On the verge of total collapse, the Kit Carson House has just received a reprieve from the demolition of time and the elements. A grant of more than $39,000, administered by the Town of Taos for a Condition Assessment and Preservation Plan for the historic property, has been awarded to the new nonprofit operating Kit Carson House, Inc.
Built in 1825, it was the home of renowned scout, mountain man, Union Army officer, Freemason and family man, Christopher “Kit” Carson, and wife, Josefa, who lived there until they died in 1868. The 200-year-old site is the second-most visited historic spot in Taos, second only to Taos Pueblo.
A collapsed wall in 2019, centuries of roof disintegration, reorganization and COVID precautions effectively shut operations down until spring of last year.
According to new KCH Board of Directors President Martin Jagers, the house re-opened to the public last May, Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; with masking required for all staff and visitors.
Visitors averaged more than 1,500 per month during the busy summer months, Jagers noted, adding, “Store sales have been encouraging,” fueling optimism about restoration and preservation plans.
“Kit Carson House, Inc. (KCH) has completed a reorganization and was incorporated as a nonprofit by the State of New Mexico on 21 May, 2021,” Jagers said in a mid-April email.
The reorganization into Kit Carson House, Inc. is important going forward and was done under the auspices of Bent Lodge No. 42, which actually owns the property.
“The mission of the corporation is to operate exclusively to protect, preserve and maintain the Kit Carson House, adjacent building(s) and grounds as a designated National Historic Landmark,” Jagers continued, “to operate the museum therewith for public education and enjoyment. The corporation will maintain and display the collection of historical artifacts to the public. The focus of education is the life and times of Kit Carson. Top priority is implementing a comprehensive effort of preservation, restoration and rehabilitation for this National Historic Landmark.”
The new nonprofit entered into an agreement with Roy Woods, Principal Architect and owner of Conron & Woods of Santa Fe, the same company involved with reconstruction of the Historic Taos County Court House on Taos Plaza.
“We’re doing an updated Historic Structures Report,” Woods said by phone in April, an original report created 20 years ago. The update is due September 2022. “I think the exciting thing is that there’s renewed interest in it,” Woods said. “It’s a landmark building and it feels like it’s going to be well taken care of.”
Condition Assessment: Dire
Taos adobe expert and former contractor Anita Rodriguez told Taos News in November 2020 it is absolutely probable that leakage causing so much damage could have gone undetected for so long. Rodriguez added, "Especially if stucco was used to plaster over the adobe. The dampness would have gone undetected for a long time — until the wall collapsed, in fact. Adobe needs to breathe.”
Conron & Woods team member Laura Chancellor explained some of what is now going on at the Kit Carson House.
“We look at the condition of every wooden element,” Chancellor said. “Some date back to the original construction. Some of these are vigas … Other wooden elements include floors, windows and doors.
“We also evaluate the stability of the adobe walls. Adobe bricks have been made with varying formulations through the centuries and survive differently,” she noted. “The portions of the walls where adobes are exposed are a vulnerable part of the building, but also a window to the past and to the condition of the building. Some adobes have been damaged by repeated exposure to moisture and may need amendment, repair or replacement.”
Chancellor said the current roof is “a combination of historical layers dating back to the original era, comprised of different building techniques and materials. We also look at drainage throughout the project site to see where poor drainage may be causing problems for the lasting stability of the building.”
“We are alerting our donors and patrons first of this significant undertaking,” Jagers said. “We look forward to communicating ongoing news and progress. We want to thank all donors and patrons for their patience during this challenging time.”
Kit Carson House has an agency fund with the Taos Community Foundation. For more, call Lisa O’Brien at 575-737-9300.
For more information about this historic landmark, see kitcarsonhouse.org or go to Facebook or call 575-758-4945 during business hours.