An 1890s horse-drawn seed planter sits woefully stored out of sight in the catacombs of Cortez City Hall. Next to it is a huge bellows from a blacksmith shop, and on a shelf above sits a wooden WWI propeller with a gauge still attached.
But it is all out of public view, as are hundreds of other artifacts, and thousands of historical documents currently stored in donated basement space in government buildings.
The Montezuma County Historical Society wants to change all that. It is requesting help from local government and the community to find a permanent museum to show off the area’s history.
“At one time we had a pretty nice museum, but now it has been divided up for storage, and some of it is displayed here and there,” said David Everett, historical society chairman. “The concern is that we are losing track of our shared history.”
The last permanent county museum was in the basement of the Cortez City Hall, but it closed in 1967, and items are now dispersed, with most in storage.
A pending renovation project at county headquarters has reshuffled some departments to another building and will consolidate the county Justice Department to the Main Street location. Perhaps some space could be carved out for a museum.
“With the expansions, we’re hoping the city and county can team up to provide a way for the museum to come back,” Everett said.
A tour of well-organized storage areas showed an array of interesting archives, stacks of uncatalogued boxes full of relics and documents, volumes of old photos, and unique pioneer innovations like a button maker and an early electric washing machine.
“It’s too bad it is down here out of sight,” said Joyce Lawrence, recording secretary and volunteer. “But we just don’t have near the funds to buy or rent out a place.”
Bank records from JH Harris, one of the county’s original businesses, family histories, and original newspaper negatives are important documents for genealogy studies as well, said historian June Head.
“Part of a having a museum is to provide research for family history and we have a lot of that information from a hundred years ago, but no place to offer it for the public,” Head said. “It is important to inform and educate the newer generation about our roots.”
Museums show off community character and sense of humor. Remember the hopping lizard skeletons?
“I do remember seeing those as a kid,” recalled commissioner Keenan Ertel. “We always wondered what there were.”
But what happened to them, no one is sure. The farcical whimsy was actually a set of porcupine skeletons, arranged to perpetuate a local legend of bizarre animals that persists today.
“There’s got to be someplace where we can display these things,” said commissioner Larry Don Suckla. “It is something we should brainstorm about.”
And once there is a central place that is secure, people are more willing to donate, or loan, their historical items for public display, Ertel added.
Museums are a tourism draw as well, and can be custom designed to highlight county tradition.
“They attract locals and visitors,” said commissioner Steve Chappell. “Showing off our wildlife would bring in hunters, we could charge a fee, maybe have a diorama of pioneer life here.”
The Historical Society was hopeful that the vacant Caulkins Building could house a permanent museum, but the red-tape and expense to remodel is proving to be too much.
For now unique items such as WWII uniforms from an all women U.S. Navy unit, dinosaur fossils, classic farm implements, original victrolas and Native American artifacts are all collecting dust in the dark, waiting to tell their story.
“We can’t wait any longer, it’s too much history to ignore,” said Head. “The kids are interested, but you can’t tell the story from the basement of the Justice Building where a lot of it is stored.”
The Montezuma County Historical Society is a non-profit 501-C3, organization. It is always looking for volunteers and grant writers.
For more information, call David Everett at 565-3502. Or sent a note to PO Box 218, Cortez, Colo. 81321.