Cortez celebrates its history next week

Preservation week has a variety of events scheduled

Journal/Sam Green
Chairman of the Cortez Historic Preservation Board, Linda Towle shows the old school house that is now a house. The top floor of the old school was taken off and moved half a block down for another house. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green Chairman of the Cortez Historic Preservation Board, Linda Towle shows the old school house that is now a house. The top floor of the old school was taken off and moved half a block down for another house.

Cortez will make history next week.

Mayor Dan Porter has declared May 15 as Cortez Historic Preservation Week, and local historians have organized events to celebrate the community’s past.

Although Cortez has celebrated its history in previous years, 2012 marks the first time the community has an official preservation week, said Linda Towle, chairwoman of the Cortez Historic Preservation Board.

“The purpose is to raise awareness among the citizens and taxpayers of Cortez about some of the significant historical resources we have here in the city and to get them to think about issues of preserving and adaptively reusing these historic buildings rather than tearing them down,” Towle said about the newly designated historic preservation week.

HOMES MAKE HISTORY

One of the week’s highlights is a survey of historic properties on Montezuma Avenue, Towle said.

Consultant Jill Seyfarth, the owner of Cultural Resource Planning in Durango, will present findings from the inventory she conducted on the properties, Towle said.

The historic inventory results from a $21,000 grant the city received through the Colorado State Preservation Office in 2011, Towle said. Seyfarth conducted the historic property inventories and will present her findings Tuesday at the Cortez Cultural Center.

Seyfarth will give a PowerPoint presentation on the 41 properties she surveyed and probably provide a few interesting stories about some of the locations, Towle said. People who own properties in the survey have been invited to attend Seyfarth’s presentation.

Some of the Montezuma Avenue properties might be eligible for inclusion on the Cortez Register of Historic Sites through city’s preservation board, Towle said. A few properties also might prove eligible for state or federal historic designation.

An additional $21,000 grant will allow Cortez to extend its survey of historic properties farther along Montezuma Avenue and on to side streets such as possibly Ash, North and Washington, Towle said.

THE MONTEZUMA TRAIL

Entitled “A Historic Building Survey of Montezuma Avenue,” the inventory includes properties along both sides of Montezuma Avenue from a point between Ash and Washington streets on the east to Linden on the west, Seyfarth said.

“We started out by targeting properties (along Montezuma Avenue) in the original townsite,” Seyfarth said, referring to the area included when Cortez was first platted.

Examples of information included in the survey include photos of the property, an architectural description and background information, Seyfarth said.

“It’s a documentation of the history of the property,” Seyfarth said. “It’s sort of a starting point for somebody who might want to do in-depth research of the property.”

Seyfarth pointed to the home at 23 E. Montezuma Ave. as one of the properties in the survey with significant historical value.

“Kind of the all-star property on that block is the old school building. … It was the first building in Cortez specifically built to be a school,” Seyfarth said. “That was the first dedicated school building. … In the 1920s, the school district sold the school building to an individual who took the top floor off and made it into a house.”

That top floor included a bell tower. Seyfarth said the old bell remained as a garden fixture at the home until World War II, when it was donated to the war’s scrap metal effort.

STEP INTO THE PAST

Popular, guided tours along historic, local streets will return for Cortez Historic Preservation Week this year.

In addition to the historic school property at 23 E. Montezuma Ave. that Seyfarth described, tours along Montezuma Avenue next week will include locations such as 112 W. Montezuma Ave.

The property was known as the “Herm Guillet Home” or “Add Wheeler House,” according to “Walking Along Montezuma Ave.,” a publication by local historian June Head that describes properties along the tour. Built in 1888 by one of the town’s founders, Emery S. Turner, the home was later moved to Willden Road northeast of what is now Southwest Colorado Community College. Prominent, early residents such as James W. Hanna, widely considered to be Cortez’s founding father; and Stephen J. Smith, a prominent, early businessman.

A walking tour along Montezuma Avenue was held in 2010 but not in 2011, Towle said.

“We’re going back to Montezuma Avenue this year primarily because of the history of properties inventory that Jill Seyfarth has recently completed for the western end of Montezuma,” Towle said.

Guides for the historic walking tours along Montezuma Avenue include longtime locals such as Head, a historian with the Montezuma County Historical Society.

“Most of them are people who literally grew up in Cortez,” Towle said about the guides.

Walking-tour participants follow the sidewalk and don’t enter the historic homes, but the “Walking Along Montezuma Ave.” handout provides a summary of dozens of properties along the historic avenue.

People interested in local history also can take the self-guided “Walking Along First and Ash Streets” tour this year.

The guide — a published handout — includes a description of historic properties such as the Graham home at 207 E. First St.

Built in 1889/1890, the home is the oldest house in Cortez that’s basically in the same condition as when it was built, according to the “Walking Along First and Ash Streets” guide.

Virginia Graham, a historian with the Montezuma County Historical Society, and her husband, Billy, purchased the home in 1965 and still reside there.

TALK ABOUT HISTORY

People interested in local history also can learn more during a panel discussion Saturday, May 19, at the Cortez Cultural Center.

Entitled “Building the Crossroads,” the panel will host a discussion about early Cortez leader Stephen Smith. Among other roles in Cortez, Smith conducted the Montezuma Valley Bank, the first bank in Cortez; was county clerk and recorder; and served as secretary of the irrigation district.

The panel also will explore the early development of Cortez and of the Montezuma Valley.

Sponsors for Cortez Historic Preservation Week include the Cortez Historic Preservation Board, Cortez Cultural Center and Montezuma County Historical Society.

For more information on preservation week activities, contact the Cortez Cultural Center at 565-1151.

Reach Russell Smyth at russells@cortezjournal.com or 564-6030.

Photo courtesy of Montezuma County Historical Society
Early Cortez leader Stephen J. Smith is shown in this historic photo. A panel discussion during Cortez Historic Preservation Week will include information about Smith's letters, and their information on the early development of Cortez and the Montezuma Valley. Enlargephoto

Photo courtesy of Montezuma County Historical Society Early Cortez leader Stephen J. Smith is shown in this historic photo. A panel discussion during Cortez Historic Preservation Week will include information about Smith's letters, and their information on the early development of Cortez and the Montezuma Valley.

Photo Courtesy of June Head ¬ The Cortez School is pictured in this historic photo from the 1890s. The school was located at 23 E. Montezuma, where the first story of the building still stands. Durango consultant Jill Seyfarth recently completed an inventory of historic structures on Montezuma Avenue and will present results Tuesday during Cortez Historic Preservation Week. Enlargephoto

Photo Courtesy of June Head ¬ The Cortez School is pictured in this historic photo from the 1890s. The school was located at 23 E. Montezuma, where the first story of the building still stands. Durango consultant Jill Seyfarth recently completed an inventory of historic structures on Montezuma Avenue and will present results Tuesday during Cortez Historic Preservation Week.