A very interesting story is unfolding concerning this photograph. Tina Willet once lived in Pagosa and attended school here. Later she moved to Oregon. Over the website’s e-mail I received the image and this note from Tina;
Do you have any old photos of the San Juan Lumber mill that shut down in the late 70′s? My Dad helped build it and also managed it until the shut down. We live in Oregon and someone bought a photo at a yard sale and it strongly resembles the mill and Pagosa scenery. Thanks for any help.
I identified the image in seconds but took a print to the site at the junction of Hwy 84 and Hwy160 to check. No question about it, the mountains and San Juan Valley cannot be mistaken and the flat topped mountain in the center seals the case. We are currently trying to make contact with the photo’s owner in hope of getting a better copy and one with the left side included. Keep watching here for updates.
It is interesting that the image was found in Oregon. The Hudspeth family owned the San Juan Lumber Company and also held milling interests in Oregon. We likely will never know but it is possible the image was taken to Oregon by one of the Hudspeths.
Their story is interesting and includes great western empire building and a car trip from Oregon to Pagosa with $250,000 in cash in the trunk that was lost during a gambling stop in Las Vegas.
Milling wood on a small scale began supplying the new town with milled lumber. The first Pagosa buildings were log. Later, when better roads were built larger mills exported lumber. Mills dotted the landscape and they were known as “the sawmill octopus” for the tentacle like roads in every direction servicing the mills. Many of those roads we travel today. After the turn of the 20th century the railroad spur came to Pagosa and production increased. By the mid 1950s the Hudspeths bought most of the smaller mills and consolidated production at The San Juan Lumber Mill.
This a second image of the mill found on an Oregon Lumber Mill History website. This must have been the mill at full production judging from the number of buildings and the huge stock of stacked wood. It is easy to see the highways and Mill Creek Road. The oval track, top center, is the first step of the rodeo grounds. The lower building to the far right was a Victorian house the mill manager lived in and is now near the entrance of Holiday Acres Development being rebuilt.
The mill opened in 1958 and closed in the late 1970s. A combination of the Forest Service becoming more protective of the forest, environmental problems when the smoke settled in town and poor management by the Hudspeths brought big milling in Pagosa Country to a stop. When the San Juan Lumber Co. closed it employeed 1/4 of the county population.
I have a special relationship with the old mill I will include in a later article.