Pagosa’s Past: The Great Pagosa Hot Springs

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Shown here is a pre-1900 photo of the Pagosa Hot Springs.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

We’ve been looking at the Pagosa Hot Springs through the eyes of Army Capt. John N. Macomb, who visited the springs in 1859. We continue from where we left off last week.

McCauley described the land surrounding the springs as “peculiar, honey-combed ground over which a passerby must exercise caution. Elsewhere he noted, “The general surface is solid and will bear the weight of a horse and rider, although a hollow sound will be heard while passing over it.”

Until Fort Lewis was begun in 1878, we have no record of anyone living near the hot springs. Welch Nossaman built cabins near the hot springs as early as 1876. Other cabins may have been erected nearby, especially along the wagon road about 1 mile south of the hot springs known as Baker’s Toll road. As early as 1861, a toll road ran past the hot springs. It was built by a man named Baker to accommodate miners and prospectors bound from New Mexico to work the newly found gold and silver strike near what has become Silverton high in the San Juan Mountains north of today’s Durango. The strike area was fittingly known as Baker’s Park.

In response to the growing demand for fresh vegetables and fruit by occupants of the cluster of mining camps springing up in the high country, a number of agricultural communities sprouted at lower elevations in the river valleys trickling down from mountains. A goodly number of those supplies were freighted in from the territory of New Mexico via Baker’s toll road. This road passed by the hot springs, providing considerable exposure for what was being touted as the “World’s Largest and Hottest.”

The Silverton newspaper reported in March of 1879, “Quite a large number of San Juaners are enroute for Silverton via Pagosa Springs and the Animas Canyon Toll Road.” 

In the same paper, it was noted that a mail route had been established from Garland City to Silverton via Pagosa Springs and Animas City. After July 1, Pagosa Springs was to have daily delivered mail service from Alamosa.