The Carriage Works is the last known false-front, wood-frame building in Montrose County. Business owners in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries erected these low-cost yet substantial-looking buildings, lending their Western towns an air of prosperity and stability. With its upper false-front parapet wall that obscures a front-gable roof and a decorative façade constructed of higher-quality materials than the other sides, Carriage Works typifies this architectural style, which eventually gave way to buildings of brick and stone.
William F. Diehl constructed Carriage Works in 1895 for wagon and farm equipment fabrication and repair at 237 North Cascade Street in Montrose. Diehl was a dealer in Studebaker wagons, which he marketed in Montrose and nearby towns, providing him with the nickname “Studebaker Bill.” Another nicknamed Coloradan, Jack Dempsey—the “Manassa Mauler” or “Kid Blackie”—trained in the building from 1909–1912 before he became the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1919, a title he held until 1926. Two of Dempsey’s early professional fights took place in Montrose in 1915.
Carriage Works had been listed in the State Register of Historic Properties in 1993 but was removed from the register a decade later, following its 2002 dismantling. Donated to the Museum of the Mountain West, the building’s materials were transported 3.5 miles east to the museum grounds, where in 2005 the museum rebuilt Carriage Works along its initial eastward orientation. Original materials make up about 25 percent of the reconstructed building, including all of the façade’s siding boards. A 1994 exterior rehabilitation, funded by a State Historical Fund grant, provided other reusable materials. Those elements no longer usable because of damage or loss through theft were replicated with in-kind materials to the exact dimensions of the original. Museum volunteers completed the entire reconstruction, including members of Montrose High School’s Future Farmers of America club, who raised the side walls like an old-fashioned barn raising.
The character-defining façade was repainted using historic photographs and the existing ornate calligraphic letterwork as guides. The black paint used on the original signage had proven more durable than the surrounding paint, and as the paint on the building deteriorated over time, the wood protected by the black paint resisted weathering, resulting in the lettering standing out in relief. The lettering was carefully repainted when the boards were removed during the building’s dismantling and then reinstalled to their proper alignment, faithfully reconstructing the façade and its signage. On the second floor, the signage reads, “Carriage Works/Painting and Trimming.” Below, on the sliding double doors, is “Wagons Repaired” on the southern door and “237” on the northern door, referring to the building’s former address on North Cascade Street. A peek inside reveals additional original lettering in black paint, visible on the wall, some of which reads: “Prices Reduced,” “Terms,” and the ominous “Don’t Ask for Credit.”
Other noteworthy features include the building’s unusual historic framing of full-dimension, rough-cut studs that extend to the full height of the walls; the all-original doors, which are made of vertical tongue-and-groove boards and slide to each side on the original wheeled hardware on an overhead steel track; and original two-over-two, double-hung, wood-sash windows on the front of the building. After the building was dismantled in 2002, the long two-by-four-inch board and four-by-four-inch post wall studs were stolen, leaving only broken pieces as examples from which replica elements were patterned.
Now housing historic carriages, farm items, furniture, and other artifacts, as well as a blacksmith’s forge, Carriage Works feels at home nestled among a reconstructed townscape of restored residential and commercial buildings from the same era. Museum of the Mountain West visitors can imagine the wheelings and dealings of “Studebaker Bill”—or perhaps the spry movements of a teenager training to become one of America’s most iconic boxers—as they immerse themselves in the history of Montrose and its surrounding region.