WALSENBURG — Although the buildings have been mostly razed now, one nearly forgotten property in Walsenburg belonged to the same family for 75 years. It played an important part in the daily lives of the city’s residents. It was the Walsenburg Creamery and once occupied nearly a block of West Fourth Street east of Hendren Avenue and adjacent to the railroad tracks of both the Denver and Rio Grande and the Colorado and Southern. The creamery was just a portion of the businesses transacted from this large building, which was added onto regularly. The original part of the structure began as the Walsenburg Electric Light and Power Company. Interestingly, Walsenburg was one of the first towns in Colorado to install a municipal electrical system. Plans for such a system were begun by a committee of three in March 1889. In April, a Denver contractor was hired to build the plant and have it operational within 90 days. It would be constructed on Fourth Street, not far west of the jail. A company promised to buy a complete Edison system, and it arrived in May 1889. The dynamo and some other machinery arrived quickly, and W.A. Kearns, building contractor, was hired to cover the power plant with corrugated iron. By June, “everything is here except the poles”, and near the end of July these had arrived, been placed and the system was tested in the town’s two hotels. The newspaper announced the system “worked perfectly”. The company was incorporated in August 1889 with capital stock of $35,000, based on selling 350 shares at $100 each. Officers of the corporation were C.O. Unfug, Dr. T.F. Martin, Paul D. Dyer, R.A. Quillian, Fred Walsen and Dr. T.D. Baird. Almost immediately, Walsenburg town board contracted for the
installation of 30 street lights of 16 candle power each. The contract term was two years at $2.25 monthly for each light, and the electric company was responsible for maintenance and repair. Things went fine until 1895 when a fire caused $5,000 to equipment in the power house and necessitated new dynamos and repair to the boilers. There was no insurance coverage. Once things were fixed up, the company extended its lines throughout the northern section of the town and in 1900 reached out West Seventh Street. In 1906, the light company built a 60 by 60 foot ice plant adjoining its power plant with a capacity to produce seven tons. It reportedly cost $14,000 to build and was called the Walsenburg Artificial Ice Plant. It was started up in August. Water not used to produce ice in the colder months was used to irrigate the town’s trees. By July 1907, summer production caused the local newspaper editor to complain, “It seems the ice plant has plenty of ice for saloons and ice cream parlors, but is shipping out that which could be used by private customers.” Nevertheless, the ice plant was there to stay, doubling its capacity in 1909. The product was delivered by horse and wagon to households and commercial users. Its success put out of business several competing plants, including that of the Dick brothers, despite a flood that inundated the plant with four feet of water, effectively shutting down operations by both the ice and power plants. It was said in the obituary of Frank S. Mauro Sr. in 1969 that he had gone into the mercantile business at age 19, which would have been in 1903. Where this mercantile was is unknown, but he owned and operated several saloons in the coal camps northwest of Walsenburg before 1910. In 1905, he purchased a home on East Sixth Street in town, though in 1910 he was listed in the census as living in the Rouse area. In 1915 he established the State Brokerage and Manufacturing Company in Walsenburg, providing ice, cold storage and produce. It was said he had earned his seed money as a miner. He purchased the old electric and ice plants. In 1917, Mauro organized the Walsenburg Creamery. Also on site at the time were the operational ice plant, the old electric plant, which, though operational, was now obsolete with the construction of a new one, and other buildings. The 1918, Walsenburg phone book lists “State Brokerage and Manuf. Co., Ice, Fruit, Produce. Ice Plant.” In 1919, Mauro built a $5,000 creamery plant at a time when the town had several dairies, but no creamery. It was a good time to expand a business, and he apparently did. Even though the official population of Walsenburg in 1920 was only 3,565, the city was the commercial center for many coal camps. Huerfano County boasted no fewer than 16,879 souls, after all, with the majority of them residing in the camps. A business directory of the time lists “State Brokerage and Manuf Co, Frank S Mauro pres and genl mgr, whol merchandise broker.” At the 10th anniversary of the Walsenburg Creamery in late October 1925, some 2,000 people were present. Three years later he tore down the old building at the east end of the complex, then being used as a garage for the delivery trucks and built new cold storage facilities of seven rooms at a cost of $15,000. In 1931, a new addition on the west went up for a cooling room for cottage cheese and wrapping room for butter. In 1932, more of the old building was converted to cold storage while a new brick addition housed modern equipment for the creamery and production. His ad in 1936 read, “Walsenburg Creamery, 205 W. 4th, Phone 3. F.S. Mauro, manager. Mountain Gold Dairy Products, butter, ice cream, cottage cheese, ice.” A short article in December 1937 mentions the creamery averaged 25 employees with a $20,000 monthly payroll. The plant could produce 3,000 pounds of butter, 500 gallons of ice cream, and 20 tons of ice daily. That year the creamery became the distributor of Pepsi Cola products for Walsenburg and Trinidad. Sometime in the late 1930s, Frank Sr. was joined by his son Frank Jr. in the operation of the business. In 1939, a pipeline was built between the old electric plant and the jail and courthouse to provide heat. This arrangement was used for about five years before the commissioners announced an upcoming remodeling project for new plumbing and heating, though the project may not have been completed until 1949. In 1942, specific accommodations were added for the cold storage of ladies and gents furs through the long summer, and in 1945, 200 frozen food lockers went in. During the decades of the ‘30s and ‘40s, the Mauros hosted an annual visit by school children. These lucky kids were high grade earners in their classes, and were the recipients of delicious Mountain Gold ice cream cones along with their tours. Naturally, to produce all those dairy products, the creamery was purchasing immense quantities of milk every day. Its loading docks must have groaned with the deliveries while huge shipments of bottled milk were produced and sent out along with the other products. Like so many other Huerfano traditions, the creamery disappeared in the late 1970s. Most of the buildings were razed in 1985, though the east end has been the Paperback Trading Post since 1981.