TRINIDAD, Colo. — Beneath the tranquil waters of Trinidad Lake lies the ghost of a small mining town that was sacrificed in 1972 to make way for the reservoir. The town may be gone, but for those who grew up there, the memories flow like the raging Purgatoire River.
“I was the last graduating class from Lincoln High School, or Sopris high school,” said Trinidad resident Louise Terry. “I think there were probably 15 in our graduating class.”
Terry grew up in Sopris, which was built as a “company town” by the mining companies.
“Church was important. We all went to church. Our church was part of the Trinidad community, but we did have a local priest that would come up to our church in Sopris,” Terry said.
Sopris was a small, tight-knit community that stood on the banks of the Purgatoire River, and even though the people of the town were resilient, the area was plagued by disastrous flash flooding.
“My early childhood memories were of the terror, the fear, and the awe of the river that we were never supposed to go near because of the flash flooding,” said Judy Martorano Mangino, author of the book Treasures of Sopris – a compendium of photos, memories, and histories of Sopris.
In the late sixties, the government began the process of buying residents’ homes and moving them to nearby Trinidad. “The lake was built as a flood control reservoir. We knew it was coming,” said Chris Furia, a former Sopris resident. “It finally got funded by Congress in the late sixties, and that’s when they basically condemned the town and made everybody move out.”
Furia’s father worked as a carpenter, and built his home with the knowledge that the reservoir was imminent.
“We were pretty much about in the middle of the transition from when they condemned the town to when everybody had to leave. My dad’s house, because he was a carpenter, he built this house in Sopris in the late 1950s, early 1960s, and he built it with the presumption that the lake was going to come eventually,” said Furia.
His family home was built with the intent of moving it, in its entirety, to Trinidad: “Watching them raise our house… with the semi, they took it to town and they moved it to the lot that we now live in, in Trinidad.”
After such uncertainty and turmoil about the future, Sopris residents found a soft landing in the welcoming town of Trinidad.
“The Trinidad community was very welcoming to Sopris people,” said Terry. “We did make friends, but our Sopris connections are still very strong today.”
In July of 2022, the Sopris community came together once again at Trinidad Lake, for the 50th Sopris Community Reunion.
“Other people that have left their hometowns have places to go back to,” said Mangino. “Our little town is underneath Trinidad Lake.”
On July 2, Governor Jared Polis signed a proclamation declaring the day Sopris Colorado Day, a day to commemorate and celebrate the legacy that shimmers through this devoted community like the Colorado sunsets that now reflect atop Trinidad Lake.
“There was a rich community spirit that will live in the hearts and minds of Sopris residents for years to come,” the proclamation reads.
If you would like to know more about the rich history of Sopris, you can pick up a copy of Treasures of Sopris at the Trinidad Historical Society.