“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Animas Forks in San Juan County, Colorado — The American Mountains (Southwest)

The William Duncan House

The William Duncan House Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By James Hulse, July 8, 2021
1. The William Duncan House Marker

High Mountain Hopes
The Hardrock Miners who arrived in Animas Forks in the 1870s envisioned the birth of a city, built deep in the mountains, with all the modern conveniences of telephone, telegraph, electric service, and a narrow gauge railroad. Having established a post office by 1875, commercial establishments, civic buildings, and residential development was on the horizon. When William W. Duncan arrived from Pennsylvania with his family at the young age of 27 he had big dreams. Duncan and his wife Mary built this house in 1879, just five years after the settlement of the Townsite. Duncan's building was designed to support a growing family including daughters Mary (6) and Sarah (5) and their infant brother Willie Grant. According to the 1880 census, Duncan was employed as a hardrock miner.

Migrating from the East Coast, the Duncan's chose to include several architectural elements popular during the Victorian era, such as the finely-detailed picturesque bay, with tall windows, to take advantage of the natural light and breathtaking mountain views. Although these elements are typical of the Victorian era, they
The William Duncan House and Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By James Hulse, July 8, 2021
2. The William Duncan House and Marker
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were highly unusual for such a remote location at this early date. The Duncan family departed Animas Forks in 1884, leaving this magnificent and haunting statement of the optimism and confidence that a select few prospectors and their families carried deep into the San Juan.

There's gold, and it's haunting and haunting; It's luring me on as of old; Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting, So much as just finding the gold. It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder, It's the forests where silence has lease, It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder, It's the stillness that fills me with peace. • Robert W. Service •

Challenges of Living Above 11,000 Feet
Imagine how hardy those first settlers must have been to scratch out a living from these mountains. Snow storms up to 5-feet, and prolonged sub-zero temperatures were not uncommon in this remote corner of the Rockies. Avalanches following several storms of epic proportions in the 1880s isolated the community for months at a time. It's hard to conceive of the deep resilience and determination the Duncans would have had to muster, to endure and support their family, in those darkest days and nights of a San Juan winter.

Preservation at Animas Forks
The Townsite was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Today, the Duncan House retains many
The William Duncan House image. Click for full size.
Photographed By James Hulse, July 8, 2021
3. The William Duncan House
of its original historic architectural features, including decorative trim and siding, the cedar shingle roof, and most of the original window and door hoods and casing. Coinciding with the 25th Anniversary celebration of the designation of the Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway in 2014, a major stabilization and restoration project preserved the intact elements of the Duncan House, and replicated many features that were lost or severely damaged. Over 250,000 people visit Animas Forks every year. The Duncan House is perhaps the most photographed historic structure on the Alpine Loop.

Citizen Stewardship
Preservation of the buildings in Animas Forks has been an on-going struggle for the past 40 years. The Duncan House would likely have been lost to effects of extreme weather and vandalism without the volun teer efforts of many concerned citizens. The Bureau of Land Management has worked in partnership with many organizations such as the San Juan County Historical Society to maintain the site. As a visitor to this site, you can now count yourself among those responsible for preserving the history of Animas Forks. During your visit, please ask others to respect this unique place, take only pictures, and leave only footprints.

1. Looking south down the Animas River drainage circa 1905. The Duncan House is located at center right.
The view of the William Duncan House from across the road image. Click for full size.
Photographed By James Hulse, July 8, 2021
4. The view of the William Duncan House from across the road

Photographs Courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Collection.
2. Portrait of miners gathered for a family picnic at the Camp Bird Mine in neighboring Ouray County. It is easy to imagine the Duncan family attending a similar type of celebration at Animas Forks.
3. Skiing, also known as Snowshoeing at the turn-of-the-century, was critical to travel in the winter months in the remote San Juan Mountains.

Erected by U.S. Department of the Interior - Alpine Loop.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & CommerceSettlements & Settlers. A significant historical year for this entry is 1875.
Location. 37° 55.897′ N, 107° 34.275′ W. Marker is in Animas Forks, Colorado, in San Juan County. Marker is on County Highway 9, half a mile north of County Highway 2, on the left when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Silverton CO 81433, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Animas Forks (within shouting distance of this marker); Ute Homeland (approx. 3 miles away); Bonanza Empire Chief (approx. 4 miles away); White Death (approx. 4 miles away); A Town with Three Names (approx. 4.3 miles away); Tellurium or Was It Whitecross
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(approx. 4.3 miles away); Rose Lime Kiln (approx. 5.2 miles away); This Marker in Memory of Rev. Marvin Hudson (approx. 5.4 miles away).
Also see . . .  Alpine Loop.
The Alpine Loop is truly a backcountry experience. Make sure someone knows your travel plans and do your homework before you start your trip. Make sure you have plenty of water, food and fuel to make it to your destination. Electronics and wireless devises DO NOT work in most places on the Alpine Loop. It is recommended that you download or print hard copy maps prior to your trip. The Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway is a rugged 4x4 road that winds through the spectacular scenery of the San Juan Mountains, connecting Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray. The Alpine Loop byway traverses passes up to 12,800 feet while showcasing old mines, ghost towns, natural wonders, beautiful wildflowers, and abundant wildlife. Alpine Loop is an avenue for exploring nature and history amidst thrilling views and stunning geography. Tackling the loop in its entirety is easily an all-day experience event. However, the main loop is only part of the experience; miles of designated side routes allow visitors to either take a short tour or extend their trip to multiple days. For more information, please contact the Gunnison
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Field Office.
(Submitted on July 21, 2021, by James Hulse of Medina, Texas.) 
Credits. This page was last revised on December 5, 2022. It was originally submitted on July 21, 2021, by James Hulse of Medina, Texas. This page has been viewed 452 times since then and 340 times this year. Last updated on December 2, 2022, by Carl Gordon Moore Jr. of North East, Maryland. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on July 21, 2021, by James Hulse of Medina, Texas. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.

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Dec. 7, 2022