Friday, April 18, 2014

The Co-op

One thing that has always confounded me about Bluff is that, at least during my lifetime, it has never had a centralized commercial center. Whenever Jana, Kira, Grange and I visit other small communities of the Colorado Plateau, the historic buildings that testify to their origin fascinate us. We all enjoy walking up and down ancient streets, looking into abandoned and renovated storefronts; surveying the past; and speculating on the future.
Bluff Fort Co-op - 1890's, Charles Goodman Photo
Today, Bluff has the Desert Rose Inn on the extreme west side; the Recapture Lodge and K & C Trading Post in the center; and Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe on the east end. There is not, however, a consolidated business core.

According to our best friends LaRue Barton and Corrine Roring, in 1899, approximately 19 years after they arrived in Bluff, the Mormon settlers built what was known as the San Juan Co-operative Company. This massive stone structure served as a clearinghouse for commercial transactions in Bluff and the surrounding area. Even the Ute and Navajo populations traded wool, pelts and woven goods at the Co-op. It was a regional hub of business activity.

Unfortunately for the citizens of this tiny settlement, in 1925 a burglar who went by the alias Fred Starr decided he needed the contents of the Co-op’s safe more than its members. Using an overabundance of dynamite to accomplish his goal, in a flash of brilliance he managed to simultaneously collapse the building and end his earthly existence.

In recent years the Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation has begun building a replica of the Co-op to celebrate the story of those who answered the call to establish the San Juan Mission. Over the past few months, Vance Seely, a local stonemason who applied the sandstone exterior to Twin Rocks Trading Post many years ago, has been laying up stone on the reconstructed building.

Aside from being one of the best tradesmen on the face of the Earth, Vance is also the nicest guy on the planet. He is universally happy, and always makes your day better. As a result of my interest in the history of commerce in Bluff; my fondness for Vance and his work; and my fascination with the extraordinary stonework he and his crew are doing, I have taken to driving past the Co-op every day on my way to work. The building literally glistens in the early morning sun, and is a hive of activity. I cannot help hoping the Co-op will be the catalyst for reviving commerce in this small town on the banks of the San Juan River.

With warm regards:
Steve and the team; Barry, Priscilla, and Danny.

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