Hot springs, hot water and high hopes

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This photo shows a former bridge connecting the east and west portions of San Juan Street downtown, probably following the 1911 flood. There have been several bridges across the river at this location, the first built by Fort Lewis troops in 1878. Finally, instead of replacing the San Juan Street Bridge, it was moved by Worthe Crouse to its current location shortly after World War II.

We’ve been writing about how the title to the Great Pagosa Hot Springs got into private hands. Picking up from where we left off last week, we learn that the president of the United States, acting on a recommendation from the Department of the Interior had, in May of 1877, ordered the 1-square-mile townsite with the spring as its center be set aside “because of the grandeur of the Great Hot Springs, and the medicinal qualities of its waters.”
Consequently, 6 square miles by presidential order issued Jan. 28, 1879, was set aside as the “Pagosa Springs Military Reservation.” The previously designated townsite was excluded from the military reservation. In order to give full effect to the earlier script locations, the president, on April 7, modified his previous order and excluded the 80-acre script claims from the military reservation.
The owners of the script applications asked for patents in December of 1882. A committee appointed to determine the validity of the Valentine script locations reported in favor of the script. Based on the committee’s findings, patents were issued July 5, 1883, to Maj. Henry Foote, James L. Byers, John Conover and Dr. A. C. Van Duyn.
The Pagosa Springs Company was incorporated under Colorado law Nov. 12, 1883. The incorporation, among other things, declared its intent to acquire land, and to own and operate hotels and resorts. Byers, Conover and Van Duyn purchased Foote’s 40 acres immediately surrounding the springs for $100 in August of 1883. The two script patents were for 40 acres surrounding the main hot spring and 40 acres immediately below the hot spring.
One writer, many years later, placed the dollar value of the script used to claim the entire 80 acres including the hot springs at $5.09.
Through good times and bad, mostly bad, for they were often delinquent in paying their taxes, the Pagosa Springs Company controlled the Great Pagosa Hot Springs until Mr. Owen F. Boyle, of Durango, purchased them at a public trustee sale (bankruptcy) in December 1910. Absentee ownership was practiced by the company, with headquarters in Leavenworth, Kan.
Several local managers either operated the business for the Pagosa Springs Company or leased it. Joseph Clarke was one of these managers. Clarke greatly influenced Pagosa Springs history, as we’ll learn next week.

This story was posted on August 25, 2019.