Railroad and lumber interests in early-day Pagosa

The big news in Pagosa Country in 1899 was the letting of contracts for the construction of a branch railroad from Gato water tank, soon to be known as Pagosa Junction, to Pagosa Springs.

Although it was called the Sullenburger line, the chief directors were from the Denver & Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad. The incorporated title of the line was the Rio Grande, Pagosa, & Northern Railroad.

The purpose of the railroad as stated on the incorporation papers was to tap timber resources in the vicinity of Pagosa Springs. The newspaper quipped, “The railroad is coming! Hoop la!”

In the same edition of The News an item states that the Pagosa Springs Town Board had appointed a committee to study the cost of building a water works. News editor Daniel Egger effused, “Railroads and water works. Say, our city is strictly in the push!”

The Pagosa Springs Town Board had done little since the town incorporated in 1891. Ordinances dealing with public health had been passed. A great push was made to construct wooden sidewalks—and they were built everywhere.

Sidewalks in business districts were eight feet wide, those in residential districts four feet wide. In 1896 the board had purchased from Charley Schaad for $100 the building to be used for town hall. It stood on the banks of the San Juan River on the west side adjacent to San Juan Street. Built by barber A.J. Lewis in 1887, the building had been used at sundry times as a meat market and saloon. It is possible when Lewis was given credit for erecting the building, what he really did was rebuild the bakery left over from Fort Lewis. The map of the fort showed a bakery in about that location. It served the town until the late 1950s and in addition to being town hall was the location of the community’s first fire station and first library.

An August article in the Trinidad Chronicle noted:

“Whitney Newton, president of one largest mills of its kind in the state, departed for Denver this morning. His company has been operating a large sawmill on Red River in New Mexico), twelve miles below Catskill, for several years. Since the Newton branch of the C. & S. road was washed out two weeks ago, and in view of the fact that most of the timber is already cut out, Mr. Newton decided to move the mill outfit to Pagosa Springs. The company has leased vast bodies of timber over there and is now building a narrow gauge road from Pagosa Junction to Pagosa Springs, a distance of thirty miles. The horses and wagons arrived in Trinidad, coming overland, and a carload of machinery went over the Maxwell branch. The whole outfit, requiring four cars, left over the Rio Grande for Pagosa Junction.”

By August the News bragged, “Seventy teams are now at work on the railroad grade between Pagosa Junction and the Durango Road (approximately today’s U.S. 160).”

The railroad pays $3.50 per team. And A.T. Sullenburger was appointed postmaster at the new Pagosa Junction post office.