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The History of Pagosa Springs

About Pagosa Springs

Today Pagosa Springs is famous for its natural hot springs, rich mineral waters, and wellness resorts. But not many of its visitors know that the history of this Colorado’s undiscovered gem spans hundreds of years…

The present-day Pagosa Springs was home to the Ute Tribe before it evolved into a white settlement in late 19th century. The name of the area – Pagosa – comes from the Ute word that means “water that heals”. For centuries the Ute Tribe used the hot water in the springs as a gathering point. In the 1870s Europeans set foot near Pagosa Springs and since then the area saw a sharp increase in European travel and settlement, although the Ute Tribe still lived in the area.

Pagosa Springs History

Since the late 19th century, people would come to Pagosa Springs for recreational purposes. At that time bathhouses did not exist, so travelers would bath in the waters of the springs. With the development of mining in the nearby San Juan Mountains, people from other places started to come to and settle around the springs.

Increased travel and settlement of white population caused hostility on both sides. In order to prevent conflict between the Ute Tribe and white population, the federal government decided to establish a military post in the area. The military post north of the springs was built in October 1878 and was named Fort Lewis (after Lieutenant Colonel William Lewis who passed away shortly before).

Interestingly enough, Fort Lewis served as a major boost for the economy of Pagosa Springs. However, two years after the establishment of Fort Lewis, the army decided that it was too isolated. As a result, the troops moved west to establish another military post, and Fort Lewis was completely abandoned by 1882.

In the 1880s and 1890s, the town continued to develop: Pagosa Springs saw the establishment of its first bathhouse (1888), a newspaper (1890), a railroad line (1900) that gave a boost to the area’s timber industry.

The springs for which the town was named, photographed in 1874
The springs for which the town was named, photographed in 1874

In 2020, Pagosa Springs is Colorado’s premier hot spring resort that attracts over 175,000 tourists each year. Pagosa Springs is also a popular waypoint for those who are traveling to the nearby San Juan National Forest and Wolf Creek Ski Area. The area’s recreational opportunities include fishing, rafting, hiking, hunting, as well as downhill and cross country skiing; and this wide selection of activities for all tastes makes Pagosa Springs a perfect destination for tourists from other U.S. states and foreign countries alike.

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