Stone buildings in Cortez recently celebrated their 105th and 125th birthdays during a party at the Cortez Cultural Center.
Fifty people enjoyed a presentation and tours of the Wilson, Calkins, Lamb and Montezuma Valley bank buildings.
“We had people from California and Boston join in with the local crowd,” said Linda Towle, of the Cortez Historic Preservation board. “The weather was perfect this year.”
Historian Dale Davidson explained the significance of the buildings as a Cortez cornerstone in the late 19th century.
Back then, Cortez leaders decided to leave La Plata County and formed Montezuma County. Despite the absence of a railroad, river or mining industry, people were determined to make a go of it.
“They ran the whole county off of $38,272 in taxes in 1897,” he said. “It is a testimony to their devotion to start a town here. In spite of difficult economy, the courthouse, the stone block buildings and the irrigation system all marched forward and were completed.”
In 1889, Peter Baxtrom built what is now known as the Wilson Building using sandstone blocks quarried from Hartman Draw. The Guillet brothers had an early general store there. Portions of the old coal-fired furnace are used today to heat business tenants.
In 1934, Marilyn Wilson Haley’s family opened up a pharmacy there. The Wilsons later purchased the building for $32,500 in 1945.
“When they installed a fountain, I worked there when I was 14 and sold banana splits after the movie got out,” Marilyn said.
In 1909, the Calkins School Building was erected by Baxtrom and his sons using the same Hartman Draw sandstone blocks. The modern two-story building had six classrooms, a basement, call bell system, fire alarms, telephones and electric lamps. All for $14,000.
Phillip and Vivian Kenyon both went to elementary school there.
“It’s a grand old building that was the cultural center of town,” Vivian Kenyon recalls.
The building has been vacant for some time and needs renovation, but securing funding has been a challenge because of the expense and large local match required.
“The Colorado Historical Society requires community buy-in, which is fair,” Phillip Kenyon said. “It used to be $1 million to restore it, but it has since gone up so it’s tough to raise the match. It deserves to be taken care of.”
On May 17, coffee and birthday cake were enjoyed by the audience at the Cortez Cultural Center in the E.R. Lamb building.
The Lambs built it in 1909 and made it fireproof after losing a previous building to a blaze. It is constructed from steel, brick and stucco. The ornate pressed-metal front facade was shipped by train and wagon from St. Louis.
Built in 1909, Montezuma Valley National Bank was one of the earliest banking institutions in Cortez. Again, the Baxtrom brothers are credited with its construction and used 16-inch thick stones arranged in courses of 10-inch and 6-inch high blocks.
The bank’s stately appearance was enhanced by classically inspired architectural details that remain today. In 1957, the bank building was sold to the McAfee family and has since been restored to house the KSJD Community Radio studios, story vault and performance hall.
All four buildings are on the state historical register. The tour and birthday bash showcasing them serves as a reminder of the town’s early visionaries.
“We live in the shadows of the first stone buildings of Cortez,” Davidson said. “As a community, we need to guard against losing our historic structures.”