Wednesday, 24 September 2014 01:35

Aztec Springs - Santa Fe's first proposed spa and resort

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Aztec Springs

Santa Fe's first proposed spa and resort


Three miles east of downtown Santa Fe and a mile north up what is now called Aztec Springs Creek on the western boundary of the Santa Fe watershed is the site of what was proposed as a health resort in the late 19th century.


It all started in 1879 and includes a veritable "Who's Who" of Santa Fe historical figures:  Capt. Ayers of Fort Marcy fame, Territorial governor L. Bradford Prince, a Catron of the Santa Fe "Ring" period, Amado Chaves and a local dentist by the name of Dr. L'Engle.


Springs, both hot and medicinal, were very popular for health conscious Victorians and New Mexico had its fair share. Among the most famous are the still active Ojo Caliente and the now remnant Las Vegas Hot Springs at the site of the United World College, it being housed in the third grand hotel built at that location.  Aztec Springs aspired to join the ranks of these two establishments and become a tourist and health "destination".


In 1879, Capt. Ayers of Fort Marcy discovered the much heralded but secretive springs. "Discovered" being a relative term as the local Hispanic population concealed its location.  The Indians also knew of it because on my first reconnaissance of the site with a friend he found a beautiful red scraper just above the springs.


Aztec Springs Creek as it is now called was also named variously as Gigante Canon and as late as 1990 on the SF National Forest map as Arroyo Gigante.  These appellations coming from the original name of the springs as Ojo del Gigante. The reason being these springs produced 8,000 gallons of cold water a day at 42 degrees year round.


After filing a homestead claim on Dec. 26th, 1879 Capt. Ayers started developing the site.  He cleaned out and improved the springs with rock pools and opened a road down Gigante Canon to the Santa Fe river.


At this time he also had a topographical "Sketch-Map" compiled by H. Hartmann, a civil engineer.  This is a very interesting, rare map of Santa Fe from August of 1889.  It shows Santa Fe from the Plaza, east up the Santa Fe river to Two Mile reservoir and then north up the arroyo to the spring site.


The map's main purpose was to show the routes available for two proposed pipelines to carry the spring water into the city and Ft. Marcy.  There was also plans to bottle the water and sell it at hotels, for medicinal use and general local consumption.


One pipeline route was down the arroyo to the Santa Fe river and then into town.  The other was to go over the divide to the west of the springs, cross Arroyo Cerro Gordo, over another ridge to Canada Ancha continuing west to the Arroyo Saiz drainage, down it to what is now the intersection of Palace and Armijo and then to the Plaza.


To accomplish this he enlisted the support of George Cross of the New Mexican, Walter Davis a deputy surveyor, "army officers stationed in New Mexico", all the physicians of the city and a Mr. Niles of Minneapolis, an "active dealer in mineral waters".


In 1885 Capt Ayers received his final certificate for the homestead claim and had the water analyzed by F.W. Clarke, chief chemist of the Division of Chemistry of the U.S. Geological Survey.  Its principle constituents being calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, sodium chloride, sodium sulphate and other trace minerals.


Dr. D.L. Huntington of the Surgeon General's Office in Washington reported that the water "resembles many of the German springs, is a gentle tonic, and will be useful in troubles of the bladder and indigestion".


Capt. Ayers forged ahead with his plans for the pipelines and bottling plant only to be stymied by the claimants of the Salvador Gonzales grant represented by "Mr. Catron" who claimed that the grant extended over the property.


At the time the grant claimed 103,959 acres to the east of Santa Fe.  After years of litigation the Territorial Survey Land Court reduced the grant to a fraction of its original size and Ayers continued his project.


In 1891 Dr. L'Engle, a Santa Fe dentist, took a half interest in the property with the stipulation that he build bath houses, a hotel, maintain road access, besides dig an exploratory coal tunnel just south of the Springs and develop the timber and mineral resources thereon.


Only part of this came to fruition with many allegations by Ayers of dereliction of duty by L'Engle.  Due to the uncertainty of title, the death of Dr. L'Engle and the removal of Ayers to Mexico City, the enterprise was abandoned and the buildings demolished.


In 1903 former Territorial governor L. Bradford Prince bought out the Ayers half ownership for $250 and in 1908 the remaining half from the L'Engle heirs for $150.  For a period of time he set about trying to organize a company of investors to further develop the property, esp. for water bottling purposes.  From 1915 to 1917 he contacted many bottling contractors, going so far as to get estimates for a plant and even had a logo designed for the bottles of a mythic "Aztec" Indian.


In 1917 he penned an article for the "Revista Ilustrada", the "Official Newspaper of Santa Fe County" again trying to promote the springs.  In the article he praised its health and scenic values.  He tried piggy-backing the "good roads" craze of the day with his spring being a nice side trip to the on-going trans-Pecos Scenic Highway then under construction.


Nothing much ever came of his endeavor and the project languished.  But as late as 1921 Prince got an interesting letter from one Amado Chaves.  From an old New Mexican family with much history, Amado had served his state well in many capacities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  In a letter to Prince he said he had just spent the whole summer in the mountains (the Los Pinos Lodge in Cowles was built by the Chaves family and was a base for their sheep operations) and was "at a loss what to do this winter".  He went on to say "I have no home anywhere now".


Anyway, he asked Prince if he had any prospects for the spring;  would he be interested in setting up a company for bottling it for the market.  Since he had nothing better to do he would be glad to give his time.  Otherwise he was going to start a little farm and raise "game chickens" for the Mexican market as cocks commanded up to $200 apiece.


He ends his letter thus:  "If people with money are willing to buy worthless oil stocks, why not sell them real water".


Prince replied that due to illness' of the past three years he hadn't been able to pursue the project further.  He died a year later in 1922 in Flushing, NY.  Soon after the National Forest was established and the Santa Fe watershed created,  putting an end to all hopes for Aztec Springs.


Today the spring is dry, except for some seepage which waters a swath of grass for about 50 feet below it.  I found no trace of any coal tunnel.  At the spring itself are remnants of old stonework for the pools and across the arroyo can be found the stone foundation of the hotel/house shown on the Hartmann map.  Otherwise nothing has survived. 


The location today is accessible by trail up Aztec Springs Creek from a trail head on the left just before the Randall Davies estate.



Ref: New Mexico State Archives, L. Bradford Prince Papers, Aztec Mineral Springs, 2 folders.




Read 8824 times Last modified on Wednesday, 23 March 2016 00:28


  • Comment Link Mike Lord Thursday, 25 January 2018 01:40 posted by Mike Lord

    Test comment

  • Comment Link Arthur Scott Thursday, 25 September 2014 14:12 posted by Arthur Scott

    Richard, in the sense of historical accuracy, the Santa Fe River watershed was not closed to public use by the U. S. Department of Agriculture until 1932.

  • Comment Link Arthur Scott Thursday, 25 September 2014 13:12 posted by Arthur Scott

    Thanks for this, Richard. I had never heard any of this. Good going!

  • Comment Link Richard Barrett Thursday, 25 September 2014 02:49 posted by Richard Barrett

    Mike when researching this article I came across a reference to the dentists of Santa Fe all having offices on the south side of the plaza on the second stories, at the time you ancestors arrived. Was your great-grandfather at that address also. Would be interesting to know. Might make for an interesting dental story. Richard

  • Comment Link Mike Lord Thursday, 25 September 2014 00:46 posted by Mike Lord

    Richard, this is wonderful. My great-grandfather, a dentist, came to Santa Fe in 1900. My grandfather and father were dentists as well. It's most interesting to me that one of the partners was a dentist as well.

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