ACQUISITION OF THE CARSON HOUSE
By Bro Charles E. Randall, 1992
At its first regular communication as a chartered lodge on December 3, 1909, Bent Lodge discussed a challenge from the Grand Lodge to acquire the Kit Carson property in Taos. While the Grand Lodge had no money to participate, it gave Bent Lodge permission to solicit donations from other lodges in the state for the purchase of the Carson property. At this meeting, members raised the $75.00 necessary to acquire an option on Kit’s two parcels, and also voted to obligate Bent Lodge to its eventual purchase. These actions were taken without a penny in the Lodge treasury, and marked the beginning of a very long and hard struggle to raise the funds necessary first to purchase, then to restore, and finally to maintain Carson’s historically important house in Taos. From this first date until the present, virtually every Lodge meeting has included at least some discussion concerning this ambitious undertaking.
By April 15, 1910, Secretary Bro Black could report to his fellow Bent Lodge members that $534.75 in donations had been received from other New Mexico Lodges for the purchase of the Carson property. Mr. And Mrs. Peter M. Dolan, the owners of the Carson Property, executed a warranty deed and placed it in escrow in the Taos Bank, until such time as the required balance of $600.00 could be raised. To complete the purchase the Grand Lodge, on November 4, 1910, appropriated $500.00 for the Carson House itself, and an additional $1,000.00 to obtain the adjacent property. On January 20, 1911, Bro Alexander Gusdorf reported the successful purchase of the Montoya portion of the Carson property in the name of the Grand Lodge of New Mexico.
In 1916, Bent Lodge members recognized that a major restoration program would be necessary to properly preserve the old buildings. Since the Grand Lodge actually owned the property, Bent Lodge requested $600.00 from them for restoration. The Grand Lodge donated the requested amount, and also gave the local Bent Lodge the deed to the property subject to certain restrictions and provisos-that we could never dispose of the property and that we preserve it as a memorial to Bro Kit Carson. With the restoration of the property completed (which cost much more than $600.00), it became self-supporting through rentals and also became a prime source of revenue which helped Bent Lodge pay of its indebtedness. At a meeting in December of 1916, the Lodge formed a committee to formulate plans for using the Carson home as a museum-a dream that was not to become reality until much later.
By December of 1929, Secretary Bro Fred Muller reported that all debts of Bent Lodge for the Carson house had been paid in full. These included a 1909 note for $1,000.00 to Bro Alexander Gusdorf, a 1910 note for $2,000.00 to Bro Gusdorf, and the original $600.00 note to the Grand Lodge. These notes carried interest rates of 6 or 8%.
Before becoming a museum, the Carson House served many as a place of residence or business. Bro Francis T. Cheetham, a lawyer and historian who wrote several articles on Bro Carson, lived in the home from 1917 to 1928. Mrs. Kit Carson II and her son Kit III rented the home from 1929 to 1931. From 1937 to 1953, Bro Floyd Morrow rented the home and used it as a leather shop. Using only the West wing of the property for his shop, Bro Morrow set up the other rooms facing the main street as Carson Museum, and charged a small fee to visit them. This was the beginning of the Carson property as museum, with Bro Morrow serving as the first curator. During the 1940s, Boy Scout Troop 98 (of which I was a member), met in the back room.
In 1949, a group of prominent Taos citizens as well as member of the Lodge Museum Committee formed the Kit Carson Memorial Fund Inc. to perpetuate the memory of Kit Carson and to assist in further developing the Carson Museum. A year later, they were instrumental in publicly honoring Carson by having the Kit Carson Cemetery and surrounding 20 acres established as the Kit Carson Memorial State Park. During the next two years, several of the charter members of the Carson Memorial Fund dropped their memberships, and by 1952 it was made up again primarily of just Masons.
In 1951, Bent Lodge developed plans for the construction of rental units on the East boundary of the property, plans approved by the Grand Lodge. Costing a total of $16,000.00, these rental units were completed in July of 1954. Bent Lodge borrowed $14,000.00 of the construction cost, to be repaid through rents on the properties.
In 1952, the Kit Carson Memorial Fund Inc. assumed responsibility for restoration, maintenance and operation of the Carson home. As stated in its articles of incorporation, the purposes of the Kit Carson Memorial Fund Inc. were:
- To restore the buildings and furnishings of the Kit Carson Home property in Taos.
- To operate and manage the Kit Carson Home Museum in Taos, New Mexico in the best interests of the lessor, the public, and the Corporation.
- To commemorate the name and deeds of Kit Carson.
- To create an endowment fund for the maintenance of the Kit Carson Home.
- To do all things reasonable or incidental to the carrying out of the purposes above enumerated.
Trustees of Bent Lodge then negotiated an agreement with the officers of the recently organized Kit Carson Memorial Fund for management of the Carson property. Under the terms of the agreement, Bent Lodge leased the Carson property to the new foundation for $1.00 per year. In return, the foundation was to restore, maintain, and operate the Kit Carson Home as a museum. 1952 was also the year that Bro Jack Boyer took the reins as director of the museum. Bro Jack Boyer was a faithful and hard worker for many years.
1953, because the charter and by-laws of the Kit Carson Memorial Fund Inc. were deemed insufficient, a new organization was formed-the Kit Carson Memorial Foundation Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Under the terms of its new charter and by-laws, the scope and purpose of the Kit Carson Museum were greatly expanded.
By 1955, the Home and Museum had grown so popular that they needed additional room for expansion. To meet this need, Bent Lodge added to the lease the Romero building at the rear of the property. Finally, after fifty years of hard work and planning, the original Kit Carson property, with the addition of the Romero building, was being used for the purpose originally intended.
In 1963, the year I was Master for the first time, the National Park Service designated the Carson Home a National Historic Landmark. In the same year the American Association for State and Local History honored the Kit Carson Memorial Foundation Inc. with an Award of Merit for the excellent work done in restoring and preserving the original Kit Carson Home.
The Foundation acquired, by gift, two other historic sites-the Blumenschein Home from Helen G. Blumenschein and the Maxwell Home from Rebecca James. In addition, the Foundation added to its holdings by purchasing the Martinez Hacienda and the Morada on Las Cruces Road. All of the homes and buildings are operated as museums except the Maxwell Home, which is presently rental property, and the Morada which houses the library and film archives.