Story by Lizzy Scully, photo by Grace Kennedy
Built in 1935 by Grady Clampitt, The Kennedy/Mancos Grain Elevator has become a landmark in Mancos and a symbol of the town’s long agricultural history. While agriculture is still a mainstay of the Mancos economy, few structures remain showing the historic heritage of farming the valley was once known for.
This neat wooden building, the last of its kind in Montezuma County, towers over fields that border Mesa Verde National Park. Though now irrigated for other crops and to support ranching and hay production dryland wheat covered these fields for decades. That wheat was then stored in the Grain Elevator over the winter. In 2013, Colorado Preservation, Inc. (CPI) selected the Grain Elevator to be on Colorado’s 2013 Most Endangered Places list because its stacked wood construction is rare in southwestern Colorado.
Gary Kennedy (father of the current owners Gary and James Kennedy) bought the Grain Elevator in 1960, and in recent years the brothers started repairing and renovating it, with the goal of making it available to local farmers. In 2014, the family pulled together funds to put on a new galvanized metal roof and replace the rafters. They also recently became one of Mancos Valley Resources projects in an effort to raise additional funds.
“We are trying to get it cleaned out so a local farmer can use it to clean his spelt this fall/winter and try to repair the old cleaning works for future use,” explains Catherine Kennedy. Three of the four bins still need to be cleared of organic debris and cleaned. We recently chatted with Catherine about her family’s efforts to revive this special building.
Mancos Valley Resources: What inspired you and your family to renovate the Grain Elevator?
Catherine Kennedy: The Kennedy brothers, Gary and James, love both agriculture and local history. People they knew and respected helped build it. It has been a landmark since 1934. It has withstood the test of time, weather and neglect. We know there is a purpose for it still.
MVR: How much time have you put into renovating it?
CK: It’s hard to count hours. Some family members have pitched in to remove trash, but Gary has done almost all of the work. This summer he put nearly a summer’s worth of weekend hours into continued clean-up of trash, sorting, and hauling loads to the dump. Plus, he stabilized a wall, covered the windows with plastic and the others with plexiglass. I have researched grants, visited with the State Historical members, attended meetings, researched its history, and helped Gary sort and toss trash.
MVR: How much money have you raised and from who? Are you getting grants?
CK: When the Kennedy parents passed, the brothers agreed to use a portion of estate funds to replace the roof as they had been informed by an engineer that the structure was sound, but the rot caused by the loss of parts of the roof would quickly cause the building to become much more difficult to rehabilitate. That cost roughly $20,000 and was done in 2013. That was all the money the family could manage. Most grants won’t donate to a private individual, so we were unable to secure any funding until we could utilize Mancos Valley Resources. We have been doing what work we can when we can afford it in the meantime. I was able to secure $1,000 from the Ballantine Foundation this year, however. We are also in the process of setting up a GoFundMe account and scratching our heads for fund raising activities within our limits (that we personally can handle).
MVR: What is left to do?
CK: So much! New windows will cost $1,900, electricity $1,500. There is a local farmer who would like to rehabilitate the original cleaner in the Elevator. We may have to order parts or have some made. That will cost about $500-$2,000. Cleaning out the other three bins and further stabilization, such as timber replacement, etc, will cost $18,000-$30,000. Then there would be incidentals such as establishing more of a road to it, replacing outside timbers, etc. Tyler Willbanks has donated all the lumber so far–a huge cost saving!
MVR: How has the community reacted to your project?
CK: With support. The Mancos Valley Historical Society has suggested a fundraising event that we have not yet been able to pursue. Most local agriculture people want to see it saved as a reminder of the Valley’s past. Many people recognize it as a landmark they would miss. We really haven’t heard anyone say something like, it seems like a waste of time, might as well tear the durned thing down!
MVR: How has working on this project fulfilled you both? In what ways has it benefitted your family?
CK: This is a tough question. I guess it depends on the day you ask us! Saving the Elevator and making it useful again has been a dream of ours for years. Seeing it as it was, full of trash and junk, was discouraging and depressing. Seeing it now after all of Gary’s hard work is encouraging and uplifting. I’m not sure it has been so beneficial to the family, We have been ready to throw in the towel on many occasions.
MVR: What makes the Grain Elevator special to the Mancos Valley and to our community?
CK: For us, it represents the Valley’s history. There was no irrigation when it was built in 1934; the valley was still trying to find its identity. Back then the residents depended on agriculture to support their families and to make a living, and the town grew from that. We think that’s important. Those were tough people. People took chances. Grady Clampitt saw an opportunity; he acted on it and for him it was successful. At that same time mining began, and in a few short years irrigation began, and the community changed again. We know it meant something to the generation that has now passed, Gary’s parents generation. We believe the history is important.
MVR: What is the connection between the Elevator and Colorado Preservation Inc?
CK: Linda Towle with CPI contacted us and encouraged us to apply for designation as Most Endangered, as that would help us with grant funding. They accepted the Grain Elevator the second year. Unfortunately, they didn’t help us with funding, as they’re not a funding organization. But, they do call attention and help us find and apply for certain grants. They also visit fairly regularly to keep up with what we’re doing. Whenever they do that, we manage to glean a wee bit more information about what is out there in the renovation world. The only stipulation we have to be involved with CPI is that we open the Elevator to the public when that option is available.
MVR: Why did you decide to work with Mancos Valley Resources?
CK: I was involved as a director with MVR a few years after they were reorganized. I got involved due to their interest in the Valley’s history and desire to keep the history alive. It had little to do with the Elevator because we didn’t have control then. We don’t have the funds to do the work to rehabilitate the Elevator ourselves, so we are working with MVR in order to qualify for grants. They have always been very supportive of and enthusiastic about saving the building.</span>
MVR: Is there anything else we aren’t asking that you want to share with us?
CK: There was a valley resident who wanted to buy the Elevator and turn it into an apartment many years ago! Gary has had to not only clear the debris out of the Elevator, but out of every single building and the house. Depression-era parents who threw away NOTHING, kept treasures everywhere. Add the dying pinyons and trying to get things set up for agricultural enterprises, Gary’s time for working on the Elevator has been very limited. It’s nothing short of a miracle he was able to get done what has been done in my opinion. We just didn’t feel we could allow members of the public to just wander around until all that was done. Gary and James have ordered electric line and will install when it comes in. That’s what we’ll be using the Ballantine grant fund for.
If our local farmer is unable to continue to work with us, we are back to square one as far as use is concerned. He really got us excited about using the Elevator for exactly what it was built for and part of the reason Gary concentrated mostly on cleaning it out this summer. We had every intention of having the building completely emptied in order to move Tyler’s cleaning equipment in this fall to clean the spelt crop he grew in the Valley this summer. We were going to work on the original cleaning equipment this winter. At the time of this typing and for various reasons, we do not know if this is still the plan.
If we cannot move forward with the plan to use the Elevator for what it was originally built for, we expect to once again back off its rehabilitation and concentrate on the rest of the property. We have a couple fundraising ideas we plan to discuss with MVR next year. If we unable to secure grants of a larger nature for the bin work, it will take us many years to finish the rehabilitation.