by Nancy Christofferson
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 fulltime 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.