Hot water and high hopes

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This photo looking north across the Pagosa Hot Springs made circa 1900 shows three bathhouses with Pagosa Springs’ main street in the background, complete with the peek-through spire of the first First Methodist Church building.

When mining activities increased in the upper Animas River mining camps during the early 1870s, supporting communities sprouted in the lower Animas River Valley. Because the growing season was longer at the lower elevations, they were able to grow vegetables and fruit for the Silverton Market.
They also got first crack at new miners coming into the San Juans and first crack at the successful miners who’d been working the mines long enough to have a jingle in their jeans. Winters in the high San Juans were bitterly cold and the snow unbearably deep. Summers were short, making gardening almost impossible.
Consequently, a goodly number of the miners spent winters in the lower-elevation communities where they abandoned their donkeys and drank until their empty-pocket “just one more?” plea to bartenders who’d heard everything fell on deaf ears. The braying beasts of burden hee-hawed and gee-hawed themselves into bands of troublemakers that forced the locals to spend a lot of time and money trying, at no avail, to get rid of them.
More people than ever were seeing the Great Pagosa Hot Springs. The Silverton Miner newspaper reported, “Quite a large number of San Juaners are enroute for Silverton via Pagosa Springs and the Animas Canyon Toll Road.”
The same paper noted that a mail route had been established from Garland City to Silverton via Pagosa Springs and Animas City. After July 1, Pagosa Springs was to have daily mail service from Alamosa.
Just so you know, in those days, Garland City was a town on the west side of the San Luis Valley near Fort Garland. Alamosa and Animas City were new cities established by the recently installed narrow gauge railroad. Animas City was replaced by Durango shortly after the railroad arrived. Toll roads sprang up through almost every viable pass in the San Juans. The toll roads didn’t last long.
Public accommodations in Pagosa Springs were nonexistent because the springs were still owned by the federal government. No action had yet been taken by the government on the many ownership claims filed on the hot springs. Visitors and health seekers desiring to use the waters were left to their own devices. Either they obtained permission to use one of the private bathhouses or they bathed in one of the many small seeps surrounding the main hot springs. The reader should note that the “private” small bathhouses were owned by squatters, people using land they had no title to or legal right to use.

This story was posted on July 24, 2019.