A party on the deck circa mid-1970s
Mining hits its peak just before the turn of the century. Ore as well as cattle from the surrounding area were brought to Sawpit for shipment to Durango. Sawpit shipped out sixty-eight cars of ore in 1896, one-hundred-fifty in 1897 and sometimes averaged as much as fifteen to eighteen carloads per week over the next few years.
The original Sawpit Mercantile & Hardware was founded in 1897 providing “mining supplies and gentlemen’s furnishings” in much the same location as the original Rio Grande railroad whistle-stop. Over time, the location has served as a fly-fishing outlet, a real estate office, a restaurant, and the Down Valley Tavern (think of the movie “Roadhouse”)...Since 2002, it has been operated as Sawpit Mercantile and has become a staple of Down Valley life.
The store as it was in 1940
Sawpit’s history is much like other mining towns in the San Juan Mountains in the late 1800s. Originally called Seymour, Sawpit was founded in 1892 as a Rio Grande Southern railroad stop. As prospectors and miners came to seek their fortunes and the area began to grow, there was a demand for lumber to supply the many placer mines along the San Miguel River and the building that came along with this growth. Consequently, a sawpit was built where logs were rolled over the pit and sawed into lumber by two men, one positioned on top and one below in the pit. Thus, “Sawpit” came into being.
A blacksmith by the name of James Blake discovered the Champion Belle lode in the Sawpit area in 1895. The first three carloads of ore brought him $1,800 and, once word leaked out, hundreds of others join him in his quest. The rush was on! L.L. Nunn, who owned the “A” placer mining claim, annexed a portion of the claim and designated it “Sawpit.” He transferred title in December of 1895 whereupon the town was formally laid out and several frame buildings were erected. Sawpit was incorporated in 1897.
Sawpit Hardware and Mercantile Taxes Circa 1897