ALAMOSA — The man who gave Adams State University its start and his name was born February 16 in 1861. He died nearly 93 years later, on February 4, 1954. William “Billy” Adams always considered Alamosa his home and is buried in the Alamosa Cemetery.
As a Colorado legislator who would later become governor, Adams worked for three decades before obtaining the authorization to found Adams State Normal School in 1921. His goal was to educate teachers for remote, rural areas such as the San Luis Valley.
With only a grade school education himself, Adams came to the San Luis Valley in 1879 at the age of 17 to begin ranching. He is portrayed herding cattle in a bronze created by Adams State alumnus Bob Booth that is displayed in the lobby of Richardson Hall.
Within three years, Adams was mayor of Alamosa, a rough-hewn town in those days. The Rio Grande typically flooded each spring, turning Main Street to mud. Once the college was built, a hedge of Russian olive trees had to be planted along the campus edge to keep out herds of horses. Then, as now, potatoes were the area’s primary cash crop. But grain and vegetables were also raised, as well as cattle, sheep and pigs. The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad shipped them east.
Adams became interested in politics by reading in his spare time about law, history, government and economics. He was first elected city treasurer, then mayor of Alamosa, and finally Conejos County Commissioner in 1883. Three years later in 1886, he was elected to the State Legislature as a representative and two years after that to the State Senate, where he served continuously until he was elected governor 38 years later in 1926. He continued to ranch throughout his career.
The perseverance demonstrated by Billy Adams in founding his teachers college also characterized those who took over the task of making Adams State more than a dream.