The water supply in Cortez in 1900 was something to be desired. I remember two fairly large ponds. Water had been supplied by ditch and flume from Dolores, and I remember remains of the old flume standing along the area of the present Cortez Library. An 1890 map shows the flume stops in the area of the Catholic Church.
These ponds supplied water that residents hauled to their homes. One of the ponds was at the site of the old high school (now Calkins building), and the other was in the area of Roseberry’s and City Garage (now bank parking lot). This pond was the only source of water in town at the time of one very disastrous fire, in the fall of 1908. E. R. Lamb, the druggist, had built a new 2-story structure west of the Stone Block and next to Hotel Clifton for a furniture store and drug store.
I remember my mother had just built a fire in the front-room fireplace to take the chill of the room while I spent a half-hour practicing my music lesson. We were not yet at the piano when the three shots rang out – a signal for fire. We looked out the south window and saw the flames shooting up the newly finished roof. Mama cautioned me to stay home and to watch the fireplace and was off to the store, which was next to the burning building. The only water supply at the time was the pond near the back of the WOW Hall (behind the court house.) A bucket brigade was formed two blocks long to bring water until teams and wagons with barrels could bring bigger amounts. The roof of the Stone Block was the main focus of attention. It was saved – Navajo rugs were soaked and laid on it. Merchandise from all three stores was piled in the street. Everyone helped carry it back into the stores. Gullets’ restricted their help to family and employees – lost very little.
E. R. Lamb & Co. built a store (now Cultural Center) and carried a full line of furniture and general merchandise. Mrs. Lamb brought her stock of millinery and introduced the various head-gear for the ladies.
Other happenings in Cortez in 1909
By 1909, great changes and advances were taking place. After the Clifton Hotel fire, the town built a reservoir to furnish water to the city. This reservoir comprised 3 to 5 acres on a 15-acre tract of land owned by the town at a cost of $55,000 on 6 percent interest bonds and may have been located on Montezuma Avenue in the area of the park. Water was brought by 8-inch steel pipe that was distributed in town in 4- and six-inch gas iron pipes. There were 24 hydrants installed.
In 1909, Bozman & Blatchford established an automobile line that traveled to the railroad in Dolores daily to transport passengers and land buyers. It was the first automobile in Cortez.
Cortez High School (Calkins Building) was completed in 1909. The light plant for the town on South Market Street was completed in 1909.
A telephone office was built in Cortez and connected with the Town of Mancos. In 1909, it connected phones throughout the valley.
The Montezuma County Fair Association was incorporated in 1909. No doubt formed to advertise the entire Montezuma County and the orchards down McElmo Canyon that was taking awards for their exhibits.
The value of a lot in Cortez in 1899 was $50 with a 1-year note and small down payment. In 1909, land was selling for $30 to $60 per acre.
Two lumber companies were in Cortez. Mead-Hengstler Lumber reported its sales ran from $20,000 to $30,000 for the year. The Cortez Lumber Co. said lumber was sold as quickly as it was available. Homes were needed; some residents were living in tents in the new town.
The Methodist Church was being built but not occupied until 1910. The First National Bank on the corner of Main and Market streets was built in 1909. The Brown Palace Hotel, at East Main and South Washington streets, opened for business July.
A fire protection district was formed; Omo and Ames Undertakers opened shop; Wilden Livery was a new business. Cato had a blacksmith shop; L. G. Grasse had an up-to-date harness & shoe store in Cortez; county commissioners were allocating money for roads; and oil fields in Bluff and Aneth were booming.
June Head is the Historian for the Historical Society and may be reached for questions, comments or corrections at 970-565-3880.