In 1954, Governor Thornton signed a bill authorizing a "branch" of Fort Lewis in Durango. A water tower was constructed first, followed by an administration building and a field house. In 1955, Ray Dennison died after being fatally injured in a football game. The new football field constructed on the Durango campus was named after him. In the summer of 1956, each department was asked to move itself to town

Meanwhile, back at the "old Fort" location, no one knew what to do with the old campus. The location became known as the San Juan Basin Research Center and agricultural research continued. As the campus buildings deteriorated, they were torn down. Dr. Duane Smith, professor at Fort Lewis College, reports that his fireplace is made of bricks from some "old fort" buildings.