Pagosa Country 1900 — boom times

C.B. Weeks, residence — $500; Antonio Martinez, residence — $500; W.O. Dutton, residence — $500; N. Townsend, cottage — $150; H.L. Glass, cottage — $500; F.M. Randall, cottage — $500; Grant Seavy, cottage — $200; F.A. Byrne, residence — $500; Seavy & Reavis, barn — $600; B.F. Minium, remodeling residence — $200; J.M. Rippy, two cottages — $250; H.C. Cooper, addition to residence — $150; Henry Parr, cottage and barn — $400; W.R. Russell, residence — $800; A.D. Gallop, grist mill — $5,000; same, cottage and barn — $600; J.M. Keith, cottage — $150; Reef & Egger, feed store and ware room — $200; Rio Grande, Pagosa & Northern Railroad, depot, water tank, stock yards, etc., — $7,000; Town of Pagosa Springs, sidewalks and fencing — $1,000.

Yes, Pagosa Country was booming in 1900, the boom fueled by a seemingly endless supply of Ponderosa pine trees.

Harvesting the trees were two of the biggest lumbering operations in Colorado.

First into the county was Edgar Milton Biggs. Biggs’ most noteworthy mill was at Edith, then a community probably topping 300 souls. Biggs logged the drainages of the Navajo River, Little Navajo River, Coyote Creek, Blanco River, Little Blanco River, Echo Creek and possibly some of Mill Creek. Land cleared by the loggers was turned into farmland raising oats and barley and such, crops needed to feed the horses and oxen used to supply muscle for the tree harvest. Biggs ran the New Mexico Lumber Company which ran its own railroad called the Rio Grande and Pagosa Springs Railroad. Biggs’ railroad never quite reached Pagosa Springs.

The other large lumber company, the Pagosa Lumber Company, was run by A.T. Sullenburger, but Whitney Newton Jr. was a major stockholder. The Pagosa Lumber Company also owned its own railroad called the Rio Grande, Pagosa & Northern Railroad.

Sullenburger built his first mill at Pagosa Junction, then logged all of the way to Pagosa Springs where he built a large, modern mill. Sullenburger’s loggers continued north of Pagosa Springs into the West Fork of the San Juan River, up Four Mile Creek, over towards Yellow Jacket Pass, and cut just about every piece of marketable timber in between.

At times, 500 or more workers were employed by the lumber giants. The tree fallers and lumberjacks lived near where the timber was being cut, normally in scarcely tolerable shanties. Schools were often established near the camps to provide an education for the children.

When a stand of timber was cut and hauled off, the makeshift village moved to the next stand and created another community along with a schoolhouse. Many of the logging communities had a store, but the store belonged to the lumber company. It was not unusual for the tab at the company store to come close to matching the workers’ wages.

The list of communities spawned by the lumber industry is long. Not many of those communities exist any more. The list includes: Edith and Pagosa Junction, two communities that rivaled Pagosa Springs in population; Chromo, Trujillo, Juanita, Carracas, Talian, Alturas, Kearns, Lone Tree, Hall, Dyke, Nutria, Hatcher, Sunetha, Chimney Rock (sometimes called “Piedra”), and more.

By 1901, the general distribution of business buildings in Pagosa Springs was much like it remained until the 1970s growth spurt.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This picture of early Pagosa Springs school teachers shows them to be a pretty stern lot. The date of this picture has been lost, but a time circa 1910-1920 is likely accurate.