Finding Yourself in Hotchkiss
From the Black Canyon to the mountains to the Dobie deserts; from the pastures to the orchards and vineyards, the visual terrain of The North Fork Valley has many faces. The same can be said for the man-made aspects of the Valley. Besides several hundred square miles of natural beauty, the Valley is composed of three incorporated towns - Hotchkiss, Paonia and Crawford - as well as the unincorporated areas of Lazear and Somerset. Each town has its own distinct identity and history.
The Hotchkiss town site, at about 5,300’ in altitude, began taking form shortly upon the ‘opening’ of the area to Anglo settlement in 1881; and in 1900 the town was officially incorporated and named for Enos T. Hotchkiss, who had staked an early land claim on the site where the town is now situated. Hotchkiss’ namesake was a miner, road builder, stockman and all round character of such mythic proportions he has since been inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma, City.
If you travel through the small communities of the West, you may notice all together different realities from one location to another. Small Western communities can be roughly divided into two categories: ‘shooting stars’ and ‘hometowns’. The shooting stars began as one act shows – or boomtowns – that staked their existence and wellbeing closely to some narrow economic interest such as gold, silver, or uranium mining. When the inevitable bust came, some of these historic boomtowns went through the painful process of rapid decline; eventually adapting to new realities as ski, recreation, gambling and tourist centers – others are today visible (if at all) only as a collection of rotting log structures. The same boom and bust dynamic is still shaping the West. Fossil fuel extraction is creating shooting stars even as you read this. But like their forbearers, these towns will eventually need to re-invent themselves or fade.
‘Hometowns’, on the other hand were not typically founded on the “get- rich-quick” ethic, but rather on an ethic of long-term hard work and investment in family and community. Consequently, while these towns may not have been as grand and exciting as their splashier counterparts, they tended to be more stable, diverse, and multi-generational. Hotchkiss certainly falls into the ‘hometown’ category. It is easy to find locals with roots four, five or more generations deep, and this continuity provides benefits to the community that are not enjoyed in many other places.
Because of the town’s location at the natural crossroads of the Valley, Hotchkiss began as a supply center for area settlers, many of whom had established cattle and sheep ranches and extensive orchards.
And while the Valley has evolved in many ways since the early days, Hotchkiss has maintained it’s relevance as a supply center to the surrounding communities. Compare Hotchkiss’ many downtown shop fronts to most other towns of similar size (population 1,000) and it becomes apparent that the town’s location is a defining characteristic.
The Hotchkiss economy is diverse. The income from underground coal mining in the eastern portion of Delta County has been economically important for about a century and still employs many locally. And while agriculture and cattle ranching have always been mainstays, the Hotchkiss area has seen a very clear trend towards specialized agriculture and animal husbandry. Organic orchards and vineyards have been steadily replacing traditional fruit ranching. Organic vegetable farms have been popping up to meet regional demand, and Elk and Buffalo ranching have been gaining a foothold.
Creative types have long called Hotchkiss home – in fact, the local fine arts association is over 50 years old! The number of artists, musicians, writers and craftspeople is astounding, and their output is visible in area shops and galleries and at public performances. There are also a number of telecommuting professionals that call the Valley home. Hotchkiss and the surrounding areas has been a beacon for active retirees as well. Many are very involved in the civic life of the Valley and have given generously of their talents. The Hotchkiss area tends to attract dynamic and creative people of all types and this has been a boon to the whole community.
While Hotchkiss does not pretend to cater to 24/7 consumer culture, there is a diversity of retailers, services and professional practitioners. An enjoyable afternoon can be spent strolling the downtown shops. Patrons to area businesses normally walk away with their needs met and with an appreciation of the “mom & pop” establishments that have been steadily vanishing from so many communities. Hotchkiss is proud of the prevalence of locally owned establishments and many residents feel that the “local” aspect of most businesses translates to a stronger sense of community. In short, we like doing business with our neighbors because when we do so we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are supporting our community with our dollars rather than enriching some far off, faceless company.
Hotchkiss can be described in many ways, but the essence of Hotchkiss is that it is more than a simple geographic location – a town. Instead, Hotchkiss is a true community; one that keeps in touch with its heritage while creatively reaching for an even brighter and more diverse future. -nrs