Fire of 1919 left a section of downtown Cortez in ruins

Thursday, March 9, 2017 11:11 AM
The ruins of the Bozman Garage fire of 1919 included shells of cars. A telephone line was attached to the tree. McEwen Livery was later coverted to
The McEwen Livery, which was later converted into a garage, was located at Sears corner at South Market and Main streets. At left are the steps to the Montezuma Valley Bank building, now KSJD.

Montezuma Journal, Jan 2, 1919Last Friday at five o’clock, the fire bell gave its chilling alarm and roused our people from their morning sleep. It was soon discovered that the Bozman Garage was ablaze. The flames were coming through the roof quickly igniting every inflammable material with which such buildings are saturated. The fire company quickly had a stream playing on the fire, but the only thing possible was to keep it from going further than the Carlile building in which Frank Thompson has long had his barber shop.

Owing to the absolute stillness of the atmosphere they were unable to accomplish this, and these buildings, including the Thompson residence at the back of the lot, were soon in ruins. There were thirty-two cars in the garage, every one of which was burned, but four of them were insured. R.C. Kermode again lost all of his cars including his big Kissell truck, Lipscomb Bros. their delivery and Dodge cars. Bozman – six cars, and Smith Bros. – two cars and others one each. We understand that Mr. Bozman was partially insured, the amount being $2,500. Carlile had $800 insurance on his barber shop building also. However, considering the losses, the insurance companies will get off very light.

We are informed that the building belonging to the heirs of Mrs. Hattie McEwen was insured for $2,500. It is now planned that the administrator of the estate, Hi McEwen, will purchase the lot and at once put up a fire proof building, with Mr. Carlile possible going in with him and covering his lot also. The new building will probably be built of stone, and will be a great improvement to that corner. Two railroad cars of Fords are on the way to Mr. Bozman, and will relieve the situation greatly, as many are on foot. Whoever had a car they would sell found a ready buyer by Friday?

The cause of the fire remains unsettled at this time. Some are very positive that it was an act of incendiary, and we understand that Mr. Bozman inclines to this idea. Others firmly believe that the building caught from the flue, as the early stages of the fire seemed to be most manifest at the roof. The incendiary idea receives much force from an accident that happened that evening when an old building east of the Case rooming house was fired by some miscreant, and was quickly extinguished by our over-worked fire department. And to this latter organization we wish to extend words of praise of the way the boys kept the stream playing on the fire all through the zero weather.

Frank Thompson has established his barber shop in the Shea billiard parlors, and is fixing things up in good shape.

R.C. Kermode thought he had but a thousand dollars on his Kissell truck that burned in the recent fire, discovered that it was covered for twice that amount, and another will soon take the place of the destroyed Kissell.

The first major fire, the Blackmer Hotel fire on March 8, 1898, was on the south side of Main, and 13 buildings were destroyed. The Blackmer Hotel (now FB Organics) stood on the northeast corner of the block facing to the north and arranged alongside of it on the west were the following buildings: Kelly’s saloon, H.A. Harrison’s building, Mrs. Burghardt’s millinery store, J. T. Owing’s barber shop. South of Hotel Blackmer and facing east: Blackmer’s furniture and secondhand store, Morrison’s Grocery; Springer’s Saloon, Mrs. Brink’s building, the French building, John Hambay’s barber shop plus two stables – one at the rear of the Harrison building and one at the rear of Owing’s Barber Shop. Nearly all of these buildings were the first erected in Cortez. The only buildings saved in the block were the stable in the alley behind Morrison’s Grocery and the Herman Building which stood on the southwest corner of the block facing west (area of Community Bank – formerly Citizens Bank parking lot.The second major fire was the Hotel Clifton fire on Sept. 29, 1908. This fire on the north side of Main originated in the Lamb building east of the “Stone Block.” The Stone Block was not severely damaged as the Guillet Bros. placed wet Navajo rugs on the roof which stopped the fire from Guillet Store and R.R. Smith Mercantile. Lamb’s, Hotel Clifton, a butcher shop, and Dr. Harrington’s drug store were all destroyed.

The Bozman Garage Fire in Jan. 2. 1919 was 98 years ago. This was the third major fire in downtown Cortez. (Toggery/Sears Corner).The fourth major fire occurred November 28, 1929, in the block east of KSJD radio station. The fire bell announced a fire and it was not hard to locate as black smoke was rising up from the roof of the Sour Lemon Café on Main Street which was west of the Gregory Toggery Shop. The building was owned by D.H. Sayler, who also owned the buildings occupied by Wm. Smail’s Barber Shop, Mrs. Rutherford’s Bargain Store. Fire reached the Johnson building west of the Sayler buildings, the Light Company’s office and Farmer’s Drug Store but did not reach the Parker Hotel (now area of Sunflower Theatre). On the east side the flames were leaping against the Gregory Store. (The Sayler building was in the area of El Grande Café.)Cortez was first platted and plans laid out for the town in 1886. On Christmas Day 1886, the first load of lumber was brought to the new townsite. In the past 130 years our town has experienced several serious fires but “Cortez is the town too tough to die.”“Looking Back” articles are published the first Friday of each month and we now begin our seventh year of providing history to our readers. Thank you to all who have supported us. June Head is the historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society and can be contacted at 970-565-3880.