Looking at the old buildings on Main street and learning about their histories has been fascinating. However, what has been the most intriguing is the underground history of many of these properties. I've been lucky enough, and many businesses have been gracious enough, to allow me into these spaces and wow! some are really creepy. Unfortunately, allowing tourists into these areas are often too dangerous or pose a security risk. So i'm posting some pictures so you can see for yourself without having to crawl into dusty, dark, and scary places.
Back in the 1800's and early 1900's Durango heated and powered itself with Coal. Horse gulch had coal mines as well as other surrounding areas such as Lightner Creek. Coal would be sent down chutes using tunnels that would drop the coal into basement storage. Of course, these tunnels have become legendary here with rumors of bootlegging and prostitution. No one knows for sure but according to local historian and HHT advisor, Duane Smith, most likely the tunnels were just for coal. There wouldn't have been much of a reason for a John to travel through a dank tunnel to a "crib" when they could walk into the front door of a saloon and solicit services there. Bootlegging... possibly. Of course, prohibition didn't stop the production of alcohol. It just made the alcohol more dangerous with the bootlegging of moonshine using toxic chemicals. Often, people died after consumption. Old mines were used for bootlegging and tunnel systems may have had to do with that. I guess we will never know for sure.
Basements were also used for gambling back in the day. In the eerie basement of the May Palace there exists the original bowling alley once part of (according to the May Palace) the Piggly Wiggly. I haven't researched the Piggly Wiggly or come across anything so I don't have anything to add there. Comment if you know! The floors look ancient and the owners have drywalled over much of the original brick walls. Ghosts abound here with phantom cowboys, a little girl in a lace dress, and a dark presence that has done some strange things. In the walls, the owners have found an oil can, bloomers, and an old matchbox.
The owners, Ling and her husband, couldn't have been more sweet and helpful. Ling sat down and told me stories for 2 hours! Ling bought the building that the May Palace is located in about 20 years ago. She has worked tirelessly to build the life they have here in Durango. A Chinese immigrant, she has faced discrimination but has not let that stop her. She's a tremendous inspiration and such a valuable part of our community. Oh, and the food is authentic and delicious!!
Chinese immigrants have helped to build Durango and are part of the fabric of Durango History. The Wong's were a long standing family owning restaurants downtown. Laundries, servants, miners, and railroad workers were some of the common occupations. In fact, Bessie Rivers who ran the Horseshoe Club (a brothel) had a Chinese chef who apparently cooked delicious food appreciated by the patrons of the day. His young son even helped with the business and ran errands. More photo's can be seen on the HHT Facebook page!