Hot springs and high hopes

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Stage coaches continued to arrive in Pagosa until about 1901, when the train reached town and stage coaches were no longer needed. This stage coach ran between the railroad station at Amargo, N.M., and Pagosa Springs following a route approximating today’s U.S. 84 for the northern half of its route. This stage coach is resting at the southern end of Halfway Canyon, where Valle Seco Creek Road intersects U.S. 84 from the west. The stop was called Halfway House.

By May of 1881, Pagosa Springs could boast of its first bathhouse, a frame building erected by Thomas Blair. It had a large plunge bath, fully 4.5 feet deep, and several single bathtubs sufficient to accommodate all visitors.
Pagosa Springs seemed to be on the rise, but almost as soon as the people started licking their lips as they counted their money on the way to the bank, things changed. Folks had scarcely started splashing gleefully around in Blair’s bathhouse when they were forced to pack their bags, hitch up their teams and gee-haw across the rugged Rocky Mountains to the latest gold strike, this one at a place called Telluride.
Telluride was named for a gold-bearing ore called Tellurium. Needless to say, although a small community remains at Telluride to this day, the gold pretty much petered out and most of the folks living there moved on.
Even so, it was too late to preserve the Pagosa Springs boom. Fort Lewis and the Southern Ute Indian Agency were moving further west. Fort Lewis was going to Hesperus, where it would remain active as an Army fort until 1891. Today, its successor remains perched on a little hill in Durango and is known as Fort Lewis College.
The Indian Agency moved to Ignacio, where it was headquarters for a reservation stretching across much of southwestern Colorado. The agency headquarters remains in Ignacio.
Returning to the tale of dashed dreams in Pagosa Springs, the hoped-for railroad bypassed Pagosa Springs on its way to Durango. No longer did stage coaches carry people and their baggage through town on their way to Durango.
A few pioneers tightened their belts and remained in Pagosa on their homesteads, raising hay and beef. And, of course, there remained the world’s largest and hottest mineral springs. Surely health seekers would continue to treat their various ailments in those life preserving mineral waters. Those health seekers would be wealthy enough to pay for hotel accommodations and food. And so Pagosa’s hopes for a fitting financial future seemed to depend on the hot springs.
One significant impediment remained on the road to the future of the Pagosa Hot Springs. Who owned the hot springs and their adjacent lands? A battle for ownership reared its ugly head. The title to those lands was a total mess. Tune in next week for that unbelievable story.

This story was posted on August 6, 2019.