Pagosa's Past: Pagosa Springs: a hot springs haven

2020/10/oldtimer-AAAAhotsp8-300x195.gif Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Shown here is a pre-1900 photo of the Pagosa Hot Springs.

By John M. Motter

PREVIEW Columnist

A Silverton newspaper reporter visited the Pagosa hot springs during March of 1879 and left the following report for posterity. We continue with his report where we left off last week.

Public accommodations at the hot springs were nonexistent, because the springs were owned by the federal government. No action had yet been taken by the government on the many claims filed for ownership. Visitors and health seekers desiring to use the waters were left to their own devices. Either they obtained permission to use one of the private bath houses or they mimicked the Native Americans and bathed in one of the small seeps that surrounded the main spring.

Residents developed a unique system for bathing in the 142-degree water. Each family had its own bath house, no doubt a blessing in a town with no central water system. Daisy Opdyke Fitzhugh, who as a small girl arrived with her family at Pagosa Springs in 1879, recalled the bathing routine many years later.

“We would go out in the morning and fill the large built-in wooden tub and by afternoon, the water would be cool enough to take a bath. Then, when we were through bathing, we would empty the tub, lock the door and it would be ready for the next time.”

Another visitor during those years, a writer who thought there might be more bath houses than people in Pagosa Springs, gave this report of his experience near the hot springs.

“In our search for knowledge and while rambling around the great springs, we accosted one whom we supposed to be a citizen, but who proved to be a stranger. We approached and politely requested to know what was the principle occupation of the people of Pagosa. Quick as thought, while casting an eye at the scores of bath houses, came the reply. ‘Bathing! By ------------ sir.’”