Early day Pagosa Country experienced its greatest population and economic growth between the years 1890 and 1916.
It was a growth fueled by entry into Archuleta County of the railroad/logging industry on a large scale.
Pagosa Springs was a raw frontier village until 1890. During the decade of the 1890s, the town acquired a weekly newspaper, moved west across the San Juan River occupying space formerly filled with the barracks and parade grounds of Fort Lewis, saw the organization of fraternal, civic and social clubs, and watched the construction of the community’s first church buildings. By the end of 1900, a railroad entered town complete with ticket station, water tower, turntable, stock loading chutes and other amenities.
Two major logging railroads entered Archuleta County during the 1890s, the first at Edith, the second at Pagosa Junction. Both spawned attachments — additional railroads ascending nearly every valley in Archuleta County. The goal of the owners of the logging railroads was to log as much as possible of the Ponderosa pine timber blanketing the county up to an elevation of about 10,000 feet. In addition to logs and lumber, the railroads hauled as many passengers and as much freight as possible.
In addition, cattle raising remained a major industry. Before the railroad arrived, cattle had to be herded to major markets by cowboys. Of course, when the Denver and Rio Grande passed through Amargo/Lumberton in 1880, and through the southwestern part of Archuleta County and on to Durango in 1881, the railroad became the destination of the drovers.
Ranchers from Archuleta County generally drove their stock first to Chama — and then, as the railroad moved west, to Amargo/Lumberton, Juanita, Pagosa Junction, Arboles and Tiffany — whichever destination was closer to the ranch.
Settlers continued to take up homesteads in Archuleta County and grew root crops and grains for export. An important new industry was raising grain to feed the increasing numbers of draft horses and oxen used in the local logging and lumbering activities.
The logging industry attracted a large number of workers and the logging and lumber mill payrolls encouraged merchants to set up shops in town. By 1900, business houses stretched along Pagosa and San Juan streets in a pattern that remains to this day.
Let us next step into a Jules Verne time machine and look at the Pagosa Springs that was between 1890 and the new century beginning with 1900 (continued next week).