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The Arkansas River Valley and the area of what would become Buena Vista was first settled in 1864 by settlers drawn to the area by the plentiful water which made the land suitable for agriculture. By 1880, the county seat had moved from Granite to Buena Vista, but by 1928 Salida had a larger population so the county seat was moved once again. By 1894, Buena Vista had electricity, telephone service, street lights, parks, cemeteries, and schools. Travelers, speculators, and miners traveling up the Arkansas Valley towards Leadville made Buena Vista a popular stagecoach stop, and railroad depot following the 1890s. While certainly experiencing economic ups and downs, the valley's agricultural economy has made the area more resistant to the 'boom, bust' cycle of mining towns.
Buena Vista is located in central Colorado roughly midway between Salida and Leadville in the Upper Arkansas River Valley at an elevation of 7,965 feet (2,428 m). The area between Buena Vista and Salida is often referred to as the Denver & Rio Grande, South Park & Pacific, and Colorado Midland railroads. Many of the existing buildings of Buena Vista date back to this era, and were built in the 1880s and 1890s.
The name "Buena Vista", Spanish for "Good View", can often be heard pronounced locally as "Byoo-na Vista". This Americanized pronunciation was specified by Alsina Dearheimer, who chose this name for the town, which was officially selected over other names (Cottonwood, Mahonville) on the occasion of the town's incorporation. Alternate pronunciations include "Bwenna Veesta" (Spanish pronunciation) and simply "Biewnie." Many residents simply refer to the town as "BV".