Center of Southwest Studies

The changing landscape of Durango, Colo., as seen in aerial postcard views, etc.
An activity guide for middle school students

The CDP (formerly the Colorado Digitization Program) is supported through a National Leadership Grant to the University of Denver Penrose Library from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (a federal grant-making agency in Washington, D.C., which fosters innovation, leadership and a lifetime of learning, by supporting museums and libraries) with additional assistance from the Colorado State Library, and the Colorado Regional Library Systems.

Intended Level: Grade 7

Subject: Social Studies

Time: Two fifty-minute periods

Focus: Students will learn how to analyze and interpret primary source postcards ...  and will answer three questions:

  1. Why was Durango settled at this particular location?
  2. Why was it settled in 1891?
  3. Why has the city grown and thrived, whereas other 1890s settlements (Hesperus, Rico) have not?

Standard Assessed:

Geography 1: Students know how to use and construct maps, globes, and other geographic tools to locate and derive information about people, places, and environments.

1.1 Students know how to use maps, globes, and other geographic tools
       interpret and construct maps, globes, models, charts, and geographic databases
1.2 Students develop knowledge of Earth to locate people, places, and environments
      Identify and locate physical and human features in their own and nearby communities, in the United States, and in regions of the world
1.3 Students know how to analyze the dynamic spatial organization of people, places, and environments.
      Explain different land use patterns in urban, suburban, and rural areas

Standard Addressed:

History 2: Students know how to use various processes and resources of historical inquiry.

2.3 Students know how to interpret and evaluate primary and secondary sources of historical evidence.
      Interpret the data in historical maps, photographs, works of art, and other artifacts

Students will create a historical map that illustrates the changes in the landscape of the city of Durango, Colorado, from the early 1900s to the mid-1900s.  The historical map will include the initial boundaries of the city, and its current boundaries.  Students will also describe the essential aspects of commercial and residential growth in the area.  In addition to the map, students will answer three questions that analyze the data presented that reveals the causes for the settlement of Durango in the 1890s and its growth into the 21st century. (See Day 2 procedure)


Support Materials:

Select from the following images, copies (4 postcards per group, and 1 of each other type of image) for each group of four students:

Postcard 1 View marked 1880
Postcard 2  1901? - 1907?
Postcard 3  1901? - 1907?
Postcard 4  1901? - 1907?
Postcard  5 Mailed on 8/16/1906
Postcard 6 Mailed on 12/21/1908
Postcard 7 Mailed on 4/16/1909
Postcard 8   Mailed on 10/5/1909
Postcard 9  1901? - 1907?
Postcard 10  Circa. 1907-1914
Postcard 11 Circa. 1907-1914
Postcard 12 Circa. 1907-1914
Postcard 13  Circa. 1907-1914
Postcard  14 Circa. 1907-1914
Postcard 15  1945? - 1998?
Postcard 16  1945? - 1998?
Postcard 17  Mailed in June 1948
Postcard 18  1945? - 1998?
Postcard 19  1945? - 1998?
Postcard 20  1945? - 1998?
Postcard 21 1975? - 1998?
Postcard 22 1975? - 1998?
Postcard 23 1975? - 1998?
Postcard 24 1975? - 1998?
Postcard 25 1975? - 1998?

Possible Procedures:
Day 1:
1. Divide students into groups of four.  Explain to the class that they are going to be looking at some postcards and other images and will need to find clues that will help them decide approximately when these postcards etc. were produced and also when the photos (including those used for these postcards) were taken. Mention that clues could be found in the land, signs, the built environment, and automobile styles.  Divide the postcard images among the groups (i.e., for a class of 24, there will be 6 groups and each group will have responsibility for dating 4 postcards).  After about 10 minutes, ask the groups what they have discovered. Ask the following questions:

2. Next, look at the back of each postcard.  Using the guidelines for dating postcards, determine the clues for refining the dating of these cards.

3. Have the students look at the historical chronology and the handout about the history of Durango.  Using the metadata (bibliographic information) that accompanies each postcard, talk about the reasons why Durango was founded and how those uses changed during World War II and the Cold War.  (the proximity of coal and water for smelting ore from Silverton and other mining towns in the San Juan Mountains, using the system of narrow-gauge railroads that were built in the 1880s)  Tell the class that the first Environmental Protection Agency uranium mill tailings cleanup site was here in Durango at the base of Smelter Mountain.  (those records are at the Center of Southwest Studies -- described on the Web at )

4. Use these photos to conduct a class discussion about the time period depicted (the 20th century) and about how things have changed (building construction, transportation systems, cars, awareness of environmental issues such as air pollution and radioactive waste from smelters; and the landscape).

Day 2: Assessment
Students will use the information they learned about the history of Durango to create a historical map for the assessment. Students may work in their groups but each student needs to create his/her own map.

1. Review with students the basic requirements of all map-making (title, key, and compass rose). Review the purpose of historical maps and tell students that their maps will show the changes in Durango.

2. Hand out the historical map rubric, Photo 1, and a copy of the current Durango map to each student group.

3. Help the class determine the two perpendicular roads that are shown in post card 1 (Sixth Avenue) so that they have landmarks to help determine location.  To help students get started, suggest that they draw in these two roads and the physical features of the foothills.  Then they need to represent boundaries of the city in its early days and its current boundaries.  Remind them that different colors can show this and that their key will need to explain what they have done. See Rubric for requirements.

3. For the written assessment, students need to answer the following questions (see historical map rubric):

  1. Why was Durango settled at this particular location?
  2. Why was it settled in 1891?
  3. Why has the city grown and thrived, whereas other 1890s settlements (Hesperus, Rico) have not?

Behind the Scenes

Issue Number 3,   September 2003

The Center of Southwest Studies is a division of Fort Lewis College charged with gathering, preserving, and making available for use historical and ethnographic materials pertaining to the College, the Southwest, and Native Americans of the Southwest.


Staff contacts

For information regarding image access at the Center, contact:

Professor Todd Ellison, Certified Archivist
Center of Southwest Studies
Fort Lewis College
1000 Rim Dr
Durango CO   81301-3999

Sources used: and

The collections are located at the Center of Southwest Studies on the campus of Fort Lewis College.  Interested researchers should phone the archivist at 970/247-7126 or send electronic mail to the archivist at or click here to use our E-mail Reference Request Form (or phone the archivist at 970/247-7126).  The Center does not have a budget for outgoing long-distance phone calls to answer reference requests, so please email if you wish to receive a response from the Center.  To request reproductions/copies, click here for instructions.

Page revised: January 24, 2008