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Oct 12

The Life and Times of Charles Boettcher: The Boulder Years (Original Post Date 3/31/17)

Posted on October 12, 2017 at 7:41 PM by Laura Wilkins


March's entry begins with newly-married Charles arriving in Boulder to set up yet another hardware store in this rapidly growing town. Special thanks to Professor Geraldine Bean (1928-2012), whose 1976 Centennial publication, “Charles Boettcher: A Study in Pioneer Western Enterprise”, provided the background for this blog.

Business in Boulder was good from the get-go, a welcome switch from the “fair to middling” activity in Evans and Fort Collins.  Nothing like being in the right place at the right time:  not only were the brothers able to rent a previously established hardware store –  located in a prime spot at 12th & Pearl – but they also acquired the existing inventory.  And, since the railroad was already well established, merchandise could be ordered from back east by the carload at wholesale prices and delivered directly at great savings.  Last but not least, Herman’s blessing and backing, Charles was put in charge of operations, proudly hanging the sign “C. Boettcher and Company”. 

The first year, with William McKinney (Herman’s father-in-law) hired on as a junior partner, sales were predicted at $10k, with stock valued at $30k.  One of the most popular items were stoves, with Charles advertising 200 in stock at one time.  Not your typical hardware store, in addition to mining supplies, the goods featured water coolers, crockery, lamps, tableware (including silver utensils and crystal glasses) and baby carriages.  The latter was indicative of Boulder’s population influx, swelling from the nearby troves of coal, gold and silver as well as the recent establishment of a second bank, a grammar school, public library, state university, plus a hook and ladder company, gristmills, smelters and waterworks.   

By 1875, perhaps over a partnership dispute, the fledgling firm was dissolved.  Charles sold his share to William and bought a lot that included H.T. Taylor’s hardware store next to a bank on Pearl Street.  The second story already accommodated the local paper, two law offices and meeting space for the local Masons.  The Colorado Banner proclaimed that the new business had the best showroom in town.  By 1876, after snapping up the stock of two other hardware stores, Charles had a virtual monopoly on a local staple:  blasting powder.  And part interest in a few hard rock mines.

Fannie and Charles built their first home, just a few blocks west on Pearl Street, for $1500.  That summer, their son, Claude Kedzie Boettcher, joined them in their cozy brick cottage.  Eschewing the stern upbringing he remembered from his own upbringing, Charles embraced fatherhood, welcoming Claude into all facets of his life.  Later reminiscing about the first five years of his marriage, he commented, “I had done fairly well and had a nice store in Boulder.  We built a nice little house on Main Street (Pearl) and had our baby there.  Business was good and Boulder was a pretty town and we were happy there.”

Six months later, an expansion was already in the works, with trips back east to buy more merchandise.  The addition included a boiler room with meeting space above, soon rented out to another fraternal organization, the Odd Fellows.  In 1878, Charles decided to build a new, two-story brick building with a basement at the southwest corner of Pearl & Broadway (extant).  By the following February, just one week after the hall above the store was completed, the Boulder hose company threw a masquerade ball for 300 guests.  The keystone above the entrance to this commanding structure (eventually referred to as the Boettcher Block) was boldly inscribed “C. Boettcher A.D. 1878.”  Who would have guessed that Charles was already contemplating his next move?  As he later lamented, “Looking back now it seems like it was a foolish thing to do.  Here I was established in a profitable business; I had a wife and three year old baby.  I feel sure now that had I stayed in Boulder, I would have led a happy life.  Very likely I wouldn’t have made much money, but money isn’t everything although it often helps.”