Local history buffs are off and running in Montezuma County with a 4,800 square foot building near the center of Cortez and within sight of Main Street.
It has been a goal for decades to have a location to display the county’s history, and now it is taking shape.
Montezuma’s county commissioners, who offered the former social services building on South Chestnut Street a year ago, deserve the credit. A five-year lease, renewable, with some possible assistance with the utilities, has remodeling and preparatory work underway with gusto.
In recent weeks, volunteers have been removing the former work cubicles and moving walls in order to provide for display space, curatorial work, storage and a small gift shop. Janine Denney, a licensed architect working near Mancos, has provided the new floor plan.
Ann Brown, president of the Montezuma County Historical Society, admits that with her members she has taken on a big project. But results are clearly visible.
Fund raising toward a goal has been underway for two months, and as of last week 52 percent of the estimated $275,000 needed for reconstruction and outfitting is in hand. Seventy-five donors with large and small amounts have stepped up so far. Indicative of the enthusiasm for the museum is that almost all of that is in the bank; only a small amount is in pledges, according to campaign manager Barbara Stagg. Stagg, who has a background in museum operations and fundraising, is leading the effort to create and carry out a fundraising plan.
Denny, who became a licensed architect in 1992 and practiced in California until arriving in Montezuma County in 2015 and building her own home, met Stagg while she was volunteering at the Welcome Center. “The museum will be a great benefit to everyone like me who wants to learn about the past,” Denny said. Denny is contributing half the cost of her work.
The South Chestnut Street building has been a long time coming. Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s, historical items were on display in Cortez’ city hall. When the city needed that space there was no subsequent home, and items were distributed to friendly locations around the county. Some are still on display in the airport terminal. The Calkins building, the former high school, was considered in the 1990s, but that building’s significant infrastructure needs made that uneconomical.
Most recently, the Lake Vista Grange building on Road M has stored many of the artifacts.
The Montezuma County Historical Society, which had struggled while having no place to call home, was reorganized in 2001 with new energy. That enthusiasm continued, and now, a museum in the near future makes all the difference.
The South Chestnut building, prior to its use by the county, is known to longer-time residents as the former Montgomery Ward building. The historical society, as good historians, has documented the building’s history. There is parking to the south, and Cortez’ summer farmers’ market is accessible down the alley.
The northeast corner of the building, where there will be signage, can be seen from Main Street.
In other words, the Montezuma Heritage Museum will be very visible and very accessible.
Local museums in every community operate on a shoestring, making any significant major construction almost impossible. Building or purchasing is almost always out of the question.
That is why the county commissioners’ decision to make the South Chestnut Street building available to the historical society is so significant. When the ribbon-cutting takes place and the front door is opened, the commissioners deserve applause. In the meantime, dig deep to help the historical society acquire the second half of the funds it needs to make the new museum operational. The museum’s presence will help locals appreciate their community’s past, and it will be a major addition to the county’s attractions.