William Jackson Palmer was a general during the American Civil War and a railroad designer. He had a dream of making a railroad that would connect Mexico to Colorado. He worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad working through the ranks to be Secretary to the President. However, this was not enough for Palmer, he followed his dream and built the Denver-Rio Grande Railroad in 1870, with the help of his friend Dr. William Bell. Together, they envisioned a railway system with narrow-gauge lines, which would be better suited to the mountains in Colorado.
On August 5th, 1881, the D&RG Railroad arrived in Colorado, with construction to Silverton, Colorado following in the fall of that year. Within only eleven months, the railway reached Silverton, Colorado in July of 1882. With it, began the immediate transport of passengers and freight. The tracks were built between 1881 and 1882, with additional trackage laid down in 1887,because of the need to transport the silver and gold ore that were being mined in the San Juan Mountains.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a series of tracks over 45 miles long on a track of 36 inches wide. A line from Chama, New Mexico to Durango, Colorado has been removed. However, the line from Durango to Silverton has ran non-stop since 1881, and is now a popular tourist attraction. The location is one of the few areas in the United States which has continued to use steam locomotives. In 1981, the D&RG (Durango-Rio Grande Railroad) Western, sold the line and in turn D&SNG (Denver-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad), was formed.
With some of the track dating back to 1881, the trains continue to operate during the winter months from Durango to the Cascade Wye, and during the summer from Durango to Silverton. There are also two museums on the property, the Silverton Freight Museum and the Durango Museum. They are home to historic locomotives and railway equipment used during this period. The entrance to the museum goes through station, where there is a gift shop and ticket booth. There are also layouts and train displays. The museum occupies half of the round house while the other half is devoted the operating locomotives. The railway was designated a National Landmark in 1961. The railway is also designated as a Historical Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.