La Junta has a rich and varied history and the Otero Museum is dedicated to preserving that heritage; the modern visitor to La Junta is treated to a glimpse of La Junta’s exciting past. La Junta’s storied yesterdays come back to life through an extensive collection, gleaned from the Otero County Historical Society and local residents alike, which celebrate the people and places that shaped what has become the La Junta of today.
Admission: FREE (Donations Appreciated)
Special and off-season tours can be arranged by calling the museum ahead of time.
A Ribbon in Time
Experienced two-lane highway travelers have long recognized the fact that no two towns are alike. Highways like U.S. 50 pass through the heart of America where the story of our nation unfolds before the traveler, town by town. Towns that are a mere few miles apart can be so very different; some are vibrant and others are shadows of their former self. But why is this? We all share a common heritage so what makes the difference? The difference is in the people - those that came before - who built their future on hopes and dreams and in the process shaped the community that would grow from their efforts. History is fluid. History is not a collection of random facts and figures but the individual stories of those that came before us, blended together to create a broad living tapestry of America; past, present, and future. This is the story of our grand-parents and great grand-parents. It is about their foresight in building a place where they could raise their families and pursue a happy life. It is the story of the businesses they built in the days before the soulless multi-national corporations took hold. It is also about their challenges, their failures, and triumphs. La Junta’s Otero Museum recognizes their story in the museum collections. Here you will find personal belongings and business memorabilia that highlight life in the early years of La Junta and the lower Arkansas Valley.
The Otero Museum features displays on pioneer life and early La Junta focusing on business, military, ranching and agriculture, schools, and social activities to name a few. The Otero Museum has interpretive displays from La Junta including a mini post office, early doctor’s office, Highway 50 gas station, and railroad telegraph office. Thousands of artifacts and memorabilia related to La Junta give the visitor a personal glimpse of life in La Junta long ago. These are the collections of local residents that include one of the largest collections of mustache cups to be found, military items from WWI and WWII donated by local veterans, cameras, phonographs, radios, clocks, and fine china and glassware items including Wedgwood Jasper ware, local collector plates, and promotional business items. Each and every one of these items has a personal connection to La Junta’s legacy.
The Junction: A Transportation Corridor
Transportation has always been part of the La Junta story, from the Santa Fe Trail, the railroad to Highway 50; the museum collection illustrates this. Here at the Otero Museum you can find one of the few surviving original 1867 Overland Stagecoaches. This is the real thing! The stage was built in Concord, NH by the Abbott Downing Coach Company for the Fargo Company. It first ran between Leavenworth, KS and Denver over the now historic pioneer trail known as the Smoky Hill route. Later it saw service from Denver to Leadville, when it was named in honor of Horace Tabor’s famous “Little Pittsburgh” silver mine. As you stand in front of this priceless relic of the old west let your imagination go, can you “see” all the interesting characters that once spent long grueling hours or days in this stagecoach traveling on their way to somewhere else? This is a true link to another time.
Other interesting transportation items at the Otero Museum include a 1903 Montgomery Ward Surrey, a 1916 Chuck Wagon, a 1905 REO Sidewinder, a 1916 Dodge, and the Colorado Bicentennial Wagon. The railroad days are represented too. The Otero Museum collection includes a 1939 Plymouth switch engine and boxcar. Other railroad memorabilia include a Santa Fe calendar collection spanning 1913 through 1993, railroad uniforms, lanterns and watches plus hundreds of historical photographs.
Experience The Way We Were
The Otero Museum has preserved some of La Junta’s historic buildings too. The museum complex is home to the Sciumbato Grocery Store, which is now on the National Historic Register. This building was once the home and business of Daniel and Mary Sciumbato from 1901 – 1974. Today the museum visitor can see period furnishings from the early 1900s including a wonderful toy collection. In 1916 the Sciumbatos added a grocery store to the front of their house. This preserved neighborhood grocery store is stocked with everything you would have found in stores like this almost one hundred years ago. As you walk through the store and see the tins, scales, meat counter, and other items you can almost feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 1920s. Then from the corner of your eye - did you just see that young boy buy pieces of penny licorice? You turn your head and there’s no one there - was that your imagination getting the best of you?
Other historic buildings that you can tour are the Wickham house. When Nancy Wickham came to Granada with her daughters in 1873 she had a business plan. At that time Granada was an "end of the line" railroad construction camp. Nancy built a small wooden frame house to serve as a boarding house for railroad workers. Then when the railroad construction camp moved west in 1876 to the site of present day La Junta, Nancy had her boarding house loaded on a flat car and moved too. Her house served as a boarding house in La Junta for railroad workers until 1886 when the the Fred Harvey House was built. The Wickham house has the distinction of being the first wooden frame house in La Junta; which at that time was a collection of tents and crude adobe structures. As you tour this fascinating home you will see furnishings from the 1880s.
You can also see La Junta’s first school house at the Otero Museum. This one-room schoolhouse was originally built as a private cabin; the owner donated it to the fledgling town of La Junta in 1876 to be used as a school. Between the years 1876 – 1879 this school had 13 students. Today you can see typical furnishings of that time including a 38 star flag.
Wander around the Otero Museum and investigate all the thousands of items housed here. Gain a greater understanding of La Junta. Touch the past at the Otero Museum so you can understand La Junta today. Remember, what you are looking at are pieces of a puzzle that, when assembled, present a wonderful story about the people that helped shape this dynamic town on the Arkansas River. After you visit the Otero Museum I think you will have a better understanding why each town is different – it truly was the people that have come before us!
Guided tours are provided for free by volunteer tour guides that help make your visit informative and fun. A tour of the Otero Museum is a must if you plan to visit La Junta.
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