History of the Finley Block and Henry Finley
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The building's original owner, Henry Finley, is an important figure in Lake City history. Although relatively little is known about Finley other than the few years he remained in Lake City, he was instrumental in the development of the upper Lake Fork Valley through his varied ownerships of sawmills, brick yards, and toll roads, as well as serving as the first President of the Lake City Town Company. He was also a building contractor, his apparent specialty being that of stonemason. He constructed Finley Hall and other early frame commercial structures in 1875 and 1876, although none of these are existing today. Undoubtedly realizing the importance of stone as a deterrent to ever-present fire danger, Finley contracted for the Finley Block -- his only extant structure within the Lake City Historic District -- in late spring, 1877.
Pertinent biographical material on Henry Finley is scant. In the 1880 Federal Census for the Town of Lake City he stated he was a native of Ohio, age 54. He married Kitty Eastman, a divorced daughter of Lake City town founder John D. Bartholf, in Lake City on July 3, 1876. His name is infrequently mentioned in Lake City newspapers after about 1882, leading to the assumption that he was perhaps drawn to another booming region in the west. In 1887 it was reported Mrs. Henry Finley had obtained a divorce and the Historical Register of Crystal Lake Masonic Lodge No. 34 carries the notation that Henry Finley died at Los Angeles, California, in 1907.
Henry Finley's associations with Lake City are better documented, including the fact that he was among the Enos T. Hotchkiss road building party that passed through what would become Lake City in August 1874, while constructing the Saguache & San Juan Toll Road. As a member of that group, Finley assisted in burying the bodies of Alferd Packer's victims at the massacre site on the banks of the Lake Fork River. Along with Enos Hotchkiss, Monette Hotchkiss, Byron Bartholf, and W. C. Lewman, Finley was an early owner of the celebrated Hotchkiss Mine near the outlet of Lake San Cristobal. Escalating value of Finley's part ownership in the rich gold mine may have provided the financial backing for his later Lake City business ventures. He was part owner of the Antelope Park & Lake City Toll Road in 1875 and during the same year formed a partnership with Enos Hotchkiss and D. P. Church operating the region's first sawmill using water from Granite Falls above Lake City. Finley, Hotchkiss & Co.'s sawmill operation began in mid-July 1875 and added a shingle mill counterpart to the firm's operations in mid-August of the same year, prompting Lake City SILVER WORLD to note "the old mud roofs are now giving way to a better style."
Despite 24-hour operations at the sawmill, demand far exceeded the availablesupply of sawed lumber. Otto Mears was among the firm's early clients, Mears placing a late August 1875, order for 68,000 board feet of lumber and 60,000 shingles for the Hinsdale House Hotel on Gunnison Avenue. Wm. F. E. Gurley wrote a retrospective article in 1917 recalling the immense demand for Finley's sawmill product: "he was unwilling or unable to dispose of the lumber without prejudice, so he adopted the idea of letting the applicants determine among themselves just how they would share." A case in point, according to Gurley, was SILVER WORLD editor Harry Woods who was anxious to procure lumber for his envisioned newspaper office. "Woods hired a couple of husky, well equipped rustlers to see to it that he got enough lumber with which to build his office and these fellows stood at the carriage and with red chalk wrote on each board as it was being sawed the name SILVER WORLD, thus preempting or staking the material."
Henry Finley's civic contributions included election as Hinsdale County's second sheriff in 1876. Hinsdale County Commissioners formally incorporated the Town of Lake City on August 16, 1875, and appointed Henry Finley, John D. Bartholf, Warren T. Ring, William C. Lewman, and F. Newton Bogue as trustees. The town trustees formed the Lake City Town Company with Finley serving as company president. Abstracts to properties within the Town of Lake City accordingly routinely start out with the formal transfer of the 260-acre townsite from the Territory of Colorado to the Lake City Town Company in 1875 "for the use and benefit of the occupants of the said town." In his role as President of the Town Company, Finley and his fellow trustees then proceeded to distribute individual town lots -- often priced at $5 per lot -- to individuals seeking title to town property.
Finley's association with the Lake City building trades gradually evolved. In 1880 he formed a partnership with Dr. J. P. Richardson employing 25 men manufacturing 15,000 to 20,000 bricks per day. During the year 1880 the firm Finley & Richardson produced upwards of 180,000 fired bricks, the bulk of which were used in construction of the new public school building. Finley also continued as a stonemason contractor, his apparent last Lake City building contract being to excavate and lay the cut stone foundation for the Brockett Block, 301 Gunnison Avenue, in June and July 1880.
The extent of Henry Finley's involvement in constructing the Finley Block is uncertain. He was an acknowledged stonemason and it would be assumed that he took an active role in the masonry and stone cutting which was required for the building. Conversely, as a man of increasing wealth and with extensive local business and mining interests, he may have relegated the responsibility for masonry work to others. What can be inferred, however, is that the stonewalls of both the Finley Block and Stone Bank Block were built simultaneously in June 1877. The masonry firm of Bauer & Schultz was credited for its work on the Stone Bank Block. Elements of the Stone Bank Block -- today home to First National Bank of Lake City & Creede -- and the Finley Block are almost identical in terms of segmented arch windows with exaggerated keystones, together with finely detailed corner quoins incorporated into both structures. Also near identical is the extent of woodwork – scrolled brackets and recessed panels -- which were used on the cornices, door and window surrounds of both buildings. The front configuration of the Finley Block -- two large arched windows on either side of an identical arched, recessed double-doorway -- mirrors two other stone buildings built by Bauer & Schultz: the no longer extant Porter & Middaugh building in Del Norte, Colorado, and the 1880 Sherwin & Houghton Store (now Pickle Barrel) at 1304 Greene Street in Silverton, Colorado, Local building variations perhaps account for the fact Lake City's Finley Block exhibits a greater extent and more elaborate degree of exterior woodwork than either the Del Norte or Silverton counterparts.
In March 1877, Lake City SILVER WORLD reported extensive amounts of building stone were being hauled to the corner of Second and Silver Street for a 23-1/2 x 100-foot one-story stone commercial building with basement that Henry Finley intended to build. According to the newspaper, plans called for "13-feet between floors, the walls 18-inches and the whole structure to be substantially built." It was further noted that John Kelley owned the adjoining corner lot and paid one-half the cost of the Finley Block's north wall with the intention of incorporating it into a building that he planned to construct. Kelley never did build on the corner and the lot remains vacant to this day.
Work on the building continued through early summer, the WORLD reporting completion of the first stories of both the Finley Block and First National Bank Block on June 30, 1877. A public dance was held in the Finley Block in late July and the general merchandise firm Schiffer & Co. relocated to the building by mid-August. SILVER WORLD reported in depth on the opening of Schiffer's "Stone Trade Palace" in the Finley Block, termed "not only the most handsome establishment in Lake City but in the entire southwest... the building is one of the best constructed in the state." Interior configuration of the fire-proof structure consisted of staples and fancy groceries, tobacco, nails, clothing, furnishing goods, hats, caps, boots and shoes which were arranged along the north wall; a partitioned 25-foot room at the rear of the building was designated for the counting room and business office, together with display and sale of oils, syrups, liquors, barreled goods, bacon, and heavy supplies. The basement of the building was plastered and floored for use by Schiffer's wholesale business. Boardwalk grates beneath the large display windows on the Silver Street front of the building provided light to two basement windows. In the newspaper's August, 1877, account on the Stone Trade Palace, it was noted Schiffer & Co. had a Bluff Street warehouse with a duplicate of their stock. "In the event of a loss of their entire store by fire -- of which, however, there seems no possibility -- they could re-open without delay with a full and complete stock of everything."
Schiffer & Co. remained in the Finley Block until 1880 when the firm relocated to the Brockett Block at 301 Gunnison Avenue. Subsequent uses of the building included the hardware firm Kraft & Mullin, grocers McIntyre & Brown, and tinsmith George Boyd, followed by Peter Albi and Frank Potestio who at the start of the 20th Century conducted what was colloquially known as the Dago Brothers Saloon. In addition to the saloon, Albi and Potestio also stocked groceries and other supplies catering particularly to Italian miners and their families. Penciled Italian graffito preserved on a plaster wall in the building bemoans the necessity of leaving "Lake City, treasure of my life...make it be that one day I may be here again..."
Silver Star Lodge No. 27, IOOF, was chartered in Lake City in 1876 as the first secret order society to be established on Colorado's Western Slope. The organization occupied an upstairs room in the Moore Building on Gunnison Avenue for the majority of its existence. In May, 1909, Silver Star Lodge acquired the Finley Block and undertook an interior renovation which included installation of a new tin ceiling, block chimneys, and frame partitions separating a front reception room 14 x 15', 8 x 15' anteroom, meeting room 22-1/2 x 50', kitchen 6 x 10' and banquet room 12-1/2 x 32', "making it one of the best and most convenient lodge rooms in the state," according to the Lake City TIMES.
Subsequent renovations of the interior removed partitions put in by the Odd Fellows, although wainscoting running the length of the front room and the decorative square-paneled tin ceiling remain. The tin ceiling is one of only two decorative tin ceilings in the Lake City Historic District, the other being in the Masonic Hall, 215 Silver Street. A feature of the Finley Block tin ceiling which no longer exists -- probably removed because of water leaks -- was described on the opening of the new IOOF Hall by the Lake City TIMES on January 13 1910: "...in the center [of the main lodge room] is a large skylight that projects some distance above the roof an admits ample light for day functions. In this skylight and suspended from the ceiling is a cluster of colored electric lights which are used with splendid effects in the degree work."
As IOOF Hall, Finley Block was a centerpiece of Lake City lodge and social life from 1909 until the late 1940s when Silver Star Lodge disbanded owing to declining membership. In addition to regular lodge meetings, the building was held for public dinners and social events, as well as occasional funerals for IOOF members. In addition to the challenge of declining membership, ongoing maintenance of the building -- particularly its long, flat roof, posed a continuing challenge for the lodge's dwindling financial reserves. The late David F. Green recalled that his father, Hinsdale County Treasurer W. F. "Billy" Green, devoted countless hours climbing ladders and shoveling snow in an ultimately futile attempt to keep the roof from leaking. After Silver Star Lodge was disbanded, the Finley Block was practically abandoned to the elements and inquisitive children who thrilled at the prospect of exploring the dark and dank interior.
Lake City Rebekah Lodge advertised for minimum bids of $2,150 to purchase Lots 31 and 32, Block 71 -- the location of the Finley Block -- in late June 1961. Texas businessman Bill Hanks was the successful bidder for a purchase price of $2,375 in July of that year. Hanks indicated he would remodel the structure for use as a business, potentially a lumberyard, and commenced work on the deteriorated structure. Hanks was responsible for re-excavating the building's basement and installing the basement's extant cement slab floor. He also installed a rear garage-door entrance to the basement, used rock and mortar to close front windows in the basement, and removed upstairs partitions. Hanks sold the building to J. W. Fandrich prior to completing work, however, and it remained a vacant shell until July 1975, when Hinsdale County Historical Society opened a museum in the building. The historical society used the building for displays and storage until 1976 when the property was sold to Lake City Area Recreation, a consortium of local businessmen. It was improved with indoor plumbing and rented at different times as a video arcade and antique shop prior to its sale to Hinsdale County Historical Society, and a return of the Hinsdale County Museum, in 1987.