The Montezuma County Historical Society is working to open a museum in downtown Cortez.
The county commissioners have offered the group rent-free use of an office building at 35 S. Chestnut St., behind the main county administration complex. The building currently houses social service offices, but they will be relocating as part of a reshuffling of departments since the new combined courthouse was built.
Historical society president Ann Brown said her board voted unanimously to proceed with an agreed-upon lease arrangement with the county.
“We are truly humbled and grateful to the county for offering us this opportunity,” she said. “We have been looking for 25 years to reopen the county museum, so this is a dream come true.”
The historical society would be responsible for utilities, which are expected to cost about $6,000-$7,000 per year. If all goes as planned, the collection would be moved into the new museum in spring, and it would open in August, 2018.
The 4,800-square-foot office is an ideal spot for the museum, Brown said. It has ample space for a display areas, research rooms and storage. The single-floor building has energy-efficient geothermal heating and cooling system, ADA bathrooms and parking for visitors.
“The layout inside is nice and would not take much remodeling to transform it into a museum the public can really enjoy,” Brown said. “There are several entrances, so one could be for the museum and another for the research rooms and library.”
There is room for a small store that could sell locally made goods, and memorabilia.
Currently the county’s historic collection is being stored at the Lake Vista Grange Hall. Volunteers, curators and archivists have been sorting and cataloging the collection in preparation for display.
Some of the stored historical items include an 1890s horse-drawn seed planter, a huge bellows from a blacksmith shop and a wooden WWI propeller. There are classic farm relics, original maps, dinosaur fossils, historic war memorabilia and an old Victrola.
The collection include volumes of old photos, relics and documents of Montezuma County history. There are family and business histories, newspaper archives and pioneer innovations such as a button maker and early electric washing machine. The collection also has artifacts from the Ancestral Puebloans, including pots, metates, manos and arrowheads.
“We will organize it all to tell the story of Montezuma County,” Brown said. “Some displays will be permanent, and other areas would have rotating collections. It is a very exciting time.”
The museum will feature the history of all the cultures and groups of the area, including the Ute Mountain Utes, Hispanics and pioneers, she said. The region’s agriculture, early water diversions and historic railroad will also be highlighted.
“Every community needs a museum to tell their story,” Brown said. “It also has economic benefits for the county and Cortez by getting visitors to stay a little longer and learn about our area.”
For more information or to donate to the museum, contact Ann Brown at 970-565-2747.