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History Detective – Apishapa Valley’s Heritage Center has a rich history of its own

by Carolyn Newman


AGUILAR — The mystery is why Alphonse Cordova chose to decorate his building in a Moorish style with horseshoe-shaped arches and hand-painted tiles.

Today the unique building is no longer the El Patio Cafe, but is home to the Apishapa Valley Historical Society’s Heritage Center, filled with local mementos.

The Marquez family has been gracious enough to allow the AVHS to create a museum in the building, at no cost. Remains of Alphonse’s blacksmith shop are in the rear of 132 Main Street.

Alphonse was definitely creative – the swivel door pivots on its center pin. The back bar is carved with scalloped edges. Visitors check the stones closely to find sculpted faces. An arched window facing the courtyard allowed a pass-through from the Cafe for diners outdoors.

Aguilar, or “Little Chicago” as it was known in prohibition days, has such a varied history one can hear tale after tale. How Italians were among the immigrants coming to work the coal mines. Then the Mafia and the Black Hand made their presence known. Lively times included a federal officer shot on Main Street. Drunken farm animals, however, made good use of the corn mash left over from the illegal stills.

The Heritage Center with its old newspapers, published family histories, diorama, and early photographs gives the visitor a bit of insight into the town in the Apishapa River Valley. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Memorial Day through Labor Day. Find the town of Aguilar just off I-25 between Trinidad and Walsenburg.

The photo shows the swivel door partially open. Thanks to Pat Romero, Barbara Hall, and Charlie Juliano for information.

The History Detective is a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society, or 719-738-2346. The Heritage Center is open for messages and information but not in-person visits. John Van Keuren is present 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays.


The Moorish-style door swings on a center pivot. Photo by Carolyn Newman


Carved stone faces peer from the bricks. Photo by Carolyn Newman