SAN LUIS VALLEY — Over the last year, local resident and daughter to San Luis Valley historian Ruth Marie Colville, Susan Colville and her friend Patty Kelly have been working to raise funding to restore the old Barlow and Sanderson Stage office building that is in Del Norte and is 148 years old. The building was the original stage office for the popular stage route which came to this area in 1874.
According to the 1874 San Juan Prospector on May 16, “A new line of coaches has been established to Del Norte Passengers bound to that place or Fort Garland will take the coaches of the Southern Overland Company at this place and connect at the Huerfano crossing with the Seabring & Lane’s Line to Del Norte. Passengers will leave Pueblo on Thursday, Thursday or Saturday.”
Before the Barlow and Sanderson Stage, the Del Norte and San Luis Valley area was serviced by Miller, James and Company stage line who, after trying to create a line connecting the San Luis Valley with the Silverton, decided it was time to sell and let a larger company take over. That was when Barlow and Sanderson, the last of the Overland Stage Company.
“The end of the railroad was the beginning of the stage line.” Was the motto of the times and with these stagecoaches came even more men, drivers, agent, horse handlers and the pioneers of the entire western United States. The earliest road in the San Luis Valley was comprised of the old Spanish Trail and was established around 1859 when 14 families established Loma de San Jose that was on the north side of the Rio Grande adjacent from where Del Norte sits today.
In an interview housed at the Rio Grande County Museum, Jessie Scarff Bennington gives her firsthand account of her memories growing up as the Barlow and Sanderson Stagecoach officer agent’s daughter. Jacob Everhart Scarff moved to New Mexico from Baltimore, Maryland, before coming to Del Norte to serve as stagecoach agent. He had lost five of his brothers and sisters to tuberculosis and not wanting to suffer the same fate, did like many others did back in the day and moved to a different climate.
After finding out that New Mexico didn’t sit well with him, he traveled his way to Del Norte by the coach he would later work for. In 1883, Scarff and his wife gave birth to Jessie who was then raised in the stage house and stables. She recollects the beauty of the coaches themselves saying, “The coaches were the most beautiful, great, big Concord coaches. Barlow and Sanderson didn’t just drive those little buckboard coaches that didn’t look any more like a stage than a lumber cart looks like a buggy. No, those big Concord coaches were beautiful wagons, just beautiful. They were black, very black and they were very shiny with gold mountings on them.”
Her voice comes out of the past from a time when life was hard but simple, people were kind but tough and Del Norte was just beginning to see the fruits of a future that was yet to come. A restoration effort began the year Mrs. Bennington was interviewed and Del Norte celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 1972 but was unsuccessful.
According to both Susan Colville and Patty Kelly, the stage office building is in dire need of repair and is being lost to the ages.
“If something isn’t done, we could lose a huge piece of our history,” said Colville. So, the pair have set out on a mission and their goal is to see the once beautiful building restored by a local contractor, but they need help to get the project done.
Anyone interested in helping to restore the old Barlow and Sanderson Stage office can make a monetary donation to the Del Norte Library Cabin project and drop it off at the Del Norte Public Library that is generously serving as the fiscal sponsor for the project. For more information or to donate, call Patty Kelly at 719-849-8181.
For more on the history and epic journey of the Barlow and Sanderson Stage, visit the Rio Grande County Museum and take a ride into the past.