Alamosa history

Resettlement family in Alamosa
A girl and her family were relocated to Alamosa and given a new start during the Great Depression by the federal Resettlement Administration. | Photo from 1939 by Arthur Rothstein / Farm Security Administration

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As the city’s website notes, Alamosa “literally grew up overnight.” It started out as a tent city, but in June 1878, according to local lore, a building in Garland City where Denver & Rio Grande railroad workers were fed was lifted up after breakfast and carried to Alamosa on a flatcar, where it was ready that evening to feed the workers their dinner.

The name Alamosa is Spanish for “cottonwood,” after the massive trees that flourish along the Rio Grande River and its well-irrigated banks. By 1880, Alamosa was home to more than 800 people, the largest town and business center for southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. By all accounts it was full of rowdy characters – including cow punchers, miners and gamblers – as well as a large Spanish-speaking community.

The railroad infrastructure that was built by 1890 made Alamosa a hub for narrow gauge railroading in America. Passenger and freight trains from Denver, Durango, Santa Fe, Salida and Creede came through each day, bringing in lumber, cattle, sheep and ore, and taking out agricultural and mining products. Later, in the 20th Century, the narrow gauge rails were replaced by standard gauge between La Veta and Alamosa, travelling over La Veta Pass.  Those rails still carry freight and passengers, on the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad and the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad.

Adams State College, then Adams State Normal School, began training teachers in 1921. Its founder, Billy Adams, a Colorado legislator with only a grade school education who later became governor of Colorado, gave the college its name. Today the college now has 2,500 students, 120 faculty and a campus with more than 50 buildings. More than 12,500 students also study remotely through its Extended Studies program, which offers credit, non-credit and professional development courses.

Legendary track and field coach Joe Vigil led Adams State to a perfect score in the men’s national cross country championships in 1992, the first team to ever achieve that honor. It was the first year Adams competed in NCAA Division II after competing in the NAIA previously. The women’s cross country team has won 15 national championships in all. Vigil coached at Adams State for 29 years. By the numbers, he won 12 NAIA championships, was named national coach of the year 14 times and produced 425 All-Americans. He coached Deena Drossin Kastor when she won a silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics.