~ Crestone's History ~
While people have inhabited the Crestone area for thousands of years,
Crestone was officially established on November 4, 1880 after the discovery
of gold in Burnt Gulch, east of the town, in 1879. Mining and ranching
fueled the early economy of the town. Businesses included banks and
assay offices, feed stores, livery stables, slaughter houses, general
stores, restaurants, dance halls, boarding houses, newspapers, bookstores,
millineries, barber shops, jewelry and hardware stores. Professionals
including doctors, lawyers, ministers, bankers, and teachers lived and
served in the community.
In 1901 the railroad came to Crestone, and soon there were 2000 citizens
in the town, and 10,000 in the larger “district” from
Villa Grove to the Sand Dunes. As much as $80,000.00 a month in gold
was hauled by rail from the stamp mill at the Independence Mine to
the eastern slope. The Town of Crestone was incorporated on March
29, 1901. When mining was no longer cost effective, Crestone entered
into a long, slow decline. Some minor strikes would revive the town
from time to time, particularly in the 1920’s and 1940’s.
In 1971, the Arizona Land and Cattle Company platted one of its properties
for land development, and formed The Baca Grande, located south of
Crestone. This community helped revitalize Crestone, which became
the commercial center for Baca Grande residents. Today the Town of
Crestone is dedicated to serving as an attractive and vibrant business
center, while preserving its historical character and its atmosphere
of peace and quiet. Crestone, together with the Baca Grande, is a
haven for summer vacationers, hikers and climbers, retirees and spiritual
The tour begins at Alder St. and Silver Ave. To get there from the
entrance to town, go straight at the first stop sign, follow the pavement
to the left, pass the credit union, and park in front of the Post
Office. Walk north on Alder Street past the Sangre de Cristo Inn to
the next intersection of Alder and Galena. This was
the center of Crestone in 1901, when Galena Avenue was lined with
shops on both sides for more than 2 blocks.
The Town was first settled in 1879 following gold strikes and its
first store, the Crestone Mercantile Company, was opened. Its peak
population of 2,000 occurred from the Town’s incorporation in
1901 to the Independence Mine closure and end of railroad service
in 1906. Some of the town was destroyed by a flood in 1911 and the
mines played out over the next 40 years.
As you look toward the mountains, the Ponderosa pine on the right
in front of the Crestone Mercantile was the “hanging tree.”
Further uphill at the end of town was the brothel. The building was
moved to a residential street and is now used as a retreat center
for Buddhist nuns. The only buildings on this tour which are open
to the public are the church and those currently used as businesses.
Many of the old homes, particularly the log cabins, are still held
by the descendents of old Crestone residents and are inhabited some
or all of the year. Many buildings were moved in, around, or out of
town with teams of up to 40 horses. Gaps between buildings along your
walk are sometimes from destruction of structures by fire but usually
because the building was removed.
Galena continues uphill to the Rio Grande National Forest and a major
trail to Crestone Peak and other Sangre de Cristo features. If you
hike there, on your right a few minutes walk past the sign “4x4
vehicles only,” watch for a glimpse of white pickets. That is
the Teton Cemetery, used from 1880 to about 1918
with one burial as late as 1950. Only a few of the graves have engraved
monuments, but most are outlined with stones.
The Corner of Alder and Galena
This is the historic center of the town. The building on the northeast
corner began in 1899 as the Pioneer Store, and the
second floor contained a large hall added in 1901. Hutchinson’s
Hall was noted for all-night dancing, midnight suppers, disregard
for Prohibition, and community events. It later became the Post Office,
Crestone Mart, three restaurants, and now contains four businesses
and an apartment.
The large blue Victorian structure on the southwest corner looks
just the same as its 1901 photographs when it was the San
Luis Valley Bank. Over the past 100 years, it has been many
types of stores: general store, hardware, grocery, liquor, meat market,
and restaurant. The Town government bought this derelict and frozen
building in 2009, has made extensive interior renovations, and is
in the process of exterior restoration. The building houses the Town
Hall, Crestone Historical Museum (in the old bank lobby), Food Bank,
satellite offices for Saguache County Social Services and San Luis
Valley Mental Health, the Crestone Youth Plaza Thrift Store, Crestone
Botanical Garden, many public meetings, and an upstairs apartment.
The southeast corner across Alder was a church in 1910, was Olde Town
from the late 70's to late 90's with the famous Road Kill Cafe, and
is now the Sangre de Cristo Inn.
The Crestone Mercantile Company (see picture above)
was close to the NW corner. This building still exists as a garage
outside of town. Further west (downhill) there are two white buildings
which were hauled in sometime after 1910. The Hardware Store
with picks on the false front never was a hardware store. The sign
was moved from the big blue building after it became something else.
second white building further west, pictured to the right, began as
Thebo’s Pool Hall, then was an ice cream parlor,
and is now a private residence.
Walking North on Alder St
Keeping the mountains to your right, continue walking north on Alder
Street. The log cabin set back on the left with a cross, the Little
Shepherd of the Hills, was originally a private home. It
was purchased by Baca Ranch owner Alfred Collins, who housed most
of his 30-50 ranch hands in the town in the 1930’s and 40’s.
He donated it to the Episcopal Church. Monthly services are still
held, and you may go inside.
Next on the left is Crestone’s former Town Hall. This building
began as a mercantile store in Moffat before 1910, was moved to Crestone
in 1948 to house the fire engine, and later became Town Hall. Because
the town was platted with practically no municipal land, the only
place to put this building was in an unused right-of-way. The bridge
you now cross and two others nearby are made from old railroad cars.
You could keep going north on Alder a few miles (with your vehicle)
to the North Crestone Creek Trailhead and streamside
Continue north another block and turn left on Granite Ave. to view
Baca Ranch owner George Adams’ old summer home. Other Victorian
homes and old cabins may be seen in that area. Many of the properties
in this neighborhood have renovated cabins, or newer homes, but have
retained their original root cellars, outhouses, sheds, chicken coops,
and small cabins.
Returning South on Cottonwood Street
Turn left again (south) and you will come to the National
Historic Register Crestone School, now restored and used as
the Crestone Community Building. The south end of the
building was founded as a one room schoolhouse for grades 1-8 in 1880,
and the second classroom to its north was added in 1901. Several current
town residents attended this school before it was closed in 1949 and
the children bussed to Moffat. The old classrooms are delightfully authentic,
and the building may be rented through Town Hall by the day. It has
been used for town meetings, elections, weddings, funerals, potlucks,
concerts, summer school, preschool, and many other events. It also has
a collection of school antiques.
the corner of Cottonwood and Galena
Two blocks down and to the left is the site of the Rio Grande and
Sangre de Cristo Railroad Station. Two passenger trains
arrived daily from Moffat, and from 1901 to 1906 four trains per day
served the Independence Mine a few miles south. The station burned in
1955 and only a large hole in the ground remains.
If you wish to make a side trip west on Galena and then north, you
will come to the Crestone Cemetery on land granted
by the BLM in 1911. The cemetery gates are kept closed but not locked,
and you may visit. Lots are available for sale and many types of green
burial are permitted.
railroad days, Galena Ave. was usually referred to as Main Street.
It was the entrance to town for both road and rail travel. The 1901
photo, to the right, shows the view up Galena from Cottonwood. Steiner’s
Drug Store, on the Crestone Artisans’ Gallery site
and extreme right of the photo, was served by a boardwalk all the
way up the block to the two storey bank building. On the left there
was a solid line of businesses right through Alder Street to the second
floor Hutchinson’s Dance Hall, then under construction.
At Cottonwood and Silver
Continue south to the next corner, also important throughout the Town’s
history. Originally the site of the Hotel Crestone,
the next building on this corner provided the town gas pumps and auto
repair shop for decades. When the population was as low as 34, this
was the place to have coffee, talk, and conduct business with the Town
Clerk. In 1983, it became a store carrying natural foods.
now has a large new building just to the south; this picture, to the
left, is of one of the old store’s murals.
One block to your right (west) is the Town Park
with playground equipment, a covered shelter and public toilets.
Turn left (toward the mountains) on Silver Avenue back to your starting
point at Alder St. The inviting grassy area to your left is a Pocket
Park, and the venue of the Saturday Market held May until
We hope you’ve had a good experience viewing Crestone simultaneously
in the present and the past, and that you’ll visit again. More
information and area maps are available from our Town Hall, open Monday,
Tuesday, Thursday, & Friday 9 am to 1 pm, or the Crestone Historical
Museum, open on weekends as posted.
Thanks to the Crestone Eagle and several longtime Crestone residents
for photos and historical information.