Presentation on the Morada, a piece of early Hispanic history in Montrose, set

Left to right: Chris Trujillo, Bobbi Fresquez, Kathy Cordova, Barb Lockwood (back), Loretta Abeyta, Manuel Lopez and Darlene Mora, all members of the Morada committee, stand at the Montrose Morada site in 2019. The corner of the building foundation can be seen in this photo. (Hispanic Affairs Project) 

Next week, Chris Trujillo will get a chance to see something he’s been longing for — the Montrose community learning the history and importance of the Morada, a religious meeting house where the Montrose Penitentes gathered to pray at the Morada until the 1960s.

On Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 6:30 p.m. at the Ute Indian Museum, Matt Landt, an archaeologist with Alpine Archaeological Consultants, will provide a presentation highlighting the historical archaeology of the site, the role of the Morada and the Hispanic history of Montrose.

This event is the culmination of a years-long project headed by Alpine Archaeological Consultants, with support from Hispanic Affairs Project and the History Colorado State Historical Fund, which issued a grant of approximately $19,000 for the project.

Landt said some of the grant money was used to complete oral histories from people who remember the Morada, all the more important since there’s no structure left at the current site. (There’s no certainty as to how the Montrose Morada came down, but Trujillo suspects it’s related to changes in the Catholic church in the 1960s.)

There’s not much visual photography, either, to reference from.

“In doing those, there really seemed to be a hub for the community,” Landt said of what he learned of the oral histories. “It wasn’t just a church you go to once a week. It was a center for the community — whether people needed help or wanted to talk .... It really holds groups together in that way.”

That’s part of the message that Landt, Trujillo and Fernando Morales hope to convey during the event. Morales said it’s likely that the only people that are aware of the Morada and its history are people in their 70s, and even then it might be hard to remember.

“That’s what we’re trying to do now,” Morales said, “and that’s to tell everybody in the community, ‘hey, it’s still here. It’s still there. It’s part of this history.

“...It’s not something that was incorporated. It’s true history, and we can expose that to the rest of the community.”

Karen Sherman Perez, HAP’s civic engagement and development coordinator, is part of efforts to preserve the site, which sits within Colorado Outdoors, where commercial and residential projects are currently being built.

Perez said she and the Morada committee have spoken with Doug and David Dragoo, who seemed amicable in terms of preservation of the site. (The Dragoos could not be immediately reached for comment.)

Morales said that people in the community could learn more about their own family history during Wednesday’s event. Though many former Montrose residents have moved to other regions in the area, Trujillo said he hopes they, too, can learn more about the history of the Morada and, potentially, their own ties to the site.

“Our mission is to promote the integration of our immigrant community, but we know that we have a much larger Spanish community,” Sherman Perez said of HAP’s involvement, also as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Sherman Perez said the team behind the project is slowly working its way through the process, but added there’s hope for potential future funding to help with preservation of the site.

Landt said he learned more about how Tortilla Flats — a neighborhood located on the city’s northwest side — came to be during the research process. Using Census data, the research team could find when Tortilla Flats became a majority Hispanic area. It wasn’t until the early 1920s and 30s that Tortilla Flats came to be.

“The Morada, to me, is a signal of when the community was really developed,” Landt said. “...By the time the Hispanic population is owning houses in Tortilla Flats and here to stay — the Morada signifies that permanence of the population.

“Fernando (Morales) and Chris really opened my eyes to the history of the Penitentes and the brotherhoods. It’s linked to Catholicism in New Mexico and how that’s traveled.”

Landt said his role on the project has been focusing on local history, “the growth of Montrose and how the Hispanics fit into that growth of the community.”

Trujillo also has personal ties to the Morada. After his father died in 1962, Trujillo’s mother asked the Montrose Penitentes to say a rosary for him at the Morada. And Morales, who joined the process last spring, has a grandfather who was a member of the Morada.

Trujillo found a prayer book stuck in the rafter’s of his mom’s house, which had a list of people who offered aid to others after 1933. He soon realized how many people in the community were part of the Morada. Morales, too, was taken aback by the book. A coworker of his father’s from 20 years ago was one of the Morada members in the 1930s.

“You see the names there, and you see how everyone is connected,” Morales said. “You see how that migration happened from 300 miles south to up here, and how this community coalesced over a couple of decades.

“... It’s really interesting to see how everything is connected from New Mexico to here.”

Trujillo has visited other Moradas in New Mexico, and has relatives in the area. He said they’re still functioning. Although there still remains a site for the Montrose Morada — visitors can see the building foundation — he’s well aware of its importance, and the role it can play as a historical site.

“They held them together,” Trujillo said about the impact of the Moradas in other communities.

Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press

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