Town of Crestone Colorado
Town of Crestone Colorado

~ 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 communities.

 

A Walking Tour of 1901 Crestone

Crestone Merchantile 1910

 

 

Welcome to an imaginative walk around the Town of Crestone . . .

You will be guided on a loop through a few blocks, with pictures and text of what Crestone was like with thousands of miners and a bustling commercial district.

 

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.

late afternoon mountains from Crestone

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.

Thebo's Pool HallThe 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 campground.

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.

Crestone railway depotAt 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.

Crestone main street 1901In 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.

Crestone Store cow muralCurt’s 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 cold weather.

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.

Crestone map by William Hubschwerlin

Thanks to the Crestone Eagle and several longtime Crestone residents for photos and historical information.