How Will We Know It’s Us Without Our Past?

Originally published on June 13, 2018 by The Montrose Daily Press

In his great novel “Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck wrote, “How will we know it’s us without our past?” Recently, we’ve been talking a lot about local history at the city. We’ve discussed the risk of unprotected historical assets and had discussions about preserving the physical history of our community.

If we don’t make efforts toward keeping historic and iconic buildings in Montrose, our city is in danger of looking like any other modern strip mall community. Raise your hand if you want that. No one? Bueller? Bueller?

Have you ever been to the Hanging Flume on Highway 141 between Gateway and Nucla? When I was a little girl, we traveled that road nearly every weekend from Grand Junction to Nucla. I knew the exact curve in the road where you could catch a glimpse of the flume. Every time, I would study it and marvel at how human beings somehow constructed a ditch on the side of a cliff. Incredible. This past week, I learned something really special about the flume.

Since last fall, a lot of my work for the city has involved preparing an incentives agreement for the building located at 345 and 347 East Main Street. According to a historic preservation report prepared by local resident John Horn, “Historically known as the Block and Missouri buildings, they (the building(s)) were once home to an outfitting business which supplied goods to enterprises throughout Montrose and Ouray counties. Included in these enterprises was the placer-mining flume of the Montrose Placer Mining Company, now known as the Hanging Flume. The owners of the outfitting business not only supplied merchandise and equipment for the project, but built roads for the construction and to convey goods to the project.”

The Block and Missouri buildings have been home to Busy Corner Pharmacy, the Hallmark Store, and countless other organizations and services. The building(s) now house the Vine Market and Bistro as well as Maggie’s Books. City Councilwoman Judy Ann Files remembers visiting her dentist in the upstairs of the building. All of that built up to beg the question: How would we feel if that building were torn down? Without historic preservation efforts, that building could be torn down tomorrow without any legal repercussions.

Montrose City Council is currently considering passing a Historic Preservation (HP) ordinance. If this ordinance is passed, the City of Montrose will apply for Certified Local Government (CLG) status. Boring government speak translation: If the City of Montrose were a CLG, it would give the city ability to designate buildings as part of our very own historic registry. If a building were registered as such, the building owners would then be eligible to apply for tax credits and other incentives from the state and federal government to aid in the preservation and restoration of their buildings.

The HP ordinance is written in such a way that it allows building owners to apply for designation by choice. If they do not want to apply, no one will make them. If they do apply for and receive designation, then they will have to follow certain guidelines when altering their property. The intent of the ordinance and the movement is to save the places that make us who we are (as Montrose).

Many communities across Colorado and the nation have already adopted these practices. Investors are familiar with HP and actually use it as a decision making factor when choosing projects. If we are able to successfully implement this program, it could attract financial resources that would aid in the revitalization of our endangered and often empty downtown structures. There is also assistance available for owners of historic residences.

We’ve already lost many iconic and beautiful buildings in our downtown. It is important we think about what we want it to look like and who we want to be. History isn’t actually the past. History is our story. It is our identity. I am excited to see where this community takes this idea and watch people come together around what made us Montrose in the first place.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation for the City of Montrose. Contact her at chelsea@montrosechamber.com.