In the tumultuous Wild West era, the Strater Hotel and the Strater family lived a story you’ll have a hard time believing. It included instances of near divine intervention along with a plague of bad luck. The hotel was important in the lives of many - from the citizens of the town who moved in during the winter to the famous who spent time here. Although Henry is long gone, the centerpiece of the Strater legacy remains - a stately hotel filled with history in a beautiful section of Colorado.
Henry Strater and his two brothers arrived in Durango to provide plumbing for the brand new city. All three brothers had various skills and interests which led to the opening of the first brick building on the main street in town, the Strater Brothers Paints and Oils store. Henry also had ideas of owning a pharmacy and building a hotel to services the needs of those arriving due to the silver rush.
With financial backing from the bank and his father, Henry began to build The Strater House, a beautiful example of refined Victorian architecture. In record time it opened and Mr. Hugh Rice was found to lease and manage it. Henry’s elation soon deflated completely, however, when he forgot to exclude the space he planned to use for his pharmacy from Hugh’s lease. Hugh took this opportunity to ask for an extraordinary amount of money for the space, which enraged Henry. He soon turned the paint store next to The Strater House into The Columbian Hotel to compete. The rivalry, although not kind spirited, did spur each hotel to strive to be the best in the area.
Henry Strater and his wife, Carrie, enjoyed life in Durango until the economy took a turn and they lost both hotels, which subsequently closed. John McBeth bought the hotels from the bank, renovated the re-named Strater Hotel and re-opened it. As the hotel did better and better, the Straters suffered one loss after another including the death of two children, an ill-fated move to Cuba and the loss of another fortune. Although Henry’s story is a sad one, the hotel that bears his name is a reminder of his realized vision for a little town in Colorado.
With that bit of history to set the stage, I’ll jump into my thoughts on the hotel and the weekend my family and I spent there.
ARRIVAL and LOCATION
The exterior of the Strater Hotel was carefully crafted with a European attention to detail. The imposing tower and large scale was no doubt impressive to investors thinking of sinking money into the silver mines. Inside, the lobby area is dressed in period furniture and stained-glass window art. You’ll get the feeling you’re in a mini museum when you browse the hotel’s displays of artifacts. Being a writer, I especially liked seeing a typewriter from the early days of the hotel near the old on-site post office.
The hotel sits beside the small mountains of Durango on the main avenue of town. The street is peppered with adorable shops selling old-time toys, rugged clothes, delicious food, music and candy. We brought two of our five boys along and the shops kept them occupied for hours. The hotel has a restaurant and saloon and we found delicious food all along the main run. Ft. Lewis college is located very close – just a five-minute car ride away. There are slews of picnic spots around and Durango Mountain Resort and Purgatory draw skiers and snowboarders from across the country.
The 93 rooms in the hotel will transport you back in time. Most of the furniture and the wallpaper are period appropriate or actual antiques. There are no cookie cutter rooms here! Each is different and has its own highlight. The ceiling in the Charlie Schumacher room steals the show, for example. If you stay there, notice the carved wood molding and accented chandelier.
Many rooms have plaques beside them announcing their significance. I stuck my head into the Louis and Kathy L’Amour room to see the desk where the famous author wrote many of his books. The housekeeper was making the bed at the time, so I took the opportunity to ask her about Mr. L’Amour and whether or not the hotel was haunted. Her answers: yes, the writer and his family spent a great deal of time at the hotel and no, there are no ghosts. Too bad.
All the beds are impressive with beautifully detailed headboards. My husband and I had a canopy bed in our room (I felt like a princess) and our boys stayed in the Strater Family room next door, which has two sturdy, yet ornate beds and a pass-through closet.
THE DINING ROOM
The Mahogany Grille is considered one of the best restaurants in Durango by the locals. We enjoyed a breakfast here, but would like to try the steak for dinner next time as it seemed to be what the other guests were looking forward to. Chef Arnold Safari, originally from Zanzibar, is head chef for the hotel and is rolling out the “Strater Culinary Safari” soon with various world cuisines featured during each theme dinner.
With the history the Strater Hotel has, the one thing I expected and did not find was a ghost story or two. Despite that minor disappointment, this hotel is the best in Durango. If you have a child at Fort Lewis College as we do, there is no better place to stay for convenience. Regardless of your reason to visit, I recommend the hotel for its story and comfort.
For more information on the Strater Hotel and its history, or to book a stay, please visit their website.
Examiner’s Note: My appreciation goes out to Michelle Thom, the General Manager, for arranging our visit for me and my family. Thank you!