DEL NORTE — This year marks the 150th anniversary of the town of Del Norte which was established in 1872. On Oct. 21, 1871, Del Norte was officially named by J. Cary French after gold was found in the Summitville area. French was one of five men who came to this location in the fall of 1871 for one purpose — to lay out a townsite and begin the adventure of creating a new and wonderful place to live.
After a rigorous journey across the eastern United States to the South Fork of the Rio Grande, French and his team of prospectors platted and laid the first stakes of what would soon become the town of Del Norte. After countless hours of conversation, French wrote in his diary on Oct. 21, 1871, that, “Went to town site — laying out lots and blocks, with Scottie, Fred, Phillips and Lovett. Quit at 2 p.m. Had a meeting in my room after supper. Named the new town Del Norte.”
The original plat and map of Del Norte is housed in the Rio Grande Cunty Museum with French’s diary which talks about their struggles and observations while journeying to the site of Del Norte. The journal speaks of the first findings of gold and other ore in the Summitville Mining District and the glorious expanse of the Rio Grande which was untouched and unsettled except for the Pi-Utes who still resided in the area.
In 1872, the Conejos County Commissioners’ proceeding show that they granted the corporation of the Town of Del Norte to the first Del Norte Town Trustees, French being one of them. It was two years after that that Rio Grande County was formed and designated in 1874, breaking off from Conejos County with four other communities including Hinsdale County and Lake City.
Once the corporation of Del Norte was complete, the sale of land began and the first of Del Norte citizens traveled to the new town in hopes of a life of riches and prosperity. Del Norte was quickly recognized as the “Gateway to the San Juans” and was the beginning of the gold and silver rush that would soon come to the area and create communities like South Fork, Monte Vista and Creede.
Del Norte was a lively area, home to many who came here for outfitting, staging, freighting and served as a business center for places like Summit, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray and Telluride. Del Norte was also designated the county seat once Rio Grande County was formed two years after the corporation approval.
According to records at the Rio Grande County Museum by 1872, Del Norte was up and running and promotion of the area in full swing.
Thomas Pollock wrote to the Pueblo Chieftain, “People are crowding in there at a rapid rate. The miners expect to return to the mines earlier this spring and advise that outfitting should be successful. Farms are being taken up in the Rio Grande Valley and by next season there will be sufficient produce raised for home consumption. Taking everything into consideration, Del Norte, and the country tributary to it, has a brilliant future in store.”
The next few months will be a celebration of times past and the future that is yet to come as Del Norte and Rio Grande County celebrate the beginning and look forward to the future. Several events and exhibits are being planned for Rio Grande County and details will be announced by the Rio Grande County Museum in coming weeks.