Article in The Montezuma Journal, Thursday, October 1, 1908:
Fire visited Cortez last Tuesday morning and as a result everything west of the stone building, including the Harrington drug store, lays a mass of ruins and ashes. It caught us in our helplessness, not a drop of water was available, even the tank happening to be empty. It was a hot fire when at its height, and the south side of Main Street was only saved by the most strenuous efforts in wetting the front of the buildings from water from cisterns. Had it caught there it is not probable there would have been a business building left in town.
The morning was fortunately still, not a breath stirring, the huge column of smoke going up straight as an arrow. A fair amount of insurance was carried on all the property, as follows: J.O. Brown, hotel, $3,950, butcher shop, $500, E. R. Lamb $3,500, Dr. Harrington $3,000. Dr. Harrington estimates his loss at $3,000 and E. R. Lamb $6,000. We have not learned the net loss on the hotel property.
The fire started in Lamb’s grocery store, the stove being full of trash, as accumulates in any such place, and as usual it was set on fire.
There was a safety flue going from the top of the room to the outside, a new one, yet the fire in the stove so heated this flue that the roof caught on the under side, and had made such headway before being discovered that it was soon in possession of the building, although a small stream of water would have sufficed to extinguish it, and as we write we are filled with hope of soon having our beloved city protected by regular pressure and plenty of hose.
It seemed for a time that the great heat would carry the stone building with it, but beyond igniting the wood little real damage was done to it, although the Guillet Bros. and R. R. Smith suffered some loss and great deal of inconvenience and labor from having their stock rushed into the street when it seemed sure that the building was going.
Fire started in the new building of E. R. Lamb as mentioned. The Stone Building and the fact there was no wind kept the town of Cortez from being wiped out. The Hotel Clifton and all buildings westward were burned. There was not a drop of water in town according to a resident who witnessed the fire.
The old water tank system consisted of a tank on the hill near where the Park (Montezuma Park) is now. The tank was filled by a pumping plant located about where the gymnasium was (now vacant lot next to Calkins School Building). For some unaccountable reason the reservoir was empty and so was the tank.
The nearest water was the old mill pond north of town and every available wagon and barrel were pressed into service to keep the fire from spreading across the street. A portion of the wooden veranda and the wooden balustrade from the Stone Block building was on fire. It was reported that in order to keep the fire from taking the roof of the Stone Block building that Mr. Guillet soaked Navajo rugs in water and placed them on the roof of the Stone Block building. The whole populace worked like Trojans to save everything possible, and all sympathize with these men in their loss. But there is not a quitter in the bunch, and out of this disaster will come better buildings and safer.
One good thing about it all was that was the day the residents of Cortez were to vote to bond the town to put in the pipeline from the reservoir on the hill.
Needless to say, the bonds carried by a large majority.
June Head is historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society. She can be contacted for comments, questions or corrections at 565-3880.