With Big Lumber comes new-found prosperity

Big Lumber came to Archuleta County in 1895 and with it a prosperity not known before in the community.

Ed Biggs built the first big mill in 1895 at Edith.

By 1900, Arthur Sullenburger built another big mill in Pagosa Junction, after changing the name of that former railroad stop from Gato to Pagosa Junction.

Both lumber magnates pushed narrow gauge railroads into the vast forests of virgin ponderosa pine blanketing much of Archuleta County.

Biggs’ railroad swept across much of the southeastern part of the county and in a general way, followed the route of today’s U.S. 160 as far as Mill Creek, maybe three or four miles from Pagosa Springs. It never reached the town.

Sullenburger’s railroad eventually reached town by way of Cat Creek.

With the railroads and logging came payrolls, merchants and growth.

News editor Daniel Egger noted the construction of a number of new residences in early 1900. Egger wrote: “F.A. Byrne is building a residence on Sixth Street, and on the corner of Sixth and Pagosa the large barn of Seavy and Reavis is being finished. East of the park Asa Poor is building a neat cottage. F.H. Buckles has just completed a commodious residence in the northern part of town. Mrs. Latham is building an addition to her residence in the eastern part of town. Several other buildings are also under contemplation. There will be a complete transformation in this town before the autumn leaves fall.”

In an April 27 item, The News reported: “The Pagosa Lumber Company commenced running a night shift this week, and still they can’t supply the demand. They are running 150 men at the Junction mill and expect to increase the force immediately.”

A Mr. Wilson of Denver, in May, was awarded the contract for grading the Rio Grande Pagosa and Northern railroad from the end of the line to Pagosa Springs. According to The News, “Saturday several carloads of men, horses, and scrapers arrived at the end of the road and on Monday they commenced moving dirt. The railroad will be completed to Dyke’s in a few weeks as the grade work to that point was almost completed last fall.”

The coming railroad was the talk of Pagosa Country for much of 1900, the editor seemingly reporting on every shovel full of dirt so eager was the town for a rail connection. New settlers and merchants flocked to the area, certain the coming railroad was a guarantee of future prosperity. W.W. Mullins and his family came by horse-drawn wagons over Elwood Pass. Mrs. Mullins hoped to farm, but husband Bill ended up barbering, first in the shop of Abner Lewis, who had been barbering in Pagosa Springs since the late 1870s.

Homestead land was still available in Archuleta County in 1900. In fact, homestead land remained available into the 1930s. And, despite the burgeoning car industry, people continued to move west in covered wagons into the 1930s.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Looking east across the town of Pagosa Springs and the newly constructed railroad terminus in April of 1901, just a few months after the railroad came to town for the first time.