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Fire in Town Hall

by Nancy Christofferson
LA VETA— Early on Sunday morning, Oct. 30, 1977, the quiet of La Veta was shattered by the sound of sirens and shouts – Town Hall was on fire!
About the first to respond was the town’s mayor, Charlie Masinton, who was at work, as usual, at the Cash and Carry just a half a block away from Town Hall. With several of his early morning coffee drinkers, Charlie and the men went into the smoky interior and turned off the electricity and propane. With no electricity, the fire department’s siren mounted on the front of the building’s exterior was silenced. Charlie had one thing in mind and that was saving the town’s history. All the records back to 1876 were stored in a safe housed in the jail cell, and he managed to salvage all but a few of the minute books and other papers. He was bodily removed from the scene, however, and was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation. The volunteer fire department did a valiant and thorough job of containing the blaze in the building so it did not ignite the buildings on each side nor the La Veta Lodge apartments backing onto the rear of Town Hall.
All the furniture was destroyed either by the fire or by water, and the building was considered totally gutted.
The back walls, however, on the south and west, were destroyed – again. This was not the first fire to strike this particular location. For that matter, it wasn’t even the second.
The lot, at 204 S. Main, had in 1876 been the site of the D.D. Ryus home. In 1900 it was sold to William Hibben Woodruff, who built a bakery on the rear of the house. In 1902 this bakery was struck by lightning and burned, injuring two men inside. Woodruff then built a bakery separate from his home. In 1908 he moved the old house and built the present building which he sold it in 1912. It continued to host a bakery under new ownership. Then the second bake oven caught fire and burned the building down, heavily damaging the one on its north in the process. Both buildings were repaired and partially rebuilt.
In 1929 the bakery was sold to C.F. Boyd who put in the concrete walls in the rear. His son Dale operated the business, off and on, for many years. However, maintenance may not have been his forte because in 1949 Town Board warned Dale to do something with the façade of the bakery as it had become an eyesore.
Meanwhile, back in 1912 again, the Town had erected its own building for use as the municipal hall, jail and fire department. The stone structure is now part of the museum on west Francisco Street. It was built by W.H. “Uncle Billy” Adamson and was the town’s first real meeting and voting site. Rented quarters had sufficed until then, so the town fathers, clerk and judge had been shuttled all around downtown.
The 1912 Town Hall had obvious disadvantages as a combination fire department, jail and hall. It was very small, for instance, and dark. In the 1940s the clerk had had it, and rooms on Main Street were rented from Walter Campbell for the town hall. The fire equipment and jail cells stayed on Francisco Street.
After the Board gave Mr. Boyd the word to make his bakery building more presentable, there was some agitation over having to pay Campbell $16.66 every month in rent, and it must have struck someone that there was a building needing repair just at the time when the town needed a building. Thus began a shuffle in which the fire department took over the 1912 town hall, the town took over the bakery and the Boyds went out of business.
The Town Board of the day was composed of Paul Gilbert, mayor, Karl Gilbert, clerk and treasurer, and trustees Clark Falk, Ralph Garren, Proctor Hayes, Ben Nason, Frank Perry and Julian Tracy. Harold Bankson was the night marshal in charge of filling the jail.
Remodeling was slow on the old bakery, but finally, in August 1951, the records and furniture were moved to 204 S. Main, and the town was back in business. The front of the building the board found so distasteful two years earlier was painted white with sky blue trim to highlight the “modern glass front”.
The Town Hall was, then, in use for 26 years before the big fire of 1977. The La Veta Library had shared quarters with the clerk there from the spring of 1974 until September 1976 when it had moved up the street. The jail cells remained there, back in the corner on the north. The marshal maintained no office and there were no building or zoning inspectors back then, so the clerk was a lonely lady in that big space.
After Charlie saved the records and the volunteer firemen saved much of the building, other quarters were soon found in which the town could do business. Town Clerk Betty Bowdino set up shop at the northeast corner of Francisco and Main in Harry Willis’s real estate office. In November 1978 two builders and one-time town trustees Gilbert Arnold and Jody Riggins inspected the mess that had been Town Hall and declared it fixable. On March 13, 1979 there was an election for a $30,000 general obligation bond to rebuild Town Hall. By then Clerk Bowdino was sharing space in the San Isabel Electric offices. The issue passed and Joe Linscott quickly put the hall into useable shape – just as his father Rufus had done with the same building back in the ‘50s.

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