The Del Norte area was once home to the Old Spanish Trail. This trail was a major trade route running between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Los Angeles, California. Del Norte was originally settled by Europeans who were moving into the area from North New Mexico in the late 1850s. In 1872, Del Norte incorporated as a municipality.
By the mid-1870’s, prospectors found the nearby San Juan Mountains rich with gold and silver deposits. As many mining claims were registered, Del Norte transformed into the supply base and financial center at the west end of San Luis Valley. When Rio Grande County was formed in 1874, Del Norte became its County seat.
During Del Norte’s booming years, the population swelled to over 10,000 people. The Town featured an opera house, library, saloons and dance halls. In 1883, a man by the name of George Darby established the Presbyterian College of the Southwest. This college also had a church and a dormitory as well as several farmlands to support it. The college also boasted the only telescope west of the Mississippi – built as an observatory on the summit of Mt. Lookout.
Unfortunately, the college burned down in 1893. In the final part of Del Norte’s boom years, Del Norte was proposed to become the state capital – it failed by one vote.