Pagosa lumbers into the 20th century

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Photo courtesy John M. Motter.
Horse teams and their drivers load logs at the Pagosa Lumber Company Mill No, 2 site near Dyke, a few miles west of Pagosa Springs along Stollsteimer Creek.

Two large lumber manufacturing companies were harvesting logs and exporting timber as Pagosa Country entered the 20th century. Each of these companies was among the largest, most modern, and best equipped lumber businesses in Colorado.

It has been said that most of the communities stretching from Boulder in the north of Colorado to Albuquerque in New Mexico were built with lumber cut from Archuleta County’s huge stand of ponderosa pine trees.

The oldest of these companies was the New Mexico Lumber Company (NML Co.), which entered Archuleta County from New Mexico by way of Edith. This company was owned by the Biggs family. The main mill of NML Co. was at Edith.

Both lumber companies relied on narrow gauge railroad trains for moving logs and lumber. The NML Co. railroad system moved northward through the eastern part of the county before stopping near Mill Creek just south of Pagosa Springs. After being mostly dormant for a number of years, the NML Co. sold out to a firm called McPhee & McGinnity in 1917, ending its involvement in Archuleta County. The purchaser continued to log and manufacture lumber in the Dolores, Colo., area for a number of years.

The second major logging and lumber manufacturing company to operate in Archuleta County was the Pagosa Lumber Company owned and operated by Alexander T. Sullenburger.

Sullenburger’s first mill was built at Pagosa Junction. Sullenburger’s railroad left the east-west trending Denver and Rio Grande railroad at Pagosa Junction and meandered northward along Cat Creek, changed to a northeasterly course until reaching Dyke, then moved almost due east until finally entering Pagosa Springs in October of 1900.

By the time Sullenburger’s mill was fully operational, the population of Pagosa Junction had jumped to more than 300. As Sullenburger’s railroad moved northward, new mills and communities sprouted along the way. A second Pagosa Lumber Company mill was erected near Dyke in 1903 and employed from 25 to 30 men for two years until Sullenburger opened a new mill in South Pagosa in 1905.

Located generally on land where the present high school and sports complex now are, the newest mill was also the largest. The designation South Pagosa was created for this particular mill site and the housing for workers and other accouterments surrounding the mill.

Pagosa Springs residents now awakened to the blast of the steam whistle as the day’s work at the mill began. Smoke boiled from the smoke stacks used to get rid of wood scraps and sawdust left over from the lumber manufacturing process. Newly washed clothes hung on lines to dry collected sawdust, a never-ending plague for towns located in the vicinity of lumber mills. Rail tracks snaked through town to the north, east and south, supporting chugging, narrow gauge engines and their log carrying cars.

Finally, The Pagosa Springs SUN reported Aug. 4, 1916, “The expiring whistle of the Pagosa Lumber Co. mill was heard this morning.”

New owners moved the mill to Dulce, N.M.