Looking Back Montezuma County’s rock stars of old

Thursday, May 1, 2014 11:52 PM
Peter Baxtrom’s descendants have no proven photographs of him, but they think this might be him, taken in 1906 while painting the wooden balustrades on the Stone Block.

Cortez’s Colorado’s downtown is anchored by several historical stone buildings, erected from sandstone quarried nearby. They have stood the test of time for over a century.Sustainability is their byword.

But what of the pioneers who labored to build them--stone masons whose hard manual labor raised them before the days of circular saws, forklifts and modern construction vehicles? Here are brief glimpses of some Montezuma County “rock stars” taken from census records and digitized Montezuma Journal newspapers.

Peter and Harry Baxstrom

Probably best known of Montezuma’s stone masons, Peter immigrated from Sweden about 1863 and was an Illinois Civil War veteran. By 1880 he and family had settled in Kansas, where he was a farmer and stone mason and where son Harry was born. By about 1884 the Baxstroms had worked their way to this area.

In 1889 he and others began the Stone Block on Main Street in Cortez, later called the Wilson Building. Peter also built the first Cortez two-story school about 1890. Son Harry worked with his father in 1909 on the school now known as Calkins School. In later years Harry enlarged that school and in about 1935 trained W.P.A. workers in stone work on a final addition. The Baxstroms are credited with the 1909 construction of the Montezuma Valley National Bank at Main and Market streets, now the KSJD Cornerstone. Other buildings attributed to Baxstroms in Cortez and McElmo Canyon include Battle Rock School in 1915. Peter Baxstrom died in 1917 and is buried at the Cortez Cemetery, as is Harry and other Baxstroms.

Peter’s Cortez quarry was located on his 80-acre homestead west of today’s U.S. 491 (Broadway) where it intersects Main and Pinon. According to family members, dynamite loosened blocks of stone, which at times were moved short distances by horse drawn slips made from cottonwood logs. They said Baxtrom had stone piles stored in various Cortez locations. For more of Baxtrom family stories, see Montezuma County Historical Society’s Great Sage Plain to Timberline, Vol. 2.

Angus M. Stocks

Ezra Crapo of Dove Creek told historian June Head that a relative of his also worked with Peter Baxstrom on the 1889 Stone Block and contracted for the stone work on the Bauer Bank in Mancos. A Mormon convert from England, Stocks was a blacksmith, stone mason and farmer. After several difficult moves in Utah, Stocks and his family settled in Moab, where he did stone work on homes and buildings, at least two of which are historic landmarks – the old L.D.S. church and the Star Hall.

John A. or Al Newman

Montezuma Journal, Sept. 30, 1915, “Mr. Newman will be remembered by many here as one of the stone masons who helped to erect the Dr. Harrington drugstore some years ago.” (Later the post office and now The Farm Bistro.)

Hugh Ferguson

An 1871 Scotch immigrant, in 1910 Ferguson lived on Fifth Street in Dolores, occupation stone mason. On August 25, 1910, the Montezuma Journal noted: “Hugh Ferguson and Pete Pompermayer will put the finishing touches on the stone store addition to the Montezuma Valley National bank building today...These men are good masons, and can show many monuments to their skill in this part of the state. Mr. Pompermayer will return to his home in Mancos.”

In 1917 Ferguson came to Cortez from the uranium fields in bad shape physically, and was in the Dr. Johnson hospital. The newspaper remembered him “as the mason who built the bank building here.”

Peter and Nicolas Pompermayer

Peter immigrated from Austria about 1901, followed by his wife and son Nicolas. In 1910 they lived in Upper Mancos on North Main Street and Peter’s occupation was “stone mason – houses.” By 1920 both had moved on to Salida, Chaffee County, Colorado, where large granite mines beckoned. Nicolas might have cut part of the Salida granite for the 1927 Mormon Battalion Monument erected in Salt Lake City, Utah.

John N. Gingles

Montezuma Journal, February 13, 1919: “Two stone masons, Mr. Gingles and Mr. Baxtrom are busy laying the foundation for the Longenbaugh house which will soon go up.” Gingles was a constable and once ran for county sheriff.

D. D. Purcell

Dennis D. Purcell came to Montezuma County about 1909. The Purcells first lived in Lebanon where in 1911 Purcell worked as a stone cutter, a trade he had learned from his Missouri father-in-law. They moved to Cortez in 1915 and in March Purcell erected a stone smoke house for the firm of Francis & Stabler to replace one that had burned down the week before. (Old timers will remember “Pop,” “Mom,” and Mary Purcell as opening a confectionery and silent movie house in today’s Love on a Hanger, a second movie house located by today’s Sears, and lunch/ice cream counters west on Main Street.

This article was researched and written by Joyce Lawrence, Montezuma County Historical Society secretary, (970) 882-2636, with assistance from historian June Head. For questions, additions or corrections please call the author. You can also learn more about the historical buildings on May 17th, Cortez Historic Preservation Day. Watch this paper for more information.