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San Luis

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The county seat (1851, 7,965 feet), the oldest permanent town in Colorado, also claims the state's oldest operating water ditch and only common, the Vega. The Spanish named the town (originally La Plaza de San Luis de la Culebra) and the valley for King Louis IX of France, because the town of San Luis was founded on his feast day, June 21. Farmers and cowboys from New Mexico first settled on Culebra Creek in 1846. Initially driven off by hostile Ute Indians, they returned to found San Luis on April 5, 1851. A flour mill soon made the town an agricultural hub for the valley.

The Vega (Spanish for fertile plain; 1863), on the east side of town, is a communally owned grazing land similar to those of New England and old Mexico. This 633-acre common was created by the original town ordinance, which specified that “all the inhabitants shall have use of pasture, wood, water … not interfering with the rights of others.” Another communal enterprise was the San Luis People's Ditch (1852), the oldest continually used irrigation ditch in Colorado, which carries water from Culebra Creek to the town and outlying residents.

San Luis is surrounded by small family farms and ranches, including the Gallegos Ranch (1860; see CT09), the Ortega Farm (1869), and the Rio Culebra Ranch (1863), all still operated by descendants of founding families. Not incorporated until 1968, San Luis remains an informal town lacking such refinements as mail delivery and regular street addresses. The Plaza de San Luis de la Culebra Historic District, Colorado 159 and Main Street (NRD), has a few old adobe structures still in place—often behind newer storefronts. Deep window and door reveals characterize antique structures with 18-inchthick adobe walls that support ceilings bearing as much as a foot of dirt insulation.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Thomas J. Noel

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