Hot springs, hot water and high hopes

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This topo map shows the entrance to Pagosa and the Hot Springs via Mill Creek. The bridge across the San Juan was about a mile downstream from the Hot Springs. Joseph Clarke’s buildings mentioned in this article are located next to the bridge. Those buildings were the beginnings of Pagosa Springs.

I’ve been writing about the struggle for ownership of the Pagosa Hot Springs during the early years of Pagosa Country settlement. We’ve learned that title to the Springs was granted by the U.S. government to owners who paid with Valentine Script. Those owners sold their interest in the springs to the Pagosa Springs Company, a Leavenworth, Kan., firm which operated the springs for many years.
Last week, the name Joseph Clarke entered the picture and I promised to explain who this Joseph Clarke character was. Here goes.
One could say the community of Pagosa Springs started June 5, 1878, when the first post office opened for business. In truth, the Town of Pagosa Springs incorporated in 1891. But lots of folks lived around the springs before legal incorporation.
The first postmaster was Clarke. It would be reasonable to proclaim him as the “Father of Our City.”
In 1877, Clarke opened a general store and rooming house about a mile south of the Hot Springs near where Mill Creek, then known as Rio Frio, spills into the San Juan River. A bridge spanned the river just north of the juncture of the creek and the river. Crossing that bridge was a toll road incorporated in New Mexico that ran from Abiquiu to what we know today as Silverton.
Clarke operated the post office from his newly opened general store. His application for the post office privilege claimed there were 100 residents. Among others, Clarke also managed the Hot Springs bath houses.
The townsite of Pagosa Springs was surveyed into streets, blocks, and lots and those lots were auctioned off in 1885, the same year Archuleta County was created and was therefore no longer part of Conejos County. Clarke purchased 50 of those lots, including all of the lots on the east side of Block 21, the principle business district. He later moved to Durango, where he was elected as a La Plata County commissioner and soon disappeared from public view.

This story was posted on September 1, 2019.