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Historical inventory recalls Cortez’s past

Post office, McPhee transplants highlighted in latest edition

The city of Cortez’s sixth inventory of historic properties identified more than a dozen buildings of historical importance — including the Cortez Post Office and three homes relocated from the old town of McPhee.

Sites identified as historical, can be placed on historical registers that track buildings or resources reminiscent of days past. Eighteen sites from the inventory will qualify for the city’s registry, and possibly six for the National Register.

Linda Towle of the Cortez Historic Preservation Board said it’s important to recall places that carry tidbits of the city’s history.

“I think it’s important to understand how Cortez came to exist,” Towle said.

The inventories are being limited to the original site of Cortez, which is bounded on the north by Arbecam Avenue; the south, by Third Street; the west, by just west of Maple Street; and the east, by just east of Ash Street.

Cortez was laid out in the late 1880s by M.J. Mack, an engineer for the Montezuma Valley Water Supply Co., which was charged with creating tunnels, irrigation ditches, and laterals to divert water from the Dolores River to the Montezuma Valley for ranching and farming.

And although Cortez did not have a river or railroad — two characteristics that usually defined settlements of the West — the city survived. The community faced tough times during the past century, encountering unexpected circumstances like floods or flu epidemics, but it also experience periods of growth and prosperity.

Between 1900 and 1910, the commercial sectors of Cortez expanded, and storefronts and homes popped up along Market and Main streets, according to the city website. Many of these sites stand today.

“The layout of the town really hasn’t changed at all,” Towle said.

The Cortez Historic Preservation Board began conducting inventories in 2011, and to date, has completed six — all of which have been funded by Certified Local Government grants administered by the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office.

The earlier inventories started with homes along Montezuma Avenue and continued south to Main Street.

“Montezuma was intended to be the premier residential district,” Towle said, “and has remained mostly residential. And most people in town do honestly think of it as a historic district, where the older houses are located.”

To qualify for the city’s historical registry, buildings “must be at least 50 years old and meet at least one of the criteria for architectural, social or geographic/environmental significance to be considered for listing,” according to the Woods Canyon inventory report. There are some exceptions to the age requirement.

The National Register of Historic Places, a program under the National Park Service, has similar qualifications, but the buildings must have national significance.

Currently, Cortez has over 50 sites on the city’s register and three on the National Register: the Ertel Funeral Home, the Montezuma Valley National Bank (KSJD/Sunflower Theater), and the Calkins building on First Street.

The recent inventory, conducted by contractor Woods Canyon Archaeological Consultants of Cortez, included seven blocks of First Street from South Maple to South Ash streets. Woods Canyon identified 18 properties eligible for the Cortez Register of Historic Sites, Structures and Districts, and six that are potentially eligible for the National Register, including the Cortez Post Office and three houses on South Elm Street that were moved from the old town of McPhee.

Terenzio and Anna Gai built the Cortez Post Office back in 1959.

The Cortez Post Office, at 35 S. Beech St., was constructed in 1959 by Terenzio and Anna Gai to serve as the post office building, according to the Woods Canyon inventory report. It’s a modern style building and is in its original form except for the south side access ramp and entry.

It was owned by the Gai family until 2008, according to the inventory.

The relocated McPhee homes potentially eligible for the National Register are now at 25, 27 and 29 S. Elm Street.

They were all constructed in 1920 by the New Mexico Lumber Co. as employee housing for the McPhee lumber mill. The buildings were moved to Cortez in 1945 by L.L. Walters, who then sold the homes.

The home at 25 S. Elm St. was purchased by T.J. and Dorothy Roseberry. T.J. ran Roseberry Plumbing across the street between 1959 and 1977.

From 1948-53, the Leight (or Leicht) family operated LoRay Photography in a commercial addition on the front, which was completed by 1948.

The other two Elm Street homes were bought by William and Aristeen Cowling. Prior to 1920, the two farmed in Dove Creek, and Aristeen operated an optometry practice there in 1941.

After the Cowlings purchased the two houses on Elm Street in 1945, Aristeen moved her practice and residence to the 29 S. Elm St. home, while 27 S. Elm St. served as a rental unit.

The CenturyLink building at 35 W. First St. was also identified as being of historical importance. It was constructed in 1954 by Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company as a central office and microwave tower facility.

TThe other two sites deemed potentially eligible for the National Register include the homes at 201 E. First St. and 35 W. First St.

The former is one of the oldest residences in Cortez — the late Victorian style home was built in 1889 by William and Clara Blatchford, and purchased in 1903 by Pete Guillet, a local businessman and civic leader, who lived there until the 1930s.

And the site at 35 W. First St., now the CenturyLink building, was constructed in 1954 by Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Co. as a central office and microwave tower facility, and is on the historic site of the Montezuma Telephone Co., which operated a telephone exchange from 1905-29.

The Cortez Historic Preservation Board wasn’t able to hold its annual Historic Preservation Day because of the pandemic, but a podcast walking tour of Montezuma Avenue is available at KSJD.org and the city’s website.