Huerfano County, Colorado
Francisco Fort Museum

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Francisco Fort Museum by Nancy Christofferson
Huerfano World - May 31, 2001
Contributed by Louise Adams

Francisco Fort Museum's main building in the plaza is undergoing renovations, including the repair of the outside adobe wall. The remainder of the museum's extensive displays remain open to the public during this summer's continued renovations, restoration and cleaning of artifacts. Museum Director Pam Munroe said some of the main building's displays will be ready for public viewing later this summer.

Francisco Fort Museum opened Saturday with an updated gift and book shop, offering, as in the past, moccasins, jewelry, souvenirs, toys, T-shirts and an expanded selection of books and maps.

The shop now sports new furniture and fixtures, and a fresh welcoming appearance. The local Chamber of Commerce will have a tourist-information desk there.

In keeping with the 125th Anniversary of the Town of La Veta to be observed this year, the shop has on sale "Older Than Dirt" T-shirts for, what else?, $18.76.

Of course, the fort, or plaza, was built in 1863, predating the original incorporation of the Town of La Veta in 1876. The plaza is still undergoing renovation in a project that began last year. The east wing of the museum, housing the ranch exhibits, animal room, dress and quilt displays and general store, is open, but the west wing is closed.

The renovation project, funded partially by a grant of about $160,000 from the Colorado Historical society, was primarily to repair and restore the exterior of the building.

The project included stripping the old tin roof and a shingle roof beneath it. Under the roofs was the original thick dirt roof which once capped the old adobe structure.

The dirt roof was carefully removed and the ceilings of the rooms below stripped to reveal the supporting beams, leaving a brighter and cleaner look. While the work was ongoing, the west wing was rewired. Interior walls also are being repaired and repainted.

A new shake-shingle roof now adorns the west wing.

Manuel Gamboa of Trinidad, an expert in adobe work, redid the walls. The east wall of the west wing was in a delicate condition, bowing in alarmingly. Gamboa took the wall apart, adobe by adobe, down to the foundation. However, once down to the ground, he discovered there was no foundation, so he laid one and rebuilt the wall.

All new adobe bricks also were crafted for use on the walls. The adobes were made on the museum grounds in special forms. One night, while the adobes were in the process of drying, one of the town bears strolled through, leaving his footprints in the still-wet bricks. The adobe now is on display in the animal room.

Funding for the restoration also has been provided by individuals and through the local chapter of Rotary Club. Much of the work has been completed by volunteers.

Plans are being made to have a "work in progress" exhibit in one of the rooms this summer, so that people can view the progress of the renovation. While the work on the building is continuing, the grounds also are being renovated. The plaza, or open portion in front of the buildings, is being cleared of sidewalks. The alley has been removed so vehicular traffic is no longer allowed.

Future plans for the museum, according to Director Pam Munroe, include digitizing all the photographs and cleaning and preserving the costumes and fabrics.

A winter project completed by volunteers was collecting, identifying, titling and carefully storing the photos. Some photographic displays formerly seen in the collection have been removed due to deterioration caused by light and exposure. They are to be reproduced and preserved.

The museum, which opened in 1957, will in future present a different appearance. In the past, each room was dedicated to a specific subject, such as the fauna, or animal, room, the kitchen, the bedroom, the parlor. When it reopens, rooms will be dedicated to different articles representing time periods, beginning at the entrance of the west wing with the earliest, and continuing to the latest as a guest proceeds through the building.

The original plan of having each room depict a certain subject was begun in 1957 when two rooms in the east wing were opened to the public. Two more were opened by the end of that year, making a fauna room, a living room/kitchen, an Indian/ranch/mining room and one with miscellaneous items. All of the collection was, and is, made up of donations.

Responsible for the design and arrangement of the rooms was the Huerfano County Historical Society. The first directors were Milton Utt, Jeannette Thach, Amelia Sporleder, Proctor Hayes, Gilbert Arnold, Pearl Kitchen and Bennett M. Stigall. The board still administers the museum, although the Town of La Veta owns the property.

In 1958 the museum was officially dedicated with seven rooms, three more having been opened in the west wing. When opening day came in 1959, the museum had grown to 10 rooms. During the ensuing years, the blacksmith shop, actually a pioneer dwelling of the 1870s, a saloon from the 1880s and the schoolhouse of 1876 were donated and moved to the museum grounds. In the 1980s, the mining museum building opened.

Both of the plaza buildings had been made available by the owner, Mrs. Murray Daniels, a niece of Colonel John M. Francisco who had been responsible for the erection of the plaza in 1863.

The museum is still under the direction of the Historical Society. Carolyn Brown is president; Darrell Arnold, vice president; Pat Walters, secretary and Carolyn Newman, treasurer. Suzanne "Sam" de St. Jean is buyer and manager of the gift shop.

The Society board is reliant upon donations, gift shop and Fort Francisco Day profits and memberships for the maintenance and improvement of the collections and buildings. Outside of occasional grants for preservation and renovation, no public funding is available.

This summer, docents or guides will give four tours per day, at 10:30 a.m., and 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. Tour guides include Jo Nason, Arnold and Brown.

Tours include history and orientation and visit the old Ritter schoolhouse of 1876, the mining museum building of three rooms of exhibits, the blacksmith shop and the east wing. Along the way, machinery and vehicles may be seen.

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