Pioneer women took charge in Monte Vista

Photos by Brian Williams In 1895, the Women’s Literary Club raised enough to money to build the small stone building that housed Monte Vista’s Public Library. This building is now the home of the Monte Vista Historical Society and sits next to the Monte Vista Carnegie Library.

Driving force behind town’s first public library

MONTE VISTA — March was declared National Women’s History Month in 1987. Since then, every year March has been dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women in our nation’s history. Doing a little digging into the history of Monte Vista you will find that women have played a huge role in the founding of this community as well. 

Lillian Lorretta Silsby was a school teacher from Kansas who came to Loveland to teach. While she was there, she fell in love and married James L. Taylor. After they married, they moved to Kokomo which at that time was a new mining town north of Leadville. According to Emma M. Riggenbach’s history book “A Bridge to Yesterday,” they left Kokomo after witnessing the brutal killings of two people who had broken a frontier code. The victims were strung up near their cabin by a crowd of masked men. 

After this experience, her husband found work on the railroad but tragically died in a railroad accident. The widow spent a winter in Alamosa and then went to live with a relative of her husband’s.

In August of 1881, Lillian Taylor and her children made their way to Lariat — the former name of Monte Vista — with merchandise to set up a store. 

“There was nothing but chico and sagebrush for miles around. It was the most unpromising place for a business venture one could imagine,” Riggenbach wrote in her book. 

Undaunted, the young widow proceeded to build a 20 foot by 30-foo- frame building, which became Monte Vista’s first store. It also served as the town’s post office and Lillian Taylor became the town’s first postmistress. 

A little while later, her mother joined her to help run the store and take care of the children. Together they started the enterprise that became L. L. Fassett store.

“It was called Fassett’s Store because Lillian Loretta Taylor and Charles S. Fassett were married on Jan. 10, 1882,” Riggenbach wrote. 

Lillian Fassett became the town’s first librarian when she opened her store to house the town’s first library books. There is no doubt that Lillian Fassett was an influential part of Monte Vista’s history. 

Monte Vista’s Public Library was another women-led effort.

“Monte Vista’s Public Library grew from the dream of a group of pioneer women in this little-known spot in 1885. Colorado was but nine years old at the time,” Riggenbach wrote in her book. 

The ladies formed the Women’s Literary Club and started a circulating library. The library books were kept at the Fassett’s store. Over time as the library accumulated more books, it was moved to the Bonner Mead building which was on the north side of First Avenue. This is where the library remained until a fire in 1894 destroyed all of the books as well as the building. 

Determined, the women then went about earning money to build a new library building. They published and sold cookbooks, made and sold aprons, and had a booth at the fair. In 1895, they had enough money to build the small stone building which is now home to the Historical Society. The women continued to earn money to buy books and operate the library.

“In 1916, the City of Monte Vista began negotiating with the Carnegie Foundation for assistance in erecting a library building to meet the needs of the growing population,” recorded Riggenbach in her book. 

Later on that same page, Riggenbach wrote how in 1918 the first mill levy was placed on property within the city limits of Monte Vista for library operation and books.

“But additional funds were needed. Never underestimate the power of a woman! The first year of the Ski-Hi Stampede the women ran the Stampede Carnival. They netted $967.49 for library use,” wrote Riggenbach. 

These are just a couple of examples out of many from Monte Vista highlighting the tremendous impacts women had in the history of this community.

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