Located near the Huerfano River about twenty miles northwest of Walsenburg, Montoya Ranch is a large adobe building originally built around 1869 by Hispano settlers in the area. It was later occupied by the Montoya family, who operated a sheep ranch, and then by the Lebanese Faris family, who used the building as a residence, store, and post office. Today Montoya Ranch is a rare surviving example of an adobe Hispano dwelling in southern Colorado and the only known building in Colorado or New Mexico with a full adobe basement.
The precise origins of Montoya Ranch are murky. In the 1860s, Hispano settlers started to farm and ranch in the Huerfano Valley. Around 1867 Pablo Antonio Garcia occupied the land and appropriated water rights where Montoya Ranch is today. It is possible that he oversaw the construction of the adobe building around 1869.
According to tradition, the building—locally known as Fort Talpa—was intended as a defensive structure for Hispano settlers in the area. The building’s size and shape lend credence to this idea; it measures seventy-four feet by forty-six feet and has massive walls that are two feet thick at ground level. In addition, its full adobe basement is much larger than a root cellar would have required.
By the 1870s the building was functioning as a store and community center for the town of Huerfano Cañon, later renamed Talpa. The building takes its name from Victor and Juliana Montoya, who settled the land in 1874. They lived in the adobe building and might have operated a store there. They also had a large sheep ranch and built several sheep pens and corrals that still exist on the property.
In 1908 Victor Montoya sold his ranch to Asperidon and Louise Faris, a young Lebanese couple who planned to use the adobe building as a home, general store, and post office. Lebanese migrants like the Farises had started to make their way to Colorado in the 1880s and were known for working in the mercantile business. Louise Faris, for example, was born in Lebanon in 1888. In the 1890s her family came to Colorado, where they started a store serving coal miners in and around Walsenburg. In the early 1900s Louise met Asperidon Faris, a fellow Lebanese immigrant who was also involved in merchandising, and the couple married in 1908.
In 1910 the Farises moved to Montoya Ranch and started operating their store and post office. In 1911 they expanded the building to make room for their store, added windows, replaced the building’s original flat roof with a low-pitch hipped roof, and built a porch and commercial storefront.
The post office at Talpa had opened in 1878 in a building across the street, with William Harmes as postmaster. In 1910 the Farises took over the post office from Harmes’s children, and Louise became postmaster. In 1912 the post office closed. When it reopened in 1923, the name was changed to Farisita, which was the nickname of the Farises’ daughter Jeanette. Louise served as postmaster of Farisita until 1931, when Jeanette took over the position until the post office closed for good in 1934. The Faris family continued to live at Montoya Ranch until 1943.
By the 1990s, a few houses were all that remained of Farisita, and Montoya Ranch was in disrepair from decades of neglect and water damage. The owner planned to tear down the building and replace it with a doublewide trailer.
Taos art dealer James Gerken had seen Montoya Ranch while traveling in Colorado, and in 2000 he bought the property after learning that the adobe building was slated for demolition. Since then he has made small repairs to stave off further deterioration while he attempts to attract more support for a comprehensive renovation.
In 2012 Montoya Ranch was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2014 the nonprofit Colorado Preservation Inc. named the ranch as one of the state’s Most Endangered Places to try to spur interest in its preservation.