Antonito (1880, 7,888 feet) was established by the D&RG a mile away from the county seat of Conejos as a railroad ploy to gain control of trackside real estate. D&RG promoters platted Antonito as a grid with Main Street a block west of and parallel to the tracks. Antonito was an Anglo community that soon became the commercial hub of the valley, even though Conejos retained the county seat. Although the town is heavily Hispanic today, it was built primarily by Anglo-Americans whose institutions included a Presbyterian church, the Palace Hotel, and a now vanished opera house.
Antonito's population peaked at around 1,300 in the 1940s. Subsequently the large sheep-raising industry declined, and Antonito became a sleepy, Spanish-accented town sustained by farming and ranching, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, and the Gerfco Cellite and Johns-Manville crushed perlite plants (1959), 2 miles south of town on U.S. 285. These plants make perlite of volcanic rock from open-pit mines near No Agua, New Mexico. When heated, the perlite explodes like popcorn and then is crushed, sized, and blended for use as, among other things, a soil conditioner and a lightweight aggregate used in concrete and plaster.
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