Starting in 1956, Fort Lewis College underwent a period of growth, moving from its original campus in Hesperus Colorado to Durango and transitioning in 1964 from a two-year institution into a four-year public liberal arts college. That same year, Durango Herald publisher and owner Morley Ballantine and her husband Arthur, donated $10,000 to begin what they envisioned as a center of academic distinction and a repository for artifacts, resource materials, books, and documents for studying the Southwest. The Center of Southwest Studies has played a crucial role in supporting Fort Lewis College’s academic mission for over 50 years.
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. In the spring of 1967, 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 soon too small for the library, archives, and museum collections and wasn’t conducive to public programming. Starting in 1998, over 300 private donors and foundations contributed $4 million towards a new 48,000 square foot building which opened in 2001 and today contains the Center of Southwest Studies’ exhibition galleries, collections storage, museum and archives workrooms, and Delaney Research Library as well as the academic departments of Anthropology, Environmental Studies, and Native American and Indigenous Studies. In 2002, the Center was recognized in Colorado House Bill 02-1419 making Fort Lewis College independent of the Colorado State University system noting that “the center of southwest studies provides a valuable regional, national, and international resource that compliments the Native American commitment of Fort Lewis college.”
The Center’s collections, an invaluable asset of Fort Lewis College, have been assembled through decades-long community action and support of the College’s commitment to furthering our understanding of the diverse cultures and resources of the region as well as to undergraduate research and experiential learning opportunities. Highlights include The Durango Collection® of Diné (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. Today, the Center continues to support the College’s strategic goals through professional internships, exhibitions, and educational programming and its holdings are accessible to Fort Lewis College students, faculty, and staff as well as the general public.