Contact Us

Towns that drowned, part 2

In part one, former St. Thomas resident, Robert ‘Doc’ Leonetti, talked about growing up there before residents were bought out and moved to make way for the dam and reservoir. SCENIC HIGHWAY OF LEGENDS — In 1963, ‘Doc’ Leonetti’s parents bought a house in Sopris and moved it to Trinidad. “My family had moved to Trinidad, but my dad and a couple other guys stayed until the bulldozers came. I didn’t want to see Sopris go. We were one big family.” said Doc. “The communities were close knit. Nobody locked their doors. One time we went out, came home, and our neighbors had come, stayed, and had cooked dinner for us. Despite tough conditions, my parents were compassionate people. They’d do anything for anybody, and they loved each other.” Among those who lived in Sopris, Joe Terry, now with Teri’s Hallmark on Main Street, was born there, near the high school. “I jumped over the fence and was at school. We had a coal stove and a coal heater. We’d wake and the oven would be open, for heat.” Terry remembers some of the businesses. “There was Piedmont Tavern in Piedmont, Sebben’s Grocery and Brunelli Grocery in Sopris, Cunico’s Groceries in Jerriville, and in Saint Thomas there was The Silver Dollar, Frontier Tavern, and

Spook’s Pool Hall.” Like so many, he came from a family of coal miners. “Both my grandfathers, Nino Passero and Lawrence Terry, worked for the Frederick Mine. So did my dad, Sam Terry.” Joe’s father died of black lung, at age 78. “My father made beer and wine. Lots of people did. A guy from California came with grapes and my dad would take him around, be his middleman.” Terry remembered how hard mining work was. “It was pick and shovel. Mules went blind from being in darkness so much. I got a mine job offer. My father said, ‘You step in that mine, I’ll break your legs.’ I told the superintendent. He said, ‘I figured your father would say that.’ That was my mining career. “ “I went to Trinidad State and received a B.A. in Elementary Education from Adams State in 1965, the first in my family to graduate from college, then a Masters of Special Education from the University of Denver.” He taught six years, managed Corradino’s Auto Body for seven, worked as a Farmer’s Insurance agent for 28, and has owned Teri’s Hallmark since 1985. “My wife was in the last graduating class at Lincoln High School, 1965. Everybody called it Sopris High. I’d still be in Sopris if it was there.” Former Sopris resident, Phil Shablo, remembered Cunico Groceries and Spook’s Pool Hall. “Binda Cunico gave families credit when the coal mines were down. Everything at Spook’s Pool Hall was transacted on the honor system.” Rino’s restaurant owner Frank Cordova was born in Sopris, delivered by Doctor Beshoar, in his grandmother Rose Cordova’s house. “We left Sopris and moved to Trinidad when I was a baby, in the early 40s. My grandfather was gone by then. He’d been a lawyer.” Cordova would ride his bike to his grand-mother’s. “I’d pedal out through Jansen and cross the bridge over the river. Sometimes I’d stay overnight. This was in the 50s. There was a donkey that walked around town. Everybody knew Nelly. It was exciting searching the alleys, looking for her. She let everybody ride her.” During summer Trinidad rains, Cordova said, “We’d see cloudy skies upriver, wait for the floods, they’d come roaring along, and we’d jump in. Everything got washed down, cats, goats, snakes, even cows sometimes.” Frank learned bass guitar and started a band with his brothers. “We played around here,” Cordova said, “then went to Denver then we went to Los Angeles. I was 15 when we left, 1958. We’ve been back since 2002, with Rino’s Restaurant.” The towns that drowned will continue next week.