A history of the
Zuma Natural Foods building

Like most relics found in an old Colorado town, the buildings have stories to tell about change and progress, about people and community. The walls can’t forget the shaking of passing train cars nor the rafters quiet the echoes of the town sawmill where they were milled. The building that now hosts the delightful natural food store and deli has run the gamut of purposes and characters that funded it, created it, inhabited it, and re-created it again. On the corner of Railroad Ave and Main Street is where southwestern comfort and heritage combine to bring you local and organic goods the old fashioned way.

Most likely built by of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the building was completed on March 5, 1937.  The U.S. Government purchased the land beneath it, from John Roessler and William T. Fowler on March 13, 1936, for the sum of $280. The facility originally served as a Supervisor’s Warehouse for the Montezuma National Forest, as part of the campaign for national resource enhancement undertaken by the forest service during the Roosevelt administration and the New Deal.  In response to the economic impacts of the Great Depression, tracts of land were purchased as an early part of the New Deal and much of these newly acquired federal lands were added to the National Forest Service system.  The early architecture reflects the philosophy of the Forest Service’s practicality, efficiency, simplicity, harmony, and sensitivity towards nature. The early designers combined national trends and vernaculars with the philosophy of the Forest Service, such as painting the very practical, five-bay garage building Victorian white. The result was a congruent architecture that thrived alongside the development of the National Forest Service in Colorado.

Mancos itself had an identity all its own: practical, useful, helpful, and enthusiastic. Not unlike Mancos today but with the trains of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad rumbling through town instead of cars and trucks on Highway 160. Set on the northeastern corner of Main Street and Railroad Avenue, the Forest Service building was inviting and integral to the boom of land uses like logging, mining silver and gold, and herding sheep or cattle. At this time, 85% of all the timber was used locally and Mancos was a center for transporting agricultural supplies, building materials, and charcoal to the surrounding mining towns.  Part of the U.S. Forest Service’s mission was to be accessible to the public, and that is exactly what they did. This building and the Montezuma National Forest itself were focal points downtown and to the livelihoods of its residence.  The residential features of the building, like the large windows on the north side and its rustic style, played well against the utility of its purpose and the railroad that brought progress and tourism alike.

Mancos had been home to the Montezuma National Forest Supervisor since the Forest’s inception; however, in 1940 the office was moved to Cortez and the big white warehouse on the northeastern part of town was remodeled to serve as the Mancos District Ranger’s office and garage. The western most bay of the garage, which was the shop for the Forest Service, complete with a grease pit, was converted into an office, bedroom, and bathroom with shower. By 1941, the renovations were completed by Civilian Conservation Corp Camp F-53-C and the Ranger moved in.  In 1947, Montezuma National Forest was divided between two national forests: San Juan and Uncompahgre but remained under the administration of the Mancos Ranger District.

The big white warehouse became nothing but storage for the district in 1960 after a new garage warehouse was built to the northeast, across the decade old Highway 160 which ran over the old railroad tracks.  Once a hustling and bustling garage/ office/ body shop for the Forest Service, the building became a collector of cobwebs and scavengers. In 1989, the Mancos Valley Association was given a special use permit for the west half of the building, the side the District Ranger remodeled, and set up a Visitors Center and by 1991, the Town of Mancos had received another special permit to open the Mancos Visitors Center.  By 1994 the Forest Service had moved out completely and the town expanded into the final two bays. Shortly thereafter, a larger visitors center and museum occupied the entire space. The interior remodel of the building with the introduction of the Pioneer Museum was extensive. The big white warehouse was painted mustard yellow with olive green trim and the continuous shingled drop shed roof which wraps around the building was added to make the building resemble an old railroad station.  However, though the building and the railroad where decades long neighbors and partners in the development if Southwest Colorado, the building itself never served the railroad directly. Thus the façade and interior alterations rendered the building ineligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Despite the its changing surroundings the building on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Main Street, once the big white warehouse on the northeastern part of Main, has again been made accessible and inviting. A local economy is important in a small town and a big city. Though Mancos may not have been, nor ever will be, a metropolis, it has thrived. And the historical architecture can provide a brilliant reminder of its past.