Cortez at the turn of the century’

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:18 PM
Congregational Church purchased lots for the church building in June 1889. The church was erected in 1889 on the corner of N. Market Street and Montezuma Avenue and was a landmark for 30 years. The church burned Jan. 20, 1919, as a result of arson. The Catholic Church now occupies the old Congregational Church site.

What was Cortez and life there during the first ten years of the 20th century?

Except for the Stone Block on Main Street, the County Courthouse on the southwest corner of First and Chestnut streets, and the schoolhouse on the southeast corner of Montezuma Avenue and Market Street – each built of native stone – the buildings were frame, and these were few and far between. On the south side of the street across from the Stone Block were four small buildings – a grocer and three saloons. In the other block east on the south side, a livery stable occupied the location of the Toggery (now Sears). East of it was a barbershop. Just behind it was the home, a vacant lot and back from the street, a small home. Next to that and in about the same location as Brown Publishers was the newspaper building. On the north side of Main and in the same block was a grocery (now 48 E. Main) and several small buildings, restaurants, and shops. West of the Stone Block and on the same side of the street was the Clifton Hotel. On the corner, now Havrans, was the building used for third and fourth grades, and a building across from it, the Treece Building – now Pippo’s location – was another building used for the first and second grades.

The town was growing, and there wasn’t room for all the children in the schoolhouse on Montezuma Avenue. It was in the building at the Pippo’s location where I started to school, and we had benches for seats. Our desktops were 1x12 planks on hinges that could be raised and lowered as a lid over the long box affair for holding books, pencils, slates and paper.

Our communication with the outside world was by mail – no telephone or telegraph. Many winters, we would have no mail for 6 weeks at a time because of snow blockade of the railroad. What joy the day the mail finally came! I have a recollection of one time when my father and other county commissioners had to appear at the state Legislature, and the only way they could get out was by horseback across the mountains to Telluride.

The mail was taken to Dolores in the “stage” – a sturdy buggy or spring wagon if the weather was bad. Dick Kermode kept the stage and horses in his livery stable (Toggery).

There were two main centers for entertainment in the early years of the century. They were the Congregational Church built in the late 1880s by a minister named Harper. The church was on the corner of Montezuma and Market where the Catholic Church now stands. Here we enjoyed community programs, socials, box suppers, young people’s parties and all sorts of fun. The other was the Woodman Hall (behind the courthouse on S. Chestnut), with lectures, school plays, dances and a Masquerade Ball at Halloween.

Chautauqua, baseball games and ice cream socials; sleigh riding and coasting in winter and hay rides in the summer were our entertainment. We had a skittish bay team used to convey the family to these affairs if they were not in walking distance. They were named John and John Henry after the man from whom Papa purchased them. Another horse was named Credit because that’s how Guillets got him and one cow was Biddy from her original owner.

One of the most interesting events of the year was the County Fair. Originally the exhibits were displayed in the WOW hall. Such produce you ever saw! My father used to say no place on earth could grow better fruit, and he cited the fact that Jake Dobbins of McElmo received a first award for fruit sent to the World’s Fair at Chicago.

The activity events for the fair were held at the fairgrounds in the area about where M-CHS baseball field is now. Horse races, bucking horses, chicken pull race and all sorts of sports a cowboy would enjoy The Honaker brothers were some of the main contestants from Cortez area but many Dolores and Mancos cowboys won honors too. The Indian dances, especially the Bear dances were well attended too.

Coming up

Part 3 of this story will be published in the March 6 issue of the Cortez Journal. Gladys Guillet Hart tells about the changes and advances made in Cortez from 1900 to 1910.

June Head is the Historian for the Historical Society and may be reached for questions, comments or corrections at 970-565-3880.