the early 1900s, regulations were enacted to protect the public from relatively new drivers. It was specifically clarified that automobiles were prohibited from being driven on sidewalks.
Skilled one-handed drivers were fined $5 to $10 regardless of their talents because residents were not to operate an automobile without full use of both arms and one foot. Repeat offenders, five or more times, would have their license revoked.
The ordinances reveal history not only of lifestyle and technology, but of unique eras.
In 1918, nearing the end of the World War I, several ordinances were passed to ensure public safety and participation in war efforts.
During times of crisis, seemingly discriminatory regulations were passed.
Ordinance 1918-0558: “An ordinance prohibiting the speaking of the German Language in the city of Durango during the present war.”
Todd Ellison, records technician for the city of Durango, said a city’s decisions define its history.
“It’s helpful for people to know what those decisions were,” he said.