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Adobe Ranch House Stands At Colorado’s Cultural Crossroads

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WALSENBURG, Colo. (CBS4)- Along the banks of the Huerfano River near Walsenburg sits the Montoya Ranch which was saved from destruction by Jim Gerken.

Before he purchased the property, he became enamored with the architecture and the culture it represents.

“I heard a rumor that the owner of this old adobe was going to tear the building down and put up a double wide,” Gerkin said.

Montoya Ranch (credit: CBS)

Montoya Ranch (credit: CBS)

That’s when he made the decision to buy the ranch.

It was built in 1860 by the Montoya family, a family of sheep ranchers. At one time, they had 50,000 head of sheep. Those pens still stand today.

Also still standing– that three-room adobe ranch house that Gerkin helped save.

“This building represents something that is gone in this area that was so significant,” said historian Dana Echohawk. “It represents the culture of the Hispanic families who lived here and the culture and changes that were taking place here at the time.”

Gerkin is well aware of the history he now owns and is proud to have saved some of the heritage unique to the West.

“This building was built in a very defensive fashion, in the event they were raided,” he said. “The Utes, Comanches and Navajos all traveled in these areas and considered it their territory. When the Spanish came up here to build these, they built them to be very strong.”

Gerkin has two young daughters and considers the adobe ranch house his third child, a child nearly 100 years old than he is.

It’s not just the house that makes the ranch so special, it’s also a landscape virtually unchanged over thousands of years.

“They had plenty of water, fertile soil,” said Carolyn Newman with the Huerfano County Historical Society. “They could manufacture any of their own needs for the most part.”

That made the valley a magnet for all those cultures that would eventually call it home.

“It’s such a strategic place with the trails that came along here,” Newman said. “People would follow the waterways up along the Arkansas River. So you’d have Native Americans, trappers and traders.”

By the mid-19th century that list included sheep ranchers like the Montoyas. The family settled in, dug irrigation ditches and built pens for their animals.

And it’s that still-standing adobe ranch house now in need of a lot TLC.

“My goal is to restore this old adobe back to its original condition,” Gerkin said. “Add facility for bathrooms and kitchens and ultimately make it available for graduate students who like to purse their doctorate or dissertation in Southwest studies.”

It could be a new future for a building that stands at the crossroads of Colorado’s cultural history.

“It’s fortitude,” Gerkins said, “how it’s still here. It was built 150 years ago and it’s still standing. It’s still strong.”

Additional Resources

To learn more about the Montoya Ranch and other sites on this year’s Most Endangered Places list visit ColoradoPreservation.org.

Watch CBS4’s complete 2014 Colorado’s Most Endangered Places special.

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