Pagosa Springs grappled with modernization in 1901 by installing utilities such as a telephone system and a town water distribution system.
On Nov. 9, 1901, a telephone ordinance was passed allowing F.H. Patton to install telephones on city streets. David F. Fitton was granted exclusive rights for 20 years to construct, operate and maintain a telephone system.
As late as March of 1902, town folks were still getting their drinking water from the river. Those folks who didn’t want the bother of dipping their own bucket into the river hired the work done. A man with a water barrel pulled by horse or oxen filled the barrel from the river and then delivered to the homes of folks willing to pay for it.
The town board warned citizens to “get their water above the mouth of Slaughterhouse Gulch.” In those days, Slaughter House Gulch was the ravine north of town entered from 1st Street.
In April of 1902, the town granted Dr. Parrish “perpetual water rights” and paid him $300 for a reservoir site. An ordinance was passed in May authorizing issuance of coupon bonds financing a water works. At that time, Dr. Parish lived where the San Juan Motel now is. And since a reservoir did not yet exist, there was no Reservoir Hill in Pagosa Springs. I’ve seen the hill referred to as Robidoux Hill, possibly the well-known fur trapper who worked the San Juan River as early as the 1820s.
In June a franchise was granted to Gilbert Wilkes & Co. to furnish electrical power and operate a pumping plant. Furnishing the citizens of Pagosa Springs with water and electricity would be a combined effort. The new water plant was built on the east end of San Juan Street. The reservoir was located directly above the plant on “Reservoir Hill.”
An electrical plant was installed to provide power to pump the water from a well dug on the south bank of the river to the reservoir at the top of the hill. From the reservoir, water was distributed throughout town. Construction of distribution lines required several years. A brick building costing $2,000 was authorized to house the pump and electric works. This water and electrical system served the town until the flood of 1911 washed away the building.
Following the flood a new system was built with the water plant where the San Juan Historical Society now is and a new electric plant was erected on the south end of Light Plant Road, where the remains of the building are visible today. At first the electrical plant and water plant were owned by the town.
Now outfitted with electricity, the town installed street lamps in 1902. An addition was added to the north end of Town Hall in 1903 to house a fire hose cart with a bell tower. The fire hose cart was a wagon-like affair with large wheels that could be pulled by horses or pushed by men. Responsible for this spate of electricity was a town board with A.J. Lewis as mayor, and trustees Love, Ross, Freeman, Lacy and Sparks.