Select Page

Local Paonia History Corner

The area was first explored in 1853 by Captain John W. Gunnison of the United States Army. Gunnison was on an expedition to locate a suitable pass through the Rocky Mountains for the Topographical Engineers. The Valley was inhabited by Ute Indians until 1880, when the Ute Indian Reservation was closed by the federal government.

Following the closure of the reservation, the site itself was settled in 1880 by Samuel Wade and William Clark, who had accompanied Enos Hotchkiss to the area from Ohio. The town was officially incorporated in 1902 and had its first election in July of that year. The peony roots that Samuel Wade brought with him to Colorado in 1881 inspired him to submit the Latin name for peony, “Paeonia” as a town name. The post office wouldn’t allow the extra vowel, so Paeonia became Paonia. Significant industries include ranching, mining and orchard farming.

Cattle came first, but in 1893, sheep were introduced to the valley. Cowboys organized a secret society called the Cattle Growers Protective Association. When sheep appeared on a cattle range, if legal persuasion failed, sheep were stampeded over bluffs or massacred.

Vast reserves of coal lay buried in the area. The advent of the railroad made the shipping of coal economical and today, coal mining is our major industry.

Thank you to Jim Brett for submitting these wonderful photos for Paonia’s past. Click above to enter the gallery.

Do you have from your Grandmother’s attic, old photographs or newspaper clippings of days gone by about Paonia? Share them with your fellow Paonians!

Simply bring your history treasures to Town Hall, we will scan them and create pdf files to upload to our website under this page of our website. If your history information already exists in a file which can be easily uploaded and is not of a gigantic size, send it to us in an email message to or fill out the form below.

Drop a file here or click to upload Choose File
Maximum upload size: 68.16MB


First explored in the 1850’s by Captain John Gunnison who was locating a route through the Rocky Mountains (for whom the Gunnison River is named) the North Fork Valley was inhabited by the Ute Indians until about 1880. Settled in 1880 by Samuel Wade, Paonia is named for the peony roots he carried with him from Ohio. The Town of Paonia was officially incorporated in 1902.

Industries that have had a significant impact on the Town include cattle ranching, mining and farming which includes our beautiful orchards and vineyards. Shorthorns were the first cattle in the valley. However by 1898, cattlemen discovered longhorns were a hardier breed for our region. In 1893, thousands of sheep were introduced to the valley.

Surprised cowboys organized a secret society called the Cattle Growers Protective Association. When a sheep herd appeared on a cattle range, the information was sent to the CGPA. If legal persuasion failed, sheep were stampeded over bluffs or massacred. Because the CGPA did most of their work at night, they became known as “Night Riders”.

Vast reserves of coal lay buried in the area and as the smelting for gold and silver increased the demand for coal, coal replaced charcoal for blacksmithing. The advent of the railroad made the shipping of coal economical and today, coal mining is a major industry in the area.

Paonia is naturally air conditioned by warm air flowing up the valley at night and cool air coming down from the mountains during the day resulting in optimal conditions for growing an abundance of cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, pears, nectarines and a variety of apples. One of the state’s oldest continuous community celebrations is Cherry Days held over the Fourth of July holiday.

Paonia is a focal point of back roads and trails leading into the forest and wilderness, attracting hiking and bicycle enthusiasts. Hunters outfit themselves in Paonia before setting out to get their elk, deer, bear, and an occasional mountain lion! Winter finds skiers alternating between cross-country and downhill in nearby resorts in Powderhorn, Sunlight, Crested Butte, Aspen and Telluride. Few places offer such a wonderful combination of climate, scenery, lifestyle and recreation.

Population: 1,451 (2014)

Elevation: 5,682

Time Zone: Mountain Standard Time

Historic Landmarks in Paonia

Paonia has 5 buildings currently registered as historic landmarks. (This info is sourced from

Bruce Estate
1468 Colo. Hwy. 133
State Register 12/8/1993, 5DT.444

The residence was constructed between 1905 and 1912, using red bricks made on the site.  John and Sophia Bruce, early pioneers in the North Fork Valley, were first involved in cattle raising.  The family later became successful fruit growers.  Located along the West Elk Loop, a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway, the large two-story residence features a steeply pitched hipped roof with prominent attic dormers.

The Curtis Hardware Company
Currently, the Blue Sage Center for the Arts
228 Grand Ave.

National Register 10/19/1989, 5DT.528

The 1902 two-story brick building is an excellent local example of Late Victorian commercial architecture with Classical Revival detailing.  The second floor apartment features a large three sided oriel window.  The cast iron storefront, manufactured by Front Builders of St. Louis, Missouri, remains intact.  The first floor retail space housed the Curtis Hardware Company until it ceased operations in 1987.

First National Bank Building
Currently part of the Blue Sage Center for the Arts
226 Grand Ave.

State Register 5/18/2005, 5DT.527

The 1903 First National Bank in Paonia is an important downtown commercial building built of locally quarried and cut sandstone.  Most of the downtown buildings display 19th century Commercial Italianate elements in wood, while the Bank building utilizes stone and exhibits a Romanesque Revival influence in the arch, stone piers and square cut stone.  The building is the work of prominent local stonemasons Al Hurst and Sege Stratton.  The Bank is their only known intact commercial work in town, others having been modified extensively.  The stonemasons exhibited clearly identifiable ability and skill.  More information (PDF, 666 kb).

Mathews House
40467 Mathews Ln.
National Register 10/6/2004, 5DT.1533

An excellent example of the architecture of the Late Victorian period, the 1897-1901 Mathews House is the most intact Queen Anne-style house in the Paonia area, as well as one of the largest and most ornate.  The house displays elements typical of the style, including asymmetrical massing, a turreted porch, a bay window, decorative brackets and vergeboard, the use of stone and brick, and decorative shingles.  Fine craftsmanship and detail are evident throughout the house, on both the exterior and interior.  The house also retains its original outbuildings associated with the property’s fruit orchard history, including a barn, a caretaker’s cottage, a shop and a privy.  More information (PDF, 827 kb).

Paonia First Christian Church
235 Box Elder Ave.
National Register 4/27/2011, 5DT.1375

The Paonia First Christian Church is an excellent example of Romanesque style church as interpreted by local craftsmen.  The building, along with several other churches, is in the heart of the residential area of Paonia, which has a long-standing religious identity marked by the high density of churches in the small town.  The building is constructed of regularly coursed, rusticated sandstone with distinctive architectural features such as the round, three-story, crenellated tower with a graduated buttress.

Share This