An Endangered Navajo Trading Post Exchanges its Unsettled Present for a Promising Future
According to Willis Begay, president of the Navajo Nation’s Oljato Chapter, the Oljato Trading Post in southern Utah was once a lively economic and social hub. Navajo Nation citizens gathered there to buy and sell goods such as woven baskets and wool rugs, place telephone calls, or simply mingle with one another. But the trading post has deteriorated since closing circa 2009, and in June the National Trust named it one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2021.
The 1921 Oljato Trading Post served its community until a decline in business starting after World War II eventually led to its permanent closure. In 2019, the San Juan County Historical Commission engaged the Utah State Historic Preservation Office, hoping to save and rehabilitate the trading post. The office assembled a historic structure report that identified problems such as a failing roof and overstressed sandstone walls, and helped establish partnerships with the Oljato Chapter, the Navajo Nation, nonprofit Preservation Utah, and government agencies.
In March of 2020, students at Utah State University Eastern performed a cleanup at the site, added a temporary roof cover, and reinforced a corner of the building. Roof repairs partially funded by a $15,000 grant from the National Trust’s Southwest Intervention Fund will also take place in the coming months, and the Oljato Trading Post’s advocates are continuing to raise money for future restoration work.“[The trading post] means a lot to many people,” says Begay. “I think a lot of people that go through there are going to be really excited about the way it looks.”