The small town of Saguache is like many Colorado mountain towns, built by the gold and silver booms in the late 1800s. At the time it was mainly a supply depot for the mining towns of Bonanza and Crestone.
“Many miners and a lot of people that were in the Civil War also received land when they were discharged from the Army,” said Margaret Finnerty with the Sagauche Museum. “And of course, the gold, naturally, brought a lot of them here.”
In its heyday, Saguache boasted nearly 2,000 residents.
“Well, my great-grandmother and her brother came to Saguache. They were loggers,” Milton Jones explained. He’s the mayor of Saguache. “My grandmother’s house was just a few blocks from where we are standing. She was a cook down at the Saguache Hotel.”
Along its streets, visitors would have found the usual array of businesses — a bank, grocery store and the local newspaper.
“Since 1917, my family’s run the newspaper,” said publisher Dean Coombs.
The Saguache Crescent still rolls off of the same press; still sits in the same building. Indeed, not much has changed in Saguache.
The sign remains on the Ramies store even though it closed in the 1960s or 1970s and it brings back fond childhood memories for the town’s mayor.
“We would come down here every chance we got and buy one of those suckers,” Jones said.
Now Jones fears his grandchildren’s memories of downtown will be as empty as today’s storefronts.
“We don’t have that much opportunity for children. When they graduate high school, I keep seeing more and more children, my children had to do the same thing, they had to leave and go and find someplace where they can have a career and support themselves.”
Antiques dealer Rick Barandes moved there from New York City 12 years ago, without ever seeing the town.
“I think had I known what this place looked like, I would have said ‘No. It’s not for me,’” he said.
But soon, he began to see the beauty behind the faded facades.
“I love the place, I love the beauty, I love the people, and nothing would take me back to downtown Manhattan.”
But quality of life doesn’t pay the bills.
“You don’t come to Saguache to get rich,” said Barandes.
“If you had 30,000 people walking up and down the street saying ‘Where can I get a latte?’ We’d have to have a latte place, but you don’t have that,” said Coombs.
Community leaders believe they can change that.
“A lot of people come here to climb mountains and ride bikes,” said Kim Smoyer with the Saguache County Economic Development group.
“There are also a lot of artists in this community and we are working on focusing on those as our assets and how to attract folks here to take advantage of those things and be involved in it.”
The challenge — attracting the people to a town that prides itself on being small.
“We’re not chichi. We’re not a ‘shop till you drop’ neighborhood. We have people here who have money, but they’re not here for what they can buy,” Barandes said. “They’re here for this town its people.”
“Do I think we’ll become the next Aspen or Vail, or even Salida? No. I do think things will get better,” said Barandes
Mayor Jones has a simple goal. “I would like to see Saguache become a place where you can graduate high school, they plug themselves into the community, and they pick up the heritage their fathers and mothers have left here, their grandparents have left here, and they would continue that.”