by Nancy Christofferson
WALSENBURG — On March 15, 1916, one of Walsenburg’s early and innovative settlers died, leaving a void where a clever and thoughtful man had been for 30 years.
Dr. Thomas D. Baird was born in Kentucky in 1850. He came from an educated family, and spent his younger years getting that way himself. His mind encompassed many ideas in many fields far beyond medicine.
T.D.’s father was Professor H.D. Baird, and his mother was a longtime teacher for whom Baird College in Clinton, Missouri was named, and of which she was president.
What attraction a dusty frontier town too full of saloons like Walsenburg held for a promising young man is hard to imagine, but T.D. and his wife, the former Sarah Emily Barrett, called Emily, moved to the ‘burg in 1886 after living in Pueblo for a few years. The couple had two daughters, Jessie T. and (believe it or not) Chattiebelle. Another daughter had succumbed at a young age.
Dr. Baird was elected county superintendent of schools in 1887, so he had made an impact on the county in one short year. Apparently his first job in Huerfano County was being the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s official surgeon for its coal mines at Walsen, Old Rouse and Pictou.
He soon entered a partnership with Dr. D.W Mathews, which lasted about six years.
In 1888 Baird was elected trustee of the Town of Walsenburg. In this position he undoubtedly voted in favor of the ordinance banning “opium houses, dives or joints” in 1889. He was president of the Tourist City Addition which was selling real estate adjacent to the city. Later the same year he was one of the organizers, officers and shareholders of the new Walsenburg Electric Light and Power Company (and on the town board when it passed the ordinance against hitching horses to electrical poles). There were 350 shares selling at $100 each to provide electricity to the city.
During October 1889 Baird and Mathews moved into new offices (their old adobe one had fallen down) where, possibly because of the stocks he’d bought, they had two electric lights. That November he won his second term as county school superintendent as a Democrat.
Most of the downtown area then sported wooden sidewalks. Dr. Baird had his own concrete walks constructed around his office, and was instrumental in getting the town to install like sidewalks all along Main Street, and to the passenger train depots.
When the brand spanking new Cole and Kearns Block was completed in 1893, Baird and Mathews moved there. They had their old office put onto wheels and moved to another site for use as a dwelling.
Baird and Mathews dissolved their partnership in 1894, but retained side by side offices. Baird was also serving as a director on the District #4, Walsenburg, school board. In this capacity he helped to plan the opening of the Huerfano County High School, which graduated its first (three) students in 1897. His own daughters had attended school elsewhere, possibly back in Missouri. He was still employed by CF&I and serving on town council.
In 1899 Baird was elected mayor, and he was re-elected in 1901.
By 1902 T.D. had served as mayor and on the town council for 14 years. In this year CF&I chose his architectural plans for the new school in Pictou coal camp. He even superintended construction. The company liked his plan so well it built an identical building in Hezron camp. In fact, the company liked him, and arranged for him to give educational lectures and presentations in the various camps under the auspices of its Sociological Department.
1903 brought highs and lows for the doctor. In February, he received a patent for his invention called a Miner’s Handy Match Box, for safety matches, but in May his home burned down. This unfortunate turn of events was caused by the lack of a functional water system in the town. A bucket brigade hauling from the Colorado and Southern Railroad tanks and the town ditch saved the furnishings and nearby buildings.
That July he made a heroic trip to see a patient on Mosca Pass, a one way trip of some 50 miles.
In 1904 Pliny P. Lester graduated from medical school and entered a partnership with the now venerable Dr. Baird. They moved to new offices at 118 E. 5th in 1906.
Dr. Baird was elected a regent of Colorado State University in 1904. He served a six year term.
Baird had been living on 4th Street, but had to move when a hotel planned construction on the site. He built, and probably drew the plans for, a six or seven room house – considered large in those days – on Indiana Avenue.
In July 1907, the newspaper noted Dr. Baird had been awarded a rather signature honor. He was given a bridle by Chief Ouray for having cured Ouray’s son of smallpox back in 1881.
On March 4, 1908, a school in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, burned down, claiming 176 lives. Baird immediately turned his attention to adding fire escapes to local school buildings. He also saw to it that school doors swung outwards rather than in, a small measure that could have saved many of those young lives in Ohio.
Also in 1908 Baird was vice president of the World Publishing Company, owners of the Walsenburg World. He was a director of the Huerfano County High School board and still a town trustee.
He moved his household once again in 1909 when he purchased a home at Harrison and Kansas Avenue. Though it seems standard nowadays, he set a precedent that year by installing hot water in his office. As a victim of a home fire, and a member of the town council, he no doubt was vocal for building a water system. In 1905 much of the downtown area had pipes and service, and by 1907 the pipes had reached up Capitol Hill, though service remained sporadic.
When in May 1910 the Huerfano County Medical Society was organized, Baird was elected president.
About this time Dr. Baird began slowing down. His daughters had married, Jessie to David T. Wycoff in 1897, and Chattiebelle to George C. Nickolds in 1907, and both were living elsewhere.
His old friend Dr. P.P. Lester, having served with the Colorado National Guard on maneuvers along the Mexican border in 1911 against Pancho Villa, was called back to service during the coal strike of 1913-14. On April 29, 1914, during the Battle of Walsenburg, Dr. Lester was shot and killed while wearing his Red Cross badge. This must have been a shock to Dr. Baird, after their years of camaraderie and business partnership.
Dr. T.D. Baird died March 15, 1916. At the time of his death, he was mayor of Walsenburg and president of the HCHS board. He is buried in the Masonic Cemetery. He must have been sorely missed.