A petition for incorporation was drawn up by the citizens of Buena Vista on Oct. 28, 1879. It was necessary to show proof of 150 inhabitants and 45 qualified voters (male of course).
On Oct. 29, the petition was presented to Judge Julius Hughes at the county seat in Granite. He signed the incorporation papers and Buena Vista was born. Because the petition was taken there a day later, the date was changed from Oct. 28 to Oct. 29 on the final papers.
The first mayor was R. Linderman and the town trustees were J. H. Ecklin, J. B. Meade, John Howlett and John Casey. The election for these officials was held in the post office on Nov. 18, l879.
The first ordinances passed concerned guns, deceased animal removal, racing steeds through the streets, disorderly houses, vagrants, removal of trash and refuse and profanity and obscene behavior.
A jail was needed and $700 was appropriated to build it on land donated by the Buena Vista Land Company. Over the next 6 months, five men were appointed Town Marshall, but they only lasted on the job from one week to 3 months.
Freight wagons and stage coaches were seen on the streets and as many as eight stages a day came through. Payments for goods and services were often made with gold dust. With the arrival of the railroads in 1880 more passengers came through Buena Vista.
The town was first called Cottonwood, and a year later it was named Mahonville for early settlers. The name Buena Vista is credited to Sadie Alsina Dearheimer, a German immigrant in 1879. She thought the name should be pronounced by the English pronunciation with a long U in the Buena. The name stood for Beautiful View. She probably did not speak Spanish. The Dearheimers had a bakery in the town and built the first frame house.
The Buena Vista Land Company was formed in August 1879 by Major W. M. Kasson. The Land Company spent a good deal of their money in public improvements, the building of streets and digging of ditches so that each street had at least one ditch for the watering of trees and lawns. In the center of town they set aside several blocks to be used for public parks. Cottonwood Creek runs through one of the main parks.
The election held on Nov. 13, 1880, gave Buena Vista the most votes for the county seat. Granite citizens did not want to give up the seat and refused to turn over the county records.
Rumors said that the Buena Vista Land Company gave $5,000 and local citizens another $5,000 to help swing the county seat to Buena Vista. Some Granite citizens felt that Buena Vistans voted twice. So Buena Vista men took a railroad engine and flat car to Granite, broke into the log courthouse and took the safe holding the county records.
The courthouse in Buena Vista was designed by a British architect, George Edward King. The original plans called for stone building material but because brick was made locally the contractor switched to brick.
The building was finally finished on April 12, 1883, at a total cost of $25,000. It served as the county seat until the election of 1928 when the vote went to Salida.
After the court was moved to Salida the county sold the building to the Buena Vista school system for $1. The entire school system first-twelfth grade was in the courthouse until a new elementary building was built beside it in 1954.
The upstairs of the jail was also utilized for classrooms. The lunchroom for the school was in the downstairs of the jail, bars on the window still in place.
It is now the school board meeting room, and the superintendent’s office is in the living quarters of the old jail building.
In 1974 Buena Vista Heritage was formed to save the courthouse. The building was sold to the town for $1 and the museum was established in the courthouse. In November of 2003 the townspeople voted that the building should be sold by the town to Buena Vista Heritage, who operates the museum.
Buena Vista had two newspapers by 1881. The first was The Chaffee County Times established on Feb. 6, 1880. The other paper was the Buena Vista Herald. The Chaffee County Times was published for a time under the associate editor ship of Agnes L. Hill. Ill health forced her retirement in 1881. P.A. Leonard was editor and owner until 1886 when he moved to Leadville.
The two newspapers changed hands and names numerous times over the next 100 years. Gilbert E. Gregg was editor of the newspaper for the longest tenure.
He took over the Chaffee County Republican after his father’s death. With the help of his mother Gib, at 15, ran the paper. He was editor from 1927 until 1973 when the paper was sold to a Gunnison man and then others before being purchased by Merle Baranczyk from Salida.
In 1976 the name of the paper was changed to The Chaffee County Times, full circle back to the first Buena Vista paper.
The Buena Vista Library was established by the Buena Vista Fortnightly Club in 1898. The first books that cost $26 were kept in various homes for one month and loaned out.
For a time the library was in the DeBolt and Langdon Drug store. Then a room was rented in the Woodman of the World building on Main Street.
In 1923 the Fortnightly Women’s Club, the Lion’s Club and the Buena Vista Board of Trade financed a log building on the corner of Main St. and Lake Avenue (now Highway 24) one side of this building was the library and the other was a meeting hall.
The library remained here until 1969 when the building was moved to make room for the widening of the highway. The Library went to the Courtroom of the Courthouse until a new building was built in 1971 and this is where the Library still resides on Linderman Avenue.
The schools of Buena Vista were established early in 1878 in a home (now the Chet Loback home on Colorado Avenue). A two-story brick school was built on the corner of Main and Gunnison in 1881. It served as the entire school first through twelfth until the school district obtained the courthouse on East Main Street in 1934.
The gymnasium behind the courthouse was built by WPA workers in 1935 for a cost of $16,000. In 1958 the county was consolidated into two school districts. The small country schools then sent their students to either the Buena Vista school or the Salida school.
The Irving Avery Elementary School was built in 1959 and in 1964 the high school was built. The high school was enlarged in l966 and the Dorothea Wille P.E. Complex was built in 1977.
The Harry L. McGinnis Middle School was built in 1972. New additions were built connecting and enlarging the library at the middle and high school in 1998. The old elementary school was torn down and the present one was built in 1998.
Buena Vista has gone from a graduating class of three girls and one boy in 1903 to classes being close to 100 students now.
The first post office was when the town was know as Mahonville, and was probably located on West Crossman Avenue on what is now the Weathervane Farm. The next post office was on James Street.
The first appointed post master was James McPhelemy, Sept. 28, 1876. With the name change to Buena Vista on Oct. 29, 1879, the post office name was also changed. The next post office location was in a stationary store, now part of The Lariat Bar.
Mary Mason the first woman postmistress in 1917 wrote and asked to have the location moved to the Matzen Barber Shop, now Branding Iron Gifts.
The post office remained there from 1920 until 1959. The new post office was built on East Main Street, now ReMax Realty in 1959. The longest serving postmaster is Lloyd Swedhin who served from 1952 until 1974.
The next post office building was built across from the library, now Chaffee County offices. It served from 1973 until 1998 when the present building was built on Brookdale Ave.
The first church in Buena Vista was the Methodist built in 1879. This church stood about where BV Jeep Rental is now located. It was converted to a lumberyard and later torn down.
In 1880 the Catholic Church and the Congregation United Church of Christ were built. The Catholic is now the Chamber of Commerce building. The Congregational is behind Bev’s Stitchery.
The Grace Episcopal Church was built in 1883. Today Buena Vista has at least 14 churches. The Grace Church is the only original building still being used as a church. The other congregations are still active but in new buildings.
Mining has been an important part of Buena Vista since the early days. There was a rush of miners who came looking for gold in 1859.
There had been some mining exploration and panning before this but the big rush started in 1859.
Chaffee County and Lake County reportedly produced $5,652,000 in gold during the first 10 years of mining. The entire Colorado Territory produced $25,021,000 during this period.
The biggest producing mines were the Mary Murphy in Chalk Creek, the Cache Creek area mines and the Madonna at Monarch.
There were other will known mines in the area, such as the Hortense and Latshaw mines on Mount Princeton, the Cora Belle above Cottonwood Lake, the Gladstone in Cottonwood Canyon and the Banker Mine above Winfield in Clear Creek Canyon.
On Midland Hill above Buena Vista there were a few unproductive mines. One of them was owned and mined by a woman, Mrs. Mallen.
According to the 1883 Colorado Mining Directory there were at least 207 mines in this county in 1883. One hundred and three of these mines were located in the Chalk Creek District.
There are few mines being worked in this county today. Some gold panning is done in the Cache Creek area and the Arkansas River.
The main employment for the town now is the Buena Vista Correctional Complex south of town. The School District, Sangre de Cristo Electric Coop, ACA Products, medical clinics, South Main, City Market, home builders and contractors are some of the employers in the area.
Tourism is a big part of the growth of the town. Hotels and motels and Airbnb and vacation rentals have also multiplied.
The early settlers would be quite surprised with the changes and growth in Buena Vista in 140 years.