Roads linking Pagosa Springs to the outside world

Photo courtesy John M. Motter The photo shows teams pulling wagon loads of freight over Elwood Pass circa 1880. Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The photo shows teams pulling wagon loads of freight over Elwood Pass circa 1880.

Pagosa Springs had no newspaper until 1890. In order to learn what was happening in Pagosa Springs during the years of pioneer settlement prior to 1890, one must read the newspapers from surrounding communities, such as Del Norte, Silverton, Lake City and Durango.

A subject of much interest was the construction of roads connecting the San Juan Basin and San Juan mining communities with the outside world. Toll roads were commonly the first roads constructed during that time. On that subject, the following article appeared in the 1879 Silverton Standard:

“The La Plata Miner (an Animas City/Durango newspaper) wishes to know something about the toll road from this place to Pagosa Springs and thinks we ought to be able to shed some light on the subject. We know there was an appropriation of $5,000 made by the government for the purpose of building a road from Alamosa to Pagosa Springs. We also know that work on said road was pushed vigorously as long as the weather would permit and that the appropriation was exhausted. Also that the road is not yet opened through by twenty-seven miles and that the portion of it that has been opened has not yet been put in usable condition for loaded wagons and that it will require a great deal of money to put it into condition. We have never yet heard of any toll being charged on said road, and do not believe it has been done …”

The above article is referring to a military road planned to connect Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley with newly constructed Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs. The route planned to cross the San Luis Valley from Fort Garland, ascend a branch of the Alamosa River to Elwood Pass, and then descend the West Fork of the San Juan River to Pagosa Springs. This route was built and became a part of the state highway system until the 1911 flood washed away the road through the canyon just upstream from the juncture of the East and West Forks of the San Juan River. At that time, the State of Colorado Highway Department abandoned the route and constructed Wolf Creek Pass instead. Wolf Creek Pass opened in 1916.

An article in the La Plata Miner on March 22, 1879, reported the incorporation of the Animas City, Florida, Pine Creek and Pagosa Springs Toll Road Company. The corporation officers were John W. Shaw, Richard Grimes and D.L. Sheets. On March 29, the Miner reported, “Quite a lot of San Juaners are en route for Silverton via Pagosa Springs and the Animas Canyon Toll Road.”

The same paper said, “A mail route has been established from Garland City to Silverton via Pagosa Springs and Animas City. After July 1, Pagosa Springs will have daily mail from Alamosa.”