The Walsenburg Mercantile
Built in the early 1900’s, in reportedly only 18 days, the Walsenburg Mercantile is a staple in the rural community of Walsenburg, CO.Originally opened by Charles Otto Unfug, From the moment you approach the building, you can begin to imagine the history it holds and what stories are behind these beautiful brick walls. Original wood floors, beams, hand-pulley freight elevators, and metal counterweight doors are just a few examples of the age, character, and the quality craftsmanship within this building.
In the 1800’s, settlers discovered this area was rich in coal. In 1876, Fred Walsen bought the land - allegedly for a wagon, a team of mules, and $100 in cash - where the first coal mine was established. This became the Walsen mine. The direction of Walsenburg's economy was set. This first mine was a little more than tunnels where English, Scottish, and Mexican miners crawled in. The coming of the railroads broke the coal mining economy in Walsenburg wide open. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad laid track from Pueblo reaching Walsenburg in 1876 and the Colorado and Southern Railroad soon followed. Both had their own train depots and freight outlets. Other mines that opened were Toltec, Pictou, Maitland, Alamo 1 and 2, Robinson, Cameron, Solar, Rouse, Pryor, Ideal, Ravenwood, and others. Walsenburg soon came to be known as The City Built on Coal.
COOL FACT: ROBERT FORD, THE ASSASSIN OF OUTLAW JESSE JAMES, OPERATED A COMBINATION SALOON AND GAMBLING HOUSE IN WALSENBURG. His home at 320 West 7th Street still stands.The Mazzone Saloon and Opera House was one of the more memorable new businesses. The first floor was the saloon where Rob Ford ran gambling games in addition to his own saloon, dance hall, and prostitution business. The second floor was an opera house. This Opera House had a two story outhouse. This allowed the ladies attending events to cross over a walkway to the second story of the outhouse without having to tramp through the saloon and thus maintain their dignity.
La Plaza de los Leones
Don Miguel Antonio de Leon was born in 1799. In his youth, he traveled with the Challifour brothers of New Mexico to the delta of the Columbia River on the Pacific Ocean. He was an old man when he settled in the area soon to be known as la Plaza de los Leones. His second wife Cruzita was known here for her skills as a midwife and her hospitality to travelers. Don Miguel was a quiet man noted for his wisdom and just approach to all problems. He was the alcalde a combination of mayor and judge. He still lived in Walsenburg when it was incorporated in 1873 and is buried in the South St. Mary Cemetery on June 24, 1884. The other founder of Walsenburg was Miguel Antonio Atencio born in 1810 and buried in 1885. In October of 1862, sheepherders from the San Luis Valley herded their sheep over to the Lower Cucharas Valley (near La Veta) for the winter. They knew about the area from their buffalo hunting expeditions. Jose Rafael Esquibel was in that first group that traveled to the Cucharas. He and his brothers Jose Ramon and Juan Esquibel had links to the Arroyo Hondo are of northern New Mexico and were famous for raising prize horses and as political activists. A few years later, he moved to la Plaza de los Leones (named after Miquel Antonio Leon) ‚ now known as Walsenburg.La Plaza de los Leones was the supply center and hub for the many smaller villages in the area.During this era, Mouache Ute, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians roamed the land inhabited by both Hispano and Anglo settlers. The Hispanos were more familiar with Indian customs and were able to get along with the native tribes. https://cityofwalsenburg.colorado.gov/our-story/our-history/history-steeped-in-history
The Sporleder Selling Company
120 year legacy
by Nancy Christofferson
A large handsome red brick warehouse has a ghost sign wrapping around the building at the very top. The building is located 1/2 block from the old Denver & Rio Grande Western RR depot at E 5th and Russell Streets downtown. The sign reads: “The Walsenburg Mercantile Company Wholesale Grocer."
WALSENBURG- Along about this time of year in 1906, a longtime Walsenburg business was incorporated. It was named the Walsenburg Mercantile Company and it was located at Fourth and Russell streets. The company is not so important to history as is the family who founded it.
The firm had formerly been called Sporleder Feed and Commission Company, founded in 1903. The business was expanded in 1904 when L.B. Sporleder Sr. purchased George Quillian’s wholesale and retail feed store. Sporleder earlier had started a commission house, dealing in hides, pelts, wool and grains in an adobe building on East 7th Street. Previous to that, he had tried his hand with carpentry, selling furniture and novelties, including imports from Mexico, and running a gunsmithing shop. He first entered business at age 16 when he went to work for Alex Levy, who married L.B.’s sister Lily, and later was associated with the Unfugs, the brothers of his wife, in their store.
L.B.’s major livelihood came through his grocery, feed and seed business, which he had founded about 1890, and just kept tweaking with additional goods. This was usually known as Sporleder Selling Company [alas, the names of the Sporleder businesses were used interchangeably by the newspapers]. He dropped all this in 1894 when he moved to Mexico. Not caring for the climate, he relocated to California, where he had a store and sold real estate and insurance. When he returned to Walsenburg full time he purchased Quillian’s Feed.
When L.B. bought Quillian’s, it was an established business, having been started by Ira E. Hopkins in the 1890s and sold to Quillian by the widow Hopkins and her son Frank. Sporleder operated at the same location on West 6th, but moved to his newly constructed warehouse at 215-217 East 4th on Jan. 1, 1905.
In the spring of 1907 the warehouse was enlarged to 80 by 140 feet, built entirely of brick and stone. It had a deep basement and contained 20,000 square feet. With the 1906 incorporation, Walsenburg Mercantile was strictly a wholesale firm. It employed, in 1908, six people who were kept busy loading four wagons with deliveries bound for the coal camps and smaller towns. Fred C. Sporleder, son of L.B. managed the business, while another son, Carl, took care of the Sporleder Selling Company dealings.
About 1912 L.B. opened a retail grocery, the C.O.D. Store, at 121 West 6th. In 1914 a second story was added and was given over to L.B.’s daughter Carolyn for her music studio. The C.O.D. Store operated from December 1912 until May 1945, when it was sold to James Benine and became the Black and White Grocery. The former music studio upstairs became the American Legion hall.
Sporleder Selling Company was again incorporated Oct. 31, 1912, possibly because of the addition of a retail store, and possibly because of the sale of Walsenburg Mercantile. In 1923 the family opened a second grocery store on Capitol Hill, and a few years later started a branch in Alamosa dealing in wholesale groceries.
The company suffered a setback in 1930 when a ton of merchandise, including tobacco, was stolen from the warehouse. It represented a loss of $1,500, no small sum in those days.
In 1933 yet another addition was built onto the warehouse. Earlier ones had gone up in 1912 and 1919. The 1933 brick addition was built of materials salvaged from the Rouse boardinghouse and other coal camp structures around the county. The firm had 22 employees at the time. By 1938 it was said to employ 30 and to carry from 5,000 to 6,000 types of food that it in turn sold to 500 or 600 retail establishments of southern Colorado.
In 1957 Carl Sporleder took over the feed side of the business, and the wholesale grocery department was sold to Pazar and Benine. It became known as Wholesale Foods Company and continued in business into the ‘90s. In 1969, L.B.’s grandson Sig bought the Walsenburg Mill and added it to the family business.
The old Walsenburg Mercantile Company of 1906 somehow became Huerfano Trading Company, or part of it. William Dick, who had been president of the former firm with L.B., vice president and secretary, and Fred Sporleder as manager, owned the company until selling it to John Kirkpatrick. Huerfano Trading was a wholesaler that operated retail stores in numerous coal camps. The warehouse was on the west side of Sporleders, at 408 Russell.
After 1907 L.B. left most of the business to his young sons. Fred was born in 1884 and Carl in 1886. Instead, L.B. opened the Loma Poultry Farm near a new home he had built at the north end of the Capitol Hill Addition. He turned to writing, and created the booklets The Country of the Huajatolla in 1915 and Huajatolla in 1916 for advertising purposes and souvenirs. He also wrote Pictures, Legends and Stories of the Spanish Peaks and Romance of the Spanish Peaks. His legacy is as much as a chronicler of legends than as a pioneer businessman.
Louis B. Sporleder Sr. died in 1943 after living in Walsenburg for 70 years. He’d come by train and stagecoach from St. Louis in 1873 with his parents and siblings. His father, August, built Walsenburg’s first hotel. L.B.’s widow, the former Louisa Emelie Henrietta Unfug, whom he married Sept. 27, 1882, died in 1960.
Now, 120 years after L.B. started his first business, the fourth generation of his family remains active in the Walsenburg business community."