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Adolph Unfug: Walsenburg pioneer

by Nancy Christofferson
WALSENBURG — Seventy-five years ago Walsenburg lost one of its leading citizens and businessmen, Adolph A. Unfug who died in August 1937 at the age of 75.
Adolph Charles Henry Unfug, known for some reason as Adolph A., was one of the five brothers and two sisters who emigrated from Germany and made Walsenburg their home. These included Charles Otto, known as C.O.; Conrad Frederick William; Frederick “Fred” August Herman; August Theodore; Wilhemina Louise Ottilie, or just Ottilie who married Richard H. Wells (one-time Huerfano County Commissioner); and Louise Henrietta Wilhelmina who became Mrs. Louis B. Sporleder.
C.O. was the first Unfug to come to Huerfano County. Born in Westphalia, Germany in 1846, C.O. traveled to St. Louis in 1862 and then to the San Luis Valley with his employers. While working for the Ferdinand Meyer Company store in Fort Garland, he was transferred to the branch store in Badito in 1869. In 1872 he moved on to Walsenburg, where he worked as a builder and store clerk. In 1881 he was became county clerk. He told the local paper in April 1881 he was expecting two brothers and two sisters from Germany. They arrived in June, having traveled from their home in the town of Bielefeld by train, by ship from Germany, and more trains from New York City to Walsenburg. These four were Adolph, August, Louise and Otillie. August was 21 years old and Adolph was 19. They had the care of their sisters, ages 26 and 16, after the death of their parents. The brothers Conrad and Fred had already immigrated and settled, Conrad in Kokomo and various other Colorado gold camps, and Fred in Walsenburg. When Kokomo burned in 1881, Conrad joined the family in Huerfano County. Another brother, William, also came to the United States but kept going west, settling in California.
The first stop the four siblings made in Walsenburg was in the office of their county clerk brother to receive applications for citizenship.
Adolph went to work on several ranches in the Santa Clara and La Veta areas for several months, having wonderful adventures with wild horses and vast forests while learning English. Conrad was off in the gold camps, Fred was a bookkeeper for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, C.O. was in the county courthouse, Louise and Otillie were working in private homes, and August was employed in Benton Canon’s general store in Walsenburg, while Adolph was living in Schulze Plaza, later known as Aguilar. After spending Christmas with his siblings in Walsenburg, Adolph was able to find employment there as well. He became an employee of the Walsen and Levy contracting company.
In 1882 the brothers, Fred, August and Adolph, started their own store, Unfug Brothers, remembered by oldtimers as the Unfug trading post. They were soon joined in the business by C.O. and Conrad. The store was a large adobe building at the northwest corner of Sixth and Main streets, and Adolph lived in an adobe residence next door to the north. In 1889 the firm advertised itself as the “Huerfano County Big Bargain House”.
On Oct. 14, 1884, Adolph married Alice Margaret Arnold. Alice was the daughter of pioneers Benjamin A. and Margaret Campbell Arnold who brought their family to Huerfano County from Michigan in 1874 to join Margaret’s father, Alex Campbell. Alex, a carpenter, actually built the 86 by 25 foot adobe structure that became the original Unfug store. Benjamin Augustus Arnold was credited with building the first Catholic Church, the county jail of the 1880s and many homes, often in partnership with his father-in-law. His wife was said to have started the first school in Walsenburg, in the family home.
Adolph and Alice were married in the old Sporleder Hotel which B.A. was at the time managing. They went on to have five children, Blanche born in 1886, William Frederick in 1888, Adolph A. Jr., 1893, Margaret Gretchen, known as Gretchen, 1898 and George A. in 1900.
Adolph was elected to the Walsenburg Town Board in 1892, when his brother C.O. was mayor. He also served as trustee in 1895-97 and 1906-1914. At some point he served as mayor for several terms. In 1897 he bought a ranch on the Santa Clara and spent two years rusticating and “cowboying” before returning to the city.
Back in Walsenburg, Adolph went to work as manager for Baxter and Kearns, who had purchased the former Standley Hardware in 1894 (for $7,100). Baxter and Kearns built an addition to the rear of their store and this became the Unfug and Taylor Mercantile of Fred and August. Adolph bought into the hardware firm and became president of the corporation.
While Adolph was running the hardware store his son F. William, known as Bill, joined him. In March 1925 Adolph and Bill bought the Neelley-Caldwell Hardware Company store at Fifth and Main. This became the longtime Unfug Hardware Store. After Adolph’s death in 1937, Bill was sole owner until his own death in 1958. Having outlived his wife and two children, Bill left the business to his sister Gretchen, who was Mrs. Daniel B. Summers.
Adolph was a charter member of the Walsenburg Lodge No. 1086, B.P.O.E., or Elks, and was the president of the Elks state reunion association and executive board. From 1931 to 1933 he was state senator, serving Custer, Costilla and Huerfano counties.
Adolph and Alice celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1934 with their five children and their families. Although he died just three years later, Alice lived on until 1961.