Standing at the Hermosa Creek Bridge, one has only to slowly turn a full circle to know why Hermosa is called “the Beautiful Place”. Across the Valley are the majestic Red Cliffs. Behind you, Hermosa Peak silently watches over it’s the fertile valley filled with orchards, farms, and ranches. A quiet, peaceful, “beautiful place”. It has been so since it was settled in 1873.
The Gold Rush
With the discovery of gold, near Denver in 1859, the rush to the Rockies was on. Captain Charles Baker led a group of prospectors west and south through the Gunnison River valley and over Cinnamon Pass into a high mountain valley. This would become Baker’s Park and the site of the mining boomtown of Silverton.
The party searched for placer gold through the summer with limited success. Baker and 15 members of his party worked their way south down the Animas River valley and wintered at the north end of the lower Animas Valley. There they set up what they hoped to be a permanent town.They constructed the first bridge in the area. It was named Baker’s Bridge.
The new town, Animas City, was located on land owned by the Ute Indians. The Ute land reached west from, roughly where the hot springs at Pagosa are located. This land was legally off limits to mining and homesteading. Not trusting the whites, the Utes were not happy with the incursion on their land and tensions mounted.
With the outbreak of the Civil War and fearing for their lives, the Baker party abruptly abandoned the settlement in July 1861, leaving everything behind.
Effect of the Brunot Treaty
The end of the Civil War brought a renewed interest in the San Juan mountains and the lure of quick wealth. In 1872, the rush to the southwest Colorado mountains began. The army was sent to keep the trespassers out, but little effort was made to stop the rush. The need for a treaty was evident.
The Utes seldom hunted the higher reaches of the San Juan mountains so were willing to trade land for an annual cash payment and hunting rights. The Brunot Treaty was negotiated in September 1873. It provided for the Utes to cede land in the “mountaintops, not the valleys”. They would retain hunting rights “as long as the game lasted”. The whites were to stay off of Ute land. The Brunot Treaty was ratified in April 1874.
This treaty opened the doors to settlement in the San Juans. Quickly the mining districts opened up. Miners flooded into the mountains. This created the need for supplies.
Hermosa was probably the first permanent “town” settled in the Animas Valley. There are references to a “Hermosa Townsite” but no known plats exits. Hermosa was located at the confluence of the Animas River and Hermosa Creek, 12 miles north of what would be Durango.
The mouth of the Hermosa Canyon provided a sheltered “pocket” with a warmer climate ideal for growing fruit. Orchards would grow marvelously in this part of the valley.
The new community
By 1873, some farmers and ranchers were already beginning to settle the Animas Valley, in advance of the ratification of the Brunot Treaty. In 1874 crops were already planted and by fall food was being harvested.
Two members of the Baker party returned in 1874. Seth Sackett and John Turner homesteaded near the site of the original Animas City. Early deeds refer to some of the early settlers John Dunn, Andrew Richardson and Billy Quinn.James Pinkerton acquired 160 acres of land straddling the river south of Baker’s Bridge and including the hot springs. He purchased dairy cattle and began producing dairy products for the mines. Pinkerton built a bathhouse at the hot spring for his family and friends. It would later become the Pinkerton in the Pines Resort.
Frank Trimble moved into the Animas Valley in 1875 and settled at the hot springs there. These waters were renowned for their healing powers. Trimble suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and injuries received during the Indian Wars in Oregon. He used the hot springs to soothe his wounds. He swore that they cured his ailments in the first month of living at the hot springs. In 1882, he built the Trimble Hotel, a two-story hotel with fourteen guest rooms.
In 1875, goods began to arrive in the Animas Valley from the T. D. Burns stores in New Mexico. Burn’s daughter Rufina was married to Frank Trimble, so it is thought that Trimble’s homestead was used as a distribution point for these goods.
Also, in 1875 C.A. Trippe opened a general store in the “township” of Hermosa. In 1876, the first post office was opened in Trippe’s general store, with Andrew Fuller as the first postmaster. The post office would be in operation until 1929.
The agricultural community
Alfalfa was nutrient rich and helped improve the soil. Alfalfa was rotated with other important crops, such as potatoes, oats, barley, corn and garden vegetables. Orchards become the major crop of the area. “Bee yards” located throughout the alfalfa and clover fields kept the crops in the area pollinated and local honey was as popular as the fruit.
In 1875, produce and supplies began flowing out of Hermosa to the mines via the Animas Canyon Toll Road and to the Army at Fort Lewis, near Hesperus.
T.A. Kerr established the first grist mill in Hermosa in 1876. He was followed by C.E. Dudley with a mill on his property near Hermosa by 1877.
The first grange in the county was established in Hermosa on April 1, 1911. The grange was one of the country’s oldest agricultural organizations. They were designed to help with loans, insurance and other economic problems of farmers.
Because of its location at the mouth of Hermosa Canyon, the area provided a warmer climate ideal for growing fruit. In 1876, Charles Dudley planted the first orchard in Hermosa. He produced apples and cider for the mines and the local market.
T.A. Kerr purchased land in 1883 and planted apples, pears, plums and sweet cherries. Between 1900 and 1903 Ole Lee, Andrew and Edgar Buchanan, Ervin Mead and Charles Dudley became fruit growers. The orchards became renowned throughout the region and earned numerous awards for quality and varieties.
A shocking development
The quiet little community of Hermosa was shocked in April of 1876 a water dispute broke out between neighbors Hugh Lambert and John Lamb. Lambert accused Lamb of diverting water from his land. Lambert threatened Lamb and a warrant was issued for Lambert’s arrest. While Deputy Edward Harris and his posse attempted to serve the warrant, gunfire broke out. Deputy Harris was shot and killed.
Lambert was arrested, charged and convicted in a courtroom in Lake City. He was sentenced to prison in the State Penitentiary in Canon City. He was pardoned shortly thereafter by governor Routt. He did not return to the Animas Valley and his family sold their Waterfall ranch to Thomas Wigglesworth, the surveyor for the Denver &Rio Grande.
The coming of the railroad
In November of 1881, the Denver&Rio Grande railroad arrived in Hermosa. For the next year, Hermosa became a full-fledged section camp. It included a 50,000-gallon water tank, a siding, a wye, coal house, bunkhouse and a depot.
The lumber for the railroad was provided by T.C. Graden’s sawmill located on the west side of the Animas River near Baker’s Bridge. The lumber for the original Hermosa Creek Bridge most likely came from Graden’s mill.
Hermosa boasted three schools during its history. The first school was a log building built at Trimble in 1879. In 1882, a one-room school was established in an abandoned railroad building. In 1890, Richard Gaines donated land for a one-room school built on his ranch for grades one through eight. In 1925, a second room was added for grades nine and ten. The school was open until 1948 when it was consolidated into the Durango school system.
The Hermosa cemetery is located about a mile north of the Hermosa settlement ( today it is located about a mile passed the Hwy550/railroad crossing) It was officially established in 1906 on land purchased from and located on part of the Richard Gaines Ranch. Although this is the official date of the cemetery, the graves of several settlers from as early as 1888 are found at this location.
The old railroad yard still exists as a maintenance yard for the Durango and Silverton Railroad. The water tank still stands but is not in use, It has been replaced with a storage tank made from an old tanker car. There is an old mail car (numberX66), a maintenance shed containing a speed car and other repair equipment. The work yard replaces the other buildings, the siding, and the wye.
Immediately south of the work yard is the Hermosa Creek Bridge that crosses Hermosa Creek. It is a Howe pony truss bridge built in 1914 to replace the original bridge.
Today the north part of the Animas Valley is showing the signs of rapid growth. There are mobile home parks and subdivisions with both spec and custom homes. Along the west side of the highway and among these subdivisions, pioneer homes, and a few small orchards still, exist. Many of the large farms and ranches in the Valley have been subdivided over the year. Some like the James ranch still exist. Some original pioneer families still live in the area.
In 1993, the Dalton Ranch Golf Club opened. It is now a 4-star golf course resurrected from alfalfa fields. The club includes a restaurant and pro golf shop.
Just west of the Hermosa Creek Bridge is the small community established by Albert and Jennie Cometti in 1960’s. They purchased the strip of land along Meade Ln in Hermosa. The property grew from a gas station/convenience store to a gas station convenience store, liquor store, and restaurant.
At Trimble Springs, a “shopping center ” was built in 2009. It includes a gourmet grocery store, a liquor store, and a hardware store.
The Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs is still in operation. It is open year around. Today it offers soaking pools and a single room and a two-bedroom guesthouse.
The Culhane’s family owned the Honeyville bee farm has been in operation since 1918. It is located about a mile north of the Hwy 550 and railroad crossing north of Hermosa.
The James Ranch located just up the road from Honeyville is a two-generation 425 acre fully functional ranch. It features grass-fed beef, artisan cheeses, pork, chickens, and eggs. Organic vegetables are available in the summer. The Harvest Grill features a menu prepared with goods from the ranch.
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The author of this article was a resident of Hermosa from 1981-2009. The current photos are from my collection. These and others are available for viewing