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Gomez Store - Pagosa Junction

March 27, 2000 09:03AM
The following article appears in today's, 3-27-00, Front Page Section of the Pagosa Springs Sun:
Pagosa Junction loses noted landmark
By John M. Motter
It was once called Gato, Pagosa Junction was, and like its namesake - the cat - it has had nine lives. Now that the Padilla family is moving out, the old river village and railroad town is empty. For the first time since 1880 and maybe earlier, Pagosa Junction has no residents. The move has moistened more than one cheek with a silent tear shed in memory of an almost forgotten past.
The Gomez Store moved from Pagosa Junction to Pagosa Springs this past week to become part of a museum collection at the Fred Harman Art Museum. The old warehouse formerly located across the railroad tracks from the store also moved out last week and now rests on Juanita Hill on the south side of Trujillo Road overlooking the San Juan-Navajo river union at Juanita.
The Padillas are direct descendants of the pioneering Gomez family and grew to adulthood in Pagosa Junction. For the past few years, Lilliosa Padilla and son Ray have been the only residents of Pagosa Junction, kind of a life-support system for the crumbling community. Felix Gomez, Lilliosa's father, had closed the doors on the Gomez Store in 1971, leaving its contents intact. Since then, Mrs. Padilla has conducted guided tours of the historic building and its contents.
All of the Padilla buildings are on a former railroad right of way now owned by the Southern Ute Tribe. Last year the tribe decided not to renew the lease. Consequently, the Padillas have moved the store and sold the family home. Is Pagosa Junction dead, or do one or more of the nine lives remain? Only time will tell.
No one knows precisely when the first settler began house keeping at Pagosa Junction. The history of human activity along the San Juan River in the southern part of Archuleta County is shrouded in the mists of the past. Certainly it was known to the Ute and Navajo Indians prior to the coming of the white man. Hispanic explorers and traders certainly passed through more than two centuries ago.
We know the historic Dominguez-Escalante party crossed the San Juan River a few miles downstream at Carracas in 1776. We know American trappers from Taos were trapping beaver in the San Juan in the early 1820s. We know when the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad built its narrow-gauge line into the San Juan Basin, it passed through Pagosa Junction and a station house was built there in 1881.
The site was known as Gato until a branch logging railroad known as the Rio Grande, Pagosa, and Northern was built from Pagosa Junction to Pagosa Springs in 1899-1900, one hundred years ago. We don't know why the place was named Gato. Perhaps one of the early parties there had a hair-raising encounter with a mountain lion. Mountain lions are still plentiful in the vicinity.
Pagosa Junction became the official name with the coming of the new railroad to Pagosa Springs and a post office opened in 1899. The 1899 postal application listed a population of 200. Down through the years, census reports list a population of 288 in 1910, 274 in 1920, and 447 in 1930. When the railroad connection to Pagosa Springs was stopped during the mid-1930s, Pagosa Junction began to decline.
At its zenith, the town (it never incorporated) had a lumber mill with a large payroll, a hotel, restaurant, boarding houses, stables, school, post office, at least two general stores, Catholic church, possibly a newspaper, and perhaps other businesses. Community legs cavorted and community smiles broadened at dances held in the storage building. Only the Catholic church remains and it has moved to a high hill outside of town, safe from the San Juan's recurring floods.
We catch a glimpse of Gato, before 1900, from the following 1954 news item. "The log depot at Gato, formerly Pagosa Junction, is being sold. The railroad sent a small shed as a replacement. The Gato building was the original depot constructed in Amargo in 1881 and moved to Pagosa Junction after Amargo declined (the mid 1890s). The name changed to Pagosa Junction when the connection to Pagosa Springs was built, reverted to Gato (a railroad designation) when that line closed. Trainmen used to point out numerous bullet holes in the log walls, relics of tough times at Amargo and Gato. One station agent was reported murdered in the building. The office closed a couple of years ago."
Another news item from April of 1925 reported: "A historic building in Pagosa Junction built by the government 44 years ago burned down. Col. Christy Stollsteimer, agent to the Ute Indians, used the building for administration by the Indian Agency. Later, in 1899, the building was used by the Pagosa Lumber Company as a store and office before their own buildings were erected. The building contained a huge fireplace in the center. The chimney remained after the fire."
Stopping the Pagosa Springs railroad branch during the 1930s was the beginning of the end. When the rail line to Durango stopped still later, the death knell for the town had been sounded.
The post office closed Nov. 30, 1954. In September of 1962, despite parental protests, the school closed. The earliest record we have of a school there is 1900. In September of 1962, the school had 17 students. Amy Amyx was the teacher. In August of 1963, the school building was auctioned off. In June of 1968, voting Precinct 4 including Pagosa Junction as a polling place closed. A June 1979 newspaper article reported three or four residents lived in Pagosa Junction.
Genevieve Baker Peña Gunn was born in Pagosa Junction Jan. 23, 1913. She penned the following lines in 1978.
"When I look back to my childhood, I see that we were made happy with such simple things. Going to Ignacio on the train was a once a year treat.
"Today the river has eaten away much of the town (major floods during 1911, 1927). Zabriskie's store has fallen down and most of the homesteads are deserted, but when I think of Pagosa Junction, I see it as it was 50 years ago. The school bell rings; the train moves into town; the hotel is busy. The canyon people are riding into town for Saturday shopping. (That's how we called them - the first canyon people, or the second canyon people, to indicate which canyon they lived in up or down the river). I remember the canyons and town full of life and people. To see it now, you'd think no one had ever been there."
Subject Author Posted

Gomez Store - Pagosa Junction

Jerry Sahnd March 27, 2000 09:03AM

There goes another piece of history.

Grant Houston March 27, 2000 11:52AM

Re: There goes another piece of history.

Wade Hall March 27, 2000 01:36PM

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