Learn About Montrose County

Our County
Welcome to Montrose County in beautiful Southwest Colorado! Our thriving community is home to 41,412 neighbors in over 2,200 square miles in the Uncompaghre River and Paradox Valleys. In addition to being the Agricultural hub of the western slope, we are home to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, as well as the Gunnison Gorge National Recreation and Wilderness Areas. The majority of our County is made up of National Forest, Bureau of Land Management or National Park lands.  Our main cities include Montrose, Maher, Naturita, Nucla, Olathe and Paradox.  Our team of nearly 450 employees is committed to serving the needs of our friendly community and visitors to our area.

Our Mission
The mission of Montrose County is to provide services that facilitate public health, welfare, safety and infrastructure to Montrose County citizens in an efficient and economical manner.

Our Vision
The vision of Montrose County is to serve as a responsive body to citizen needs, quality of life and individual liberties.

Our History
Montrose County was created in 1882. Prior to that time, it was part of Gunnison County. The County Commissioners were appointed by the Governor of the State of Colorado on March 12, 1883. They consisted of A.E. Buddecke, Chairman; S.H. Nye and O.D. Loutsenhizer, Commissioners.

The first courthouse was in an adobe building, purchased in 1885. Prior to the time of purchase by the County, the building served as the town’s indoor skating rink.

On November 13, 1918 – shortly after the signing of the World War I armistice – a meeting was held in the law offices of Catlin & Blake for the purpose of making plans for a memorial to the Montrose County servicemen who lost their lives in the war. After considerable discussion, it was agreed that a new courthouse building would at once serve the purpose of fulfilling the County’s most pressing facility need and would also provide a suitable memorial. The consensus opinion was later stated by J.B. Loesch:

“How much finer it is to have a memorial, a building which is eminently useful and beautiful, than to have a mere monument which, though it may be a great work of art, still is really a needless and impractical expenditure of money and effort. With the construction of a courthouse, we would have a memorial which is good to look at, and at the same time, necessary to the administration of our commonwealth. “

The Committee further agreed that funding for the new Courthouse could be provided by a mill levy of 1.5 mills on all taxable property in Montrose County. It was estimated that $25,000 per year would be collected through such a levy. In December, 1918, the Commissioners accepted the Committee’s plan and the mill levy was enacted.

The next decisions addressed over the following months were the location and proposed costs for the building. At a public meeting held on March 20, 1919, there were a number of potential sites brought forward for consideration, however, at the conclusion of the site discussion:

“The County Commissioners informed the meeting that unless the City was interested enough to provide a new site, the county at large could not be expected to buy a new site and the new Courthouse will be located on the present grounds, unless a new site is donated to the County by the people of the city.”

It was also decided by the public that a $125,000 project cost would be sufficient to provide the level of quality expected for their new “memorial civic center”. A small group of citizens felt strongly that the budget should be increased to $150,000 so that the structure could be “monumental in design and imposing…in keeping with its community position.” This group, led by John Deeble, stated that there would only be one chance to construct the Courthouse properly and that without adequate initial expenditures, the burden of their shortsightedness would be passed on for future generations to repair. After further debate, the $125,000 figure carried the vote.

Over the next three years, the Courthouse project moved slowly forward as the needed mill levy receipts accumulated. At some point between 1919 and 1922, William N. Bowman of Denver was selected as project architect.

Addressing a meeting of the noon Lion’s Club on May 21, 1922, Mr. Bowman promoted the use of local stone for the Courthouse, rather than imported Bedford stone, which was the standard choice for civic buildings of that period.

“He emphasized his belief that local stone has just as good staying qualities as Bedford and that in using it employment would be given to local labor.”

The Lions and Commissioner, Joe Hartman, who was also attending the meeting, gave their unanimous approval for the use of local stone and also for maximum use of “home labor” during the construction. On June 29, 1929, the stone contract was given to the August Kaleway quarry, five miles west of Montrose.

“The building stone will be quarried in blocks weighing from 4,000 to 6,500 pounds each, and hauled to the site where it will be cut up into the required size for building.

It will require some 10,000 cubic feet of stone for the building, and more for the rubble work. It will be some task to quarry, haul and lay the stone, and will furnish work for quite a number of men”.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the architect stated that even though the latest cost estimate had grown to approximately $153,000, he still felt Montrose was getting good value on their investment because “a county Courthouse is supposed to be as good a building as there is in the county seat.”

Furthermore, “In speaking of the Montrose and Grand Junction Courthouses, the contract for the later being let a month ago, he said there was upon comparison of plans, an interesting comparison. The Montrose Courthouse has 8,000 feet more floor space and it looks as if it will be built for $75,000 less than the Mesa County building. The Montrose Courthouse will be an imposing building with ample room.”

In mid-June of 1922, the contract for construction was secured by White & Okey General Contractors of Montrose. The contractor’s bid was $163,993, not including sidewalks, site grading, landscaping or furnishings. The Commissioners stated that exact costs for these remaining items could not be addressed until needed maintenance and repair of County equipment was completed. The equipment consisted of “ten trucks, three automobiles and machinery too numerous to mention.” Commissioner Hartman estimated that final Courthouse costs would be $200,000.

Construction commenced on the 65 ft. x 130 ft. x 56 ft. 9 in. high Courthouse in July of 1922 with site preparation and foundation work. On September 15, a cornerstone laying ceremony took place with a large majority of the town in attendance.

The cornerstone of Salida granite, weighing 4,500 pounds, was laid by the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. Some of the articles enclosed in the cornerstone included:
  1. A life history of Joseph Selig, founder of Montrose;
  2. Trail map of Montrose County;
  3. Silk American flag;
  4. The story of irrigation in the Uncompahgre Valley with appropriate pictures;
  5. Pictures of the Gunnison Tunnel Project;
  6. Rosters of County officials, teachers and service clubs;
  7. Telephone directories of Montrose, Olathe, Delta, Ridgway and surrounding towns.

Speaking at the ceremonies, the Commissioners stated that they were proud to:

“…let the contract to all home people. The contractors in turn are employing home labor. The building is being constructed as far as possible with Montrose home products. The stone is mined in a quarry west of Montrose, some five miles, the brick is made in the Allen Brick Plant adjoining the city. All of the lumber that can possibly be used is milled out of timber grown in Montrose County. The sand and gravel is taken from the river bottom close to Montrose. You will see that as far as possible, the construction of this building, the material used is home products and every laboring man on the job, with the exception of a very few, are home people, and those that are not state that they intend to make this their home.”

Construction continued during the remainder of 1922 and was completed in October, 1923. Two interesting occurrences which took place during construction are:

  1. On January 22, 1923, stonemason Charles Cuthbert was installing a fifty pound piece of terra cotta on the cornice above the main entry when he slipped and fell 35 ft. to the frozen ground. He struck the ground face first, approximately fifteen feet out from the building. The piece of terra cotta shattered on impact and was scattered out into the street. Mr. Cuthbert sustained a minor concussion and a bruised cheekbone!
  2. Without the use of today’s cranes and lift equipment, a series of earthen and wood ramps had to be constructed in order to transport materials to the upper levels of the Courthouse. When the time came for placement of the roof structure, a mule team was employed to transport the timber beams up the ramps to the third floor.

The most gala event to take place in Montrose since the opening of the Gunnison Tunnel was the grand opening dedication of the new Montrose County Courthouse. The ceremony began with an invocation by Reverend Alonzo D. Fairbanks, a valley pioneer.

Next on the agenda was the dedication of the spacious fountain on the Courthouse lawn, donated through funds raised by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. As the fountain water was turned on, the WCTU members sang, “It’s There to Stay.”

Next, J.B. Loesch, accepting the building on behalf of the taxpayers stated:

“In any public building, there are, of course, prime requisites; Utility, Permanence and Beauty. Our employees who work here can best testify to the utility and convenience of this plant. The reputation of the Honorable Commissioners and the contractors is our guarantee of its permanence; and we can judge of its beauty for ourselves… Our pride must also be heightened by the fact that we are the real owners.”

A listing of the rooms in the dedication program for the new Courthouse indicates some interesting uses:
The room currently serving as the Commissioners’ chambers was the pride of the building – the servicemen’s club room. This room is described as, “fully appointed with leather club chairs, varnished furniture and a private entrance for all war veterans”.

The first floor also contained the surveyor’s office, farmer’s room, ladies’ resting room and the janitor’s four room apartment. Three large vaults are also described.

The second floor housed the Sheriff’s office, Treasurer, County Clerk and a private office for each Commissioner.

The third floor was occupied by the School Superintendent, Judge’s Chambers, Courtrooms and the County Agent’s demonstrating room.

The top floor served as a jury dormitory and contained six additional rooms for future expansion.

The keynote address at the Courthouse dedication was delivered by F.J. Hartman, construction supervisor and Chairman of the County Commissioners. Pertinent excerpts of Mr. Hartman’s speech follow:

“There never was a time in the history of the County that a Courthouse was needed so much. Our vaults were over-flowing, our furniture long past usage and offices had to be secured in several places in the business section.”

“The Courthouse, besides being a memorial building, is a great deal more useful than you may at first think. It is a clearing house for all of our transactions – in business, in trouble and in love.”

“This building is yours, built with your money, by you as tax payers and citizens, and largely out of Montrose material. We are proud to say that we have one of the lowest insurance rates on any public building in the State of Colorado.”

“We have provided vault and office room for a century, and the building, if properly cared for will last many of them.”

In closing, Mr. Hartman reminded the audience that the Courthouse was a memorial to those who had died in World War I. He stated that everyone had an additional duty to the wounded veterans who live on, and –

“Our duty is also to the generation now growing up around us. The men who fought the last war do not want another one. Today over 4,000,000 ex-servicemen are banded together for the purpose of holding the peace that was won at such a cost.”

It is indeed ironic that the Courthouse memorial dedication and Commissioner, Hartman’s comments occurred on December 7, 1923 – eighteen years to the day before Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance into World War II.

The final cost for the Montrose County Courthouse was $225,000.

  1. Montrose Daily Press; “Dedication Speeches”, December 8, 1923.
  2. Montrose Daily Press; “New Courthouse ….Decision”, March 21, 1919.
  3. Montrose Daily Press; “Lions Favor Local Stone in Courthouse”, June 1, 1922.
  4. Montrose Daily Press; “Stone for Courthouse from the Daleway Quarry”, June 30, 1922.
  5. Montrose Daily Press; “Lions Favor Local Stone in Courthouse”, June 1, 1922.
  6. Montrose Daily Press; “….Interesting Data About Montrose County and It’s Courthouse”, September 16, 1922.
  7. Montrose Daily Press; “Dedication Speeches”, December 8, 1923.
  8. Montrose Daily Press; “Montrose Formally Dedicates Courthouse”, December 7, 1923.
  9. Ibid.