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A Beginner’s History of the Early North Fork

By Thomas Wills

The North Fork area, for a few hundred years prior to 1880, was occupied seasonally by bands of the Ute Indians. Nomadic predecessors to the Utes also visited the Valley for extended periods as far back as 12,000 years ago as higher elevations and extensive areas to the north were emerging from the latest glaciation within the Ice Age cycle that began some 3 million years ago. The excavation of the Eagle Rock Shelter near Hotchkiss has produced extensive archeological evidence of this. 

Federal troops forcibly relocated the local Utes to a barren reservation in northern Utah during the years 1880 and 1881following the 1879 Meeker Massacre.  

The first prospective non-Indian settlers in the North Fork were a small group of men from the Lake City area led by Enos Throop Hotchkiss in 1880. Hotchkiss had made his money from working as a road engineer for Otto Mears, by discovering the Golden Fleece mine at Lake City, and subsequently becoming a rancher in the Powderhorn area near Blue Mesa. His party surreptitiously scouted the valley and picked out likely homesteads while the Utes were still in possession.  

The next year, in September of 1881, when it was legal, Hotchkiss returned with two young brothers, George and William Duke, a herd of 200 horses, and David Platt, Samuel Wade, Samuel Angevine, and William Clark.  They were the first successful settlers in the valley.  Henry Roberts, later a prominent Paonia and Hotchkiss area pioneer, was probably the first one to try to stake a homestead in the Valley that year, but had to retreat when some of the few remaining Utes “ran him out”.      

Be that as it may, Enos Hotchkiss, Platt, and the Dukes, were the first successful legal immigrants in the Hotchkiss area, and staked out their homesteads in this area.  Except for Platt, who apparently went insane and had to be sent home, or was shot for claimjumping, depending upon which anecdotal story you want to believe.

Wade, Angevine and Clark homesteaded further up valley in Paonia area.

    Hotchkiss. In the beginning in Hotchkiss, Enos tried his hand at cattle, and then sheep ranching as the years passed.  His young protégés, the Duke brothers, became the driving force behind the development of the Town.  They platted and sold most of the central early lots, established the first bank and major store.  They brought in a third brother, Ed Duke, and a sister and brother in law, (the Simonds family) and had a hand in nearly everything of importance in early Hotchkiss. George became the first mayor in 1900 when the town was finally and officially incorporated. He was also the one who had named the town “Hotchkiss” back when he was still an employee and was acting as the first postmaster of the Town with the office located in his boss’s home.

Other important pioneers of early Hotchkiss included Joseph H. Reich, who began the first store in the town.  He sold the business, located on the site of the present (2019) Church of Art, to Ed Duke and Charles Roberts, and began at least two other businesses, a hotel, a stage delivery company, and a livery stable.  His wife Elizabeth later became instrumental in the development of the town as well. 

Reich’s close friend, John Edward Hanson, for whom Hanson Mesa north, east of town is named, was another important pioneer.  A risk-taking gambler, he built the gigantic 7-X ranch including the impressive sandstone mansion, the Hanson Castle, on Leroux Creek above Rogers Mesa that still exists.  Hanson’s 7-X empire lasted only about a decade, but is still a North Fork legend and the ranch itself is still in business if presently (2019) for sale.  Besides the Hanson Castle, the other monument left by Hanson is the old Duke-Hanson Mercantile building which is now the Hotchkiss Elks Club on the corner of 2nd and Bridge Street. 

Enos Hotchkiss himself finally became a developer in 1897 when he supervised the building of the Hotchkiss Hotel Block.   The actual construction was done by his nephews the Sherman brothers, and others.  The Shermans had the first brickyard in town which, before the arrival of the railroad, supplied all of the finished brick to the town and immediate area.  They were also the stone masons on the aforementioned Hanson Castle. Hotchkiss also developed and sold town lots on the land south of Bridge Street.
Enos Hotchkiss died on January 29, 1900 just a few months before the Town of Hotchkiss was officially incorporated with his name on it. 

In 1902, the Denver and Rio Grande rails were laid into the North Fork and on to the mines. This meant a boom in the local coal and commercial fruit industries as well, which had grown up around Hotchkiss and Paonia.  A thousand car loads of fruit were shipped in 1904 alone. Although the Valley is still well known for its fruit, in those early days the fruit from the area won multiple ribbons at one World’s Fair.

Interlaced with all of the fruit, cattle (and sheep) and coal mines (in mainly the upper valley) was the constant buying and selling of land in the valley.  This is a thread that continues to this day.  The local real estate business is probably as vital today as it was when George and Bill Duke sold their first lots or Ed Hanson sold “fruit ranches” by advertising in Eastern newspapers.

To learn more, make sure you visit the new Hotchkiss Crawford Museum located at 2nd and Hotchkiss Avenue.  The museum is open 1 to 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday afternoons from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  Check for off season Saturday only hours as well.   
 
  Paonia. As previously mentioned, Paonia was founded beginning in 1881 by Civil War veteran Samuel Wade, William Clark, and others. Wade was originally from Dayton, Ohio.  He was born there in 1829 and he was orphaned while very young.  He and his brother Joseph were said to have run away from an orphanage when Samuel was 16. He later attended college and received a degree. He served in the army from 1861 to 1865. Among many other skills, Wade was a licensed surveyor.

After the Civil War ended, he eventually ended up in Lake City, Colorado where he became friends with Enos Hotchkiss, the co-founder of Hotchkiss.  On August 31, 1891, Wade, Enos Hotchkiss, William and George Duke, Sam Angevine, David Platt, and William Clark left their camp on Crystal Creek (south of Maher) where they had camped while waiting for the legal deadline for entering and homesteading the former Indian territory of the Western Slope to arrive.  September 7th was the date set by the government.  

On a return trip Wade also brought his brother Joseph, son Ezra, Doug McIntyre, and George Root along with Clark and Angevine. Wade built a dugout, a cellar-like house, at the future site of the town.  Clark settled nearby.    
 

In 1882, Wade built a more substantial log cabin and stockade to house a small store stocked with extra supplies he had hauled in to sell to the new arrivals who were arriving daily.  He also applied for a post office for the planned town. Rather than using his own name for the post office he submitted the proper name of his favorite flower the peony; Paeonia in Latin (there is some question on the spelling). The postal authorities supposedly shortened it to Paonia.

Samuel Wade’s home and business wasn’t actually inside of the present town limits of Paonia, but was located on what is now Mathews Lane and the site of his cabin later became the E.J. Mathews home.

On Wade’s supply trip in the spring of 1882, he returned not only with stock for his store but with a load of fruit trees.  He was also accompanied by Ernest Yoakum and Yoakum’s sons.  He planted the fruit trees, the first in the valley, thus becoming credited with starting the North Fork on the road to becoming one of the state’s major fruit growing areas. 

Later that year Wade’s wife and the rest of the family, including his brother Joe, arrived.  Joe was later killed in an accident with a team of runaway horses.
Wade was elected to the Colorado Legislature in 1887 as a representative of Delta, Montrose, Pitkin, Gunnison and Mesa counties. 

Samuel Wade and William Clark took the leadership role in establishing the first school at Paonia.  Wade convinced Ernest Yoakum’s 20-year-old sister, Jessie, a trained teacher, to come to the valley from Missouri to teach.  She arrived in 1882 when there were only six families living in the immediate area.  

A 16 by 24-foot log cabin was built on land donated by Clark to house the school and Jessie boarded with the Wade family.  She eventually married Samuel’s son, Frank. Her salary was set at $30 per month with a three-month school term (in 1882-83), 16 students, and eight grades.   

  The first store on the town site (Wade’s cabin store was outside of town) was a grocery and dry goods business established by Thomas Wand of Onarga, Illinois in 1889.  He built part of what is known as the Wanamaker building. 

Milton Spencer began the first mercantile (variety) store at Paonia in 1898. His business was similar to the Duke/Hanson store in Hotchkiss at the time.  He carried a wide range of things including new wagons, buggies and horse drawn farm equipment. He later founded The Bank of Paonia.

A clothing business, Bruce Clothing Store, began in the spring of 1901.

Fred Peasley was the owner of The Paonia Drug Store in 1901.  He sold to J.D. Walker in 1902. Sometime later it was owned by persons named Spegal and Davis.  
A livestock feedstore was begun in 1904 by W.W. Fluallen.

F.D. Curtis apparently began his Paonia Meat Market in the 1890’s but sold to L.E. Stephens.  In 1905 he repurchased the business.
E. B. Grable began the Paonia Harness and Shoe Shop in 1905.  He also repaired bicycles. 

  The Curtis Hardware building was built in 1902 at the direction of George Curtis of Waverly, Ohio whose family was in the hardware business there.

Paonia’s first bank was located inside Curtis Hardware.  It was begun by Billie Boetcher and consisted of a desk and a safe.  
The first freestanding bank building in Paonia was on the south west corner of 3rd and Grand Avenue (currently, in 2019, the D.C. Hawkins Agency occupies that site).
The first serious hotel was the Unique Hotel, built in 1904.  The building was contracted by T.E. Clark who built many structures of the time.

In 1904 The Independent Lumber Company started its Paonia lumber sales business.
The “finest hotel in the county,” The Bross Hotel was built by W.T. Bross in 1906.
The Star Mercantile, a grocery business, was owned by a man named Miller in 1912.  He sold out that year to W.M. Johnston who in turn sold the business to James C. Stephens in 1931.  In April of 1954 Glen McNary purchased the business. This business apparently was eventually replaced by the current Don’s Market as Paonia’s main grocery store. 
Samuel Wade died in Blaine, Washington in 1904 where he had moved in 1894 after selling his homestead and orchards to E.J. Mathews, and his body was brought back to the North Fork by his family.  He is buried in the Paonia Cedar Hill Cemetery.  
To learn more about early Paonia and upper valley History visit the North Fork Historical Society’s Paonia Historical Museum that includes the restored Bowie Schoolhouse.