The Saga of Cerise Park:
A Montrose Legacy Dating Back to 1881
[Montrose, Colo. | March 2020 | By Marilyn Cox]
Cerise Park was dedicated as a city park in June 2008, having been acquired by the city approximately 15 years earlier. Years of planning and work by many entities finally led to what we see and enjoy today.
The park has a long history. Within three days of the removal of the Ute Indians in September 1881, all of the river lands were claimed. An early photo shows tents along both sides of the river.
The first known early arrival, according to historian Jon Horn, was Henry (Harry) Bryant Wilson, who is believed to have built the first crude structure of upright pickets. A blacksmith by trade, Wilson was born in Iowa in 1864, had lived in Missouri, and married Winnie Walters in Montrose in 1888. They apparently didn’t stay on the property very long.
A patent was filed for the land by J.J. Kallstrom in 1889. A widower about 55 years of age, Kallstrom immigrated from Sweden, arriving in Montrose toward the end of 1882. In his preemption testimony, he stated that he first settled on the river bottom land on July 2,1884, started building a house, purchased an unfinished house from Harry Wilson, then started improvements such as a fence, spring, dugout, cleared five acres, and built a hen house, stable, and cellar. As of July 1886, he had also planted four or five acres with wheat, oats, potatoes, millet, corn, and other garden items.
J.F. Krebs was the next owner of the property, acquiring it in 1895. His brother, Sam, farmed the land and sold produce, living there from 1910 until around 1920. “Uncle Sam” was known for his beautiful field of strawberries.
Krebs maintained ownership of the land until 1946, but during the 1920s, it became the home of Gean Baptiste Cerise, Sr., his wife, Egyptienne, and their three children, Mafalda, Gean, Jr., and Ivor, who went by the nickname of “Swede.”
At that time, there were several structures on the property, including a frame building and another of log, as well as the original upright picket building, now referred to as the jacal, which had a couple of add-ons. The interior walls were lined with newspapers—late 19th-century copies of the Montrose Enterprise—as well as pieces of muslin material, a common practice of the day in order to provide insulation.
Gean Cerise, Sr., was French, but he was born in the northern part of Italy. In 1905, when the Cerise family first immigrated to the United States, they stopped in Leadville, then moved to Telluride, coming to Montrose in 1913. The daughter, Mafalda, married Owen Callaway; Gean, Jr., married Fern Corey; Ivor died of appendicitis at the young age of 22.
Gean, Sr., had quite a hog-raising operation. When the land was first acquired by the city around 1993, there were hog pens among the trees, as well as wooden hog troughs, tar-papered pens, and several fences. There were many 50-gallon barrels strewn throughout the property that had been used by Cerise for hauling garbage from downtown restaurants in order to feed his hogs. Several longtime residents recalled witnessing this procedure.
Egyptienne, with the help of her children, grew a plentiful garden on the property each year; in fact, they raised enough produce to support a truck garden operation where vegetables were hauled to Telluride for sale. The family had a small orchard with mulberry and apricot trees, some of which are still alive today. The Montrose Botanical Society is working with the apricot trees, trying to take grafts for their gardens. (1)
When Gean, Jr., and Fern were first married in 1935, they lived for a short time in a brick bunkhouse that was on the property. Four years later, he built his wife a new home north of the original homestead. Electricity was brought in to the river bottom by the Rural Electric Association in the late 1930s. Telephone lines were installed about the same time. (2)
The Cerise family had a slaughterhouse and meat-cutting operation adjacent to their home, which provided meat for their store in town. Due to fires, Gean, Jr., and Fern had to build two more houses over the years. They raised three children there: Deanna, Pam, and a son, Gil.
“I liked living there,” said Fern in a 1994 interview. “It was so close to town, yet felt far away.”
The Cerise family was no doubt a very ambitious one, with several businesses in the heart of town. Gean, Sr., owned the Callaway barns, a livery business run by George Sorrell, which was destroyed by fire May 28, 1923. He and his son then owned and operated a Texaco station at North Second and Townsend, as well as the property across the street, which eventually became the Avenue Locker and Market, operated by Gean, Jr., and Fern for 15 years.
Years later, the old gas pumps were found on the river bottom land as well as many slatted wooden boxes—the old locker boxes. There were lots of old automobiles, farm machinery, and trucks, including a little green 1930s pickup whose doors read “Mont-Rose Coal,” once used by Gean, Jr., to haul coal from the Black Beauty Coal Mine.
The entire place was (and still is) a historical treasure, covered with hundreds of artifacts that tell countless stories of not only life on that property, but life in Montrose itself.
Today, the property is still a city park, still filled with distant memories, but the Cerise name is there to stay.