Henry Mertens: 1875-1917

While reading through issues of the MHS newspapers, the name Henry Mertens kept coming up. I became interested in the man and wanted to know more about him so I went through every issue (1909 on) and a few other sources to compile the available information.

Mertens was born in 1875, in Homewood (just outside of Chicago), Illinois. He is first generation American with both parents born in Germany.

By 1909, he was in Marble as part owner of “Mertens and Graham”, a hardware and furniture store. His partner was C.C. Graham who lived in Glenwood Springs. This left the daily running of the store to Mertens. He lived above the store and took his meals at the Ida Carey boarding house. He was never married.

The Mertens story is two parts, that of a successful businessman but also a very active citizen in a wide range of town activities. Lets take a look first at his activities outside the store

Town trustee by 1911 and at different periods until his death in 1917.

Member of the original 30 man fire hose company #1 when the volunteer fire department formed 13 May 1911.

When the Marble City Bank was being formed, he was elected Secretary by the stockholders 9 December 1911.

A registered Republican, he was selected in March 1912 to the county presidential convention supporting Taft

A major event having harsh ramifications for him was the March 1912 avalanche into the mill site. The Marble City Times newspaper owner Sylvia Smith wrote a scathing article about the slide and the marble company that brought to a head the contentious relation between the two. At a meeting called by the marble company, a resolution was presented to the attendees that Smith leave town and never return. Henry Mertens was among the signatories and one of 15 men selected to present the resolution to Ms Smith. She was forced by the town marshal to leave which lead to three years of legal action culminating in her winning in the state supreme court. In the judgment was a $1,000 payment levied against Mertens.

When Channing Meek died in August 1912, Mertens was a pall barer to Glenwood Springs and on the committee for a Meek Memorial.

June 1917, America had just entered World War 1. Funding the war was done partially through bond sales. Though Marble was poor, Mertens (and 17 others) purchased $3,000 worth.

Mertens life came to a tragic end when he died 14 September 1917 from injuries when the car he was riding in went off a cliff near Redstone, 12 September 1917. The body was returned to Homewood, Illinois for burial.

The success of the store necessitated an enlargement that was completed in October 1911. The work almost doubled the size with 50 feet and 25 feet of additional floor space, plus a concrete basement. By the end of November, the store was steam heated, the only such equipped business in Marble. 16 September 1912, Mertens buys his partner’s share of the store

The official name of the store does not give a true indication of the merchandise. Page 4 has their advertisement for Christmas 1911. Sold hunting and fishing license and rented vacuum cleaners for $1.50 a day. Was agent for W.H. Farnum undertakers in Glenwood Springs.

24 August 1916, fire destroyed the Mertens store and 4 other buildings. The building (valued at $4,000) was insured for $3,000 while stock ($13,000 value) was covered for only $4,000. He had allowed a large part of the coverage to expire only a week prior due to business stagnation

.All personal property was lost and only a small amount of store inventory saved.

By the end of August, the insurance company had paid off and Mertens had established a new store across the street. He was also making plans for a new building on his old site to be made of marble. He moved his operation into the new fire-proof building by 10 March 1917. All of this was happening while the town was declining, businesses were closing and folks moving out.

Part of the building was still present in 1942 photographs. The structure was abandoned and the roof was gone.

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