Hot water, hot springs and high hopes

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Pagosa Springs was proud of their hometown band, as were many frontier villages. This 1900 Fourth of July celebration featured the local Columbine Band. “Jack of All Trades” pioneer Fil Byrnes, the community’s first school teacher, is holding the reins and singing out the hees and haws with the team of horses.

The Pagosa Springs Company made do with J.L. Campbell’s improvements to the Pagosa Hot Springs bath house until 1888, when they erected a second bath house west of the original building. At that same time, they modified the original bath house, adding the spires which create the Gothic look which remains to this day.
Another bath house for men only was added in 1890 under the management of Marion Patrick. The new frame building was 42 feet by 22 feet with a plunge of 24 by 15 feet, vapor room, sweat room and sitting room. Costing $900, the new building was ready for bathers Aug. 7, just in time to serve the needs of invalid soldiers sent by the Army from Fort Leavenworth to recuperate in the healing waters. The lithium content in the hot water impressed the Army surgeon with its healing qualities along with the pure mountain air perfumed by the pine trees.
The bath houses as they stood in 1890 were not significantly changed for decades. The remains of a concrete foundation poured to support a two-story brick building were visible until just a few years ago. Begun in 1906, the two-story modernization dream was abandoned in 1907 and allowed to waste away, unused.
How many health and wonder seekers visited the Great Hot Springs prior to 1890? Since no visitation records remain it’s impossible to make an accurate guess.
Newspapers from neighboring communities wrote occasionally of citizens from their towns going to bathe in the hot springs. As early as 1878, Silverton newspapers referred often to miners who wintered in Pagosa Springs, then returned to Silverton for the summer mining season.
The first edition of the Pagosa Springs News, the first Pagosa Springs newspaper, rolled off of the press April 1, 1890. Daniel L. Egger, the editor, quickly jumped on the band wagon as booster of “The World’s Greatest Hot Springs.”
He bragged in that first edition, “The visitors to the Springs will exceed in number that of any previous season if present indications count for anything.”

This story was posted on September 15, 2019.