Western Memories: Rifle’s Stauffer Building over the years | PostIndependent.com

Western Memories: Rifle’s Stauffer Building over the years

Midland Arts Company Partners from left to right: Lindsey Johnson, Joanne Nelson, Deb Stewart, Michelle McCurdy, Margaret Uribe and Anne Hunter.
Alan Lambert / Contributor |

New life has recently sprung in one of Rifle’s oldest and most historic buildings with its recent transformation to an art gallery.

For most of its life, the single-story brick building on the southeast corner of Railroad Avenue and East Third Street was known as the pharmacy where locals could purchase anything from prescription remedies, fine Havana cigars and photo supplies to dime store candies.

Of particular note, the store featured a fine soda fountain and serving bar where many children had their first taste of soft serve ice cream. In later years the building housed a popular firearms store.

Originally a two-story brick structure with a basement was built on the site by F. W. Leyner, who opened his store City Pharmacy.

According to the book “Rifle Vignettes,” the original building was constructed in 1901, however the deed to the property lists the original construction date as three years earlier in 1898. In any event, the life of the original two-story building was short lived.

On the evening of May 3, 1902, a fire broke out in the J.W. Hugus store directly across Railroad Avenue where the Flintlock Building is located today. The Hugus building was a brand new brick building that also housed the town’s post office.

A group of men, led by prominent Rifle resident Ed McLearn, charged inside the burning building and rescued some bags of mail. The men put the mail in Leyner’s pharmacy thinking the stout, brick building across the street would withstand the fire.

In 1902 Rifle was unincorporated, it had no dedicated water supply and no fire department. The blaze was fought when townsfolk opened the head gates of the local irrigation ditches — bringing as much water into the town as they could hold and then formed bucket brigades to fight the blaze.

Men, women, children, strangers, travelers, farmers, cowboys, gamblers and whoever was in or close to town that night fought side by side to control the blaze one bucket of water at a time. Despite their efforts, flames quickly engulfed the wooden buildings around the Hugus Building.

Initially, City Pharmacy’s brick structure withstood the heat and flames until the wooden building on its south side caught fire. This time the mail was not saved.

Two entire blocks of businesses between Second and Third streets were lost that night on both sides of Railroad Avenue. There were two notable exceptions that were saved and this was entirely due to the efforts of the bucket brigades.

One was the two-story Rifle House, which still stands on Railroad Avenue across from our current City Hall, and the two-story wooden frame Winchester Hotel, which once stood on the City Hall site. This fire was in a large way why Rifle was incorporated in 1905.

Arriving in Rifle about this time was J.E. “Jess” Stauffer and his wife, Almeda. In the book “Rifle Shots, The Story of Rifle, Colorado” the Stauffer’s were both described as recent graduates of the Kansas University School of Pharmacy who were married in 1901.

After the fire they purchased the assets of City Pharmacy from F.W. Leyner, which pretty much consisted of a pile of bricks and a hole in the ground. The Stauffer’s rebuilt the pharmacy on its original footprint before the end of 1902, this time as a single-story building with the basement.

The Stauffer’s were Rifle’s first registered pharmacists and became well known and respected in the community not only for their store but also for their civic activities and membership in Rifle’s First Christian Church. Many a youngster earned their first paychecks working for the Stauffer’s. Some later became registered pharmacists themselves.

For more than 70 years Stauffer’s Pharmacy was a Rifle landmark. Not only was it the place to get prescriptions filled, the store contained a fine selection of goods for personal hygiene, beauty and comfort. Some of this included imports such as perfumes for the women and cigars for the men. For children and anyone with a sweet tooth there was a well-stocked candy counter.

The one feature most remembered about Stauffer’s Pharmacy was it exceptionally elaborate soda fountain. In the days before a cold drink or soda were widely available in vending machines, soda fountains were a welcome relief from the summer heat or an affordable place to gather with family and friends.

Many youngsters in Rifle enjoyed their first root beer float, soft serve ice cream or soda at the counter in Stauffer’s Pharmacy. It is unknown what eventually became of this soda fountain.

Jess Stauffer ran the store for 52 years retiring in 1954. Almeda passed away in 1943 and Jess married Thelma Todd Ewers, the daughter of one of Rifle’s founders C.L. Todd and widow of Dr. Joseph Ewers, a dentist and native of Divide Creek.

Upon Stauffer’s retirement, the store and building was sold to Claude Graham, a veteran of World War Two who was born and raised on the family farm on Graham Mesa and who had been a 20-year employee of the pharmacy. The building remained as a pharmacy well into the 1970s, however, its name had been changed back to City Pharmacy.

For much of the past 30 years the old Stauffer building has been known as the Timberline building for Timberline Sporting Goods that was established in 1982 and occupied the site with a popular selection of sporting goods and firearms.

The store was popular with locals and hunters who came to Rifle to hunt its renowned elk herd. Even Aspen superstars such as Kurt Russell were known to visit. Several years ago Timberline outgrew the site and moved to a much larger facility on west Second Street. Since then the venerable old building has stood as an empty relic of the past … well, at least until recently.

Ten years ago the Midland Arts Company began with five local artist/partners as a venue for local artists to sell the products of their creativity. The little gallery began life in a small space in the recently restored Midland Building. The Midland Arts Company grew and was moved to a larger gallery space across the street in the Mercantile Building, and it continued to grow as a popular place to buy local art. Recently it had become apparent to the partners it was time to expand again.

“The Timberline Building was always dream site for our expansion,” said partner Lindsey Johnson.

When her and husband Mike Johnson learned the asking price had been reduced to what would be a good investment for them, considering what it would take to restore and upgrade the building, they made a deal to buy it.

And restore it they did.

“In 10 weeks we were able to accomplish our goal. We replaced the ancient heating, A/C, plumbing and electrical. We installed gallery lighting and replaced the windows. It took two full weeks to tear down the wood paneling and refurbish the original brick wall. It’s the highlight of our space,” Johnson said.

When the Stauffer’s rebuilt after the 1902 fire they used many of the same bricks from the original building. Some of these blackened bricks can still be seen as a reminder to the building’s past.

Although the Midland Arts Company has quietly reopened the doors in their new establishment, a grand opening is planned for Friday, Feb. 5, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Alan Lambert writes Western Memories, a monthly look at history stretching from Divide Creek to the Grand Valley. He can be reached at dividecreek@sopris.net.

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