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One could say that Pagosa Springs started as a town on June 5, 1878, when the first post office opened for business.
The first postmaster was Joseph Clarke, who had opened a general store where the road between Tierra Amarilla and the settlements further west and north crossed a bridge about a mile south of the main hot spring. Clarke’s business opened in 1877 and was undoubtedly the first business in town. The application asking for the post office claimed there were 100 residents. The post office was located in Clarke’s store.
The community that would really blossom as Pagosa Springs began to flourish in 1878, the same year the Army began construction of Fort Lewis. Before we describe the arrival of the army, it might do to quote from the memoirs of Joseph W. Pickett, a minister bound for the mines at Silverton. Pickett described the springs area he visited June 7, 1878:
“I left my kind friends before eight o’clock, passed down, down, and over another swiftly flowing river, and at 3 p.m. reached Pagosa Springs. Here is a good bridge over the San Juan. There are no high mountains in the vicinity, but the bluffs are about a mile apart. I strolled up the east side of the river a mile to the springs. In the distance, I saw what seemed a log heap burning from the smoke; and walking on, heard the rushing, gurgling sound of the vast cauldron. Imagine a nearly circular body of water, about forty feet across, boiling up a steel blue through the center and around the edges. You can look down some twenty feet in the center. A film seems formed, but the waters are perfectly pure with a strong odor of sulfur and soda. No one dares to get into the central chasm. The water would blister, or boil an egg. But about the edge there are sink-holes, three or four feet deep, in which you may let the water, so as to have it cooler. For a space of forty rods square, the rocks seem perforated with holes through which waters pour in all directions. A small brook pours into the San Juan from a dozen channels. Puffs of steam rise from almost all the ground. What a sanitarium. It would bathe the nation, if all the water was utilized.
“Here come two Utes with bows and arrows, to see me write. They bathe with their papooses nearly all the time.”
More next week on Pickett’s visit to Pagosa Country in 1878.