In 1964, Arthur and Morley Ballantine donated $10,000 to Fort Lewis College to start the Center of Southwest Studies. The college had recently moved into Durango from its original location at the old Fort south of Hesperus, Colorado. During this time the college evolved from a two-year institution into a four-year baccalaureate-degree public liberal arts college. The Ballantines, co-publishers of The Durango Herald, asked then-president Rexer Berndt what they could do to help give the new college academic distinction, and the decision was made to create a Center of Southwest Studies. When the Center opened on the Fort Lewis College campus it was the first academic center in the nation dedicated to the preservation, documentation, and interpretation of the Southwest. Even though there are now several other centers that have Southwest special collection libraries and archives, the Center of Southwest Studies is unique in having a museum where art and artifact collections are displayed in interpretive exhibits.
The founding director of the Center of Southwest Studies, Dr. Robert Delaney, started the Center in a small room in what is now Berndt Hall. Soon the Center was moved to the top floor of Reed Library, where the Arthur Ballantine Reading Room housed a collection of major books, articles, and primary source documents essential to studying the Southwest. The facility was still too small for public programming, and the library, archives, and artifact collections soon outgrew that space as well. After the College built the Community Concert Hall on the north end of the campus, donors contributed to a new 48,000 square foot building that opened in 2001 and now contains the academic departments of Anthropology, Environmental Studies, and Native American and Indigenous Studies, as well as the Center of Southwest Studies. Today the Center houses its own Southwest-specific museum, library, and archives.
Over the past fifty-two years the CSWS collections have grown to include The Durango Collection® of Navajo, Puebloan and Hispanic textiles, a large fine art collection including numerous Native American paintings and works on paper, ethnographic materials and archaeological artifacts, historic photographs, postcards, documents, maps, and special-collections books. The Center of Southwest Studies presents interpretive exhibitions, lectures, and programs; teaches students through active hands-on learning experiences; and serves researchers and scholars throughout the world interested in topics related to the ancient history and present-day cultures of the Southwest.