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Long Time Gone and the Hardware Store on Maine Street

By Betsy Barnett

May 10, 2024

This week Maine Street in Eads saw some interesting action as the store front of the abandoned building located at 1204 Maine Street known for years as Kelly Hardware was completely removed as renovation begins on the old building. The building has been shuttered since the late 1970s—for the past 45+ years—so it is more than exciting that something positive is now happening there.

As a child I loved roaming the dusty aisles of Kelly Hardware. The store was owned and operated by Chet Kelly, I’m sure a perfectly good and kind man, but to an 8-year-old little girl he was pretty darn grumpy and therefore an intimidating figure worth hiding from in the deep shelves, crooks, and crannies of Kelly Hardware. The shelves, in fact, were jam packed full of an array of all kinds of nuts and bolts and paints and brushes and tools and so much more. My mom was always able to find what she went hunting for. Me, I loved hiding in the shelves and checking out the toys section that seemed to be an eclectic collection of toys that were popular years before. Many toys were displayed in faded plastic that had been hanging for 20 years in the same spot. As I grew up, I visited that old store many times and each time I would find something I’d never seen before. It was a true treasure in our community.

That old store eventually closed its doors when Chet Kelly passed away. It was sold a couple of times, but no one was able to ever get it opened again. For decades the old building has stood in the middle of the block. Its beautiful brick work slowly melted away until it was just a shuttered commercial building with large pieces of plywood blocking the windows and brickwork.

The building is historic as it was built by John W. Blair and H.V. Fluke, the owners, in May of 1917. It was primarily built of bricks by contractor J.H. Peck from Ordway. According to an architectural historical survey report completed in 2008, Fluke purchased the lot and then the two men erected the building. Blair had his hardware store in this part of the building, which he then acquired from Fluke in 1919.

John Willima Blair was born in Oak Valley, Kansas in 1875. In 1897, he married Jessie Beltz, who was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1876. The couple moved to La Crosse, Kansas, where he worked on the railroad. In 1900 John became railroad foreman at Inman, Colorado, and moved the family there, living in a section house. In 1902, the family moved to Arlington, where he continued to work for the railroad. In 1906, Blair became sheriff of Kiowa County, and the following year the family moved to Eads. John started a small meat market with his wife that later became a general store. Blair’s Grocery was listed in 1910 Colorado State Business Directory, and a 1910 advertisement stated Blair’s motto: “Quick sales and small profits.” The ad continued, “Our groceries and meats are always fresh and first class. Do not sacrifice quality for price. Try them and be convinced they are the best.” Blair also advertised a full line of sizes in shoes of the latest styles. The general mercantile business was a success, and he sold it to Wolever & Co. in 1916.

In April 1917, the Haswell Herald reported that “Messers Fluke and Blair are soon to erect a fine new building to be used as a post office and hardware store.” On May 4, the Kiowa County Press indicated Blair and Fluke let the contract for a building costing nearly $10,000. “The south room 32 x 75 feet is to be occupied by J.W. Blair as a general hardware store... The northeast room of this building is to be occupied by the post office and equipped with all new fixtures. Postmaster H.V. Fluke had been a resident of Kiowa County for over thirty years and of Eads for over twelve years... Postmaster Fluke is one of our most progressive citizens.” The Press judged, “The people of Eads and Kiowa County know Mr. Blair so we predict for him continued success when he enters into his new business. A good general hardware store is one of the businesses that Eads has been short.” On May 25, the Kiowa County Press stated, “Active operations were begun early this week on the building being put up by H.V. Fluke and J.W. Blair on Maine Street. The foundations are being laid and the cellar walls are being put in. Contractor J.H. Peck arrived... from Ordway with his work force and immediately began work.”

In August, the building was near completion and the Blair Hardware store was already open for business. The Herald called the building “large and roomy, made of brick and modern in every respect” and “a testimony of the faith the two builders have in Kiowa County and her development.” The Press commented that the building was a big improvement that “increases the attractiveness of the town and has a businesslike appearance... The seventy-five-foot plate glass front makes quite a showing in our little city. The best material entered into its construction throughout and Contractor Peck and his men again did themselves proud in the work. The building, besides being well built, is pleasing to the eye, well proportioned in every detail.” The newspaper noted that Blair occupied the south room with “a big hardware store, in fact the largest and most complete line of hardware ever carried in Kiowa County. Here you can get anything you want.” T.F. Prajer’s drug store occupied the middle room of the building, and the post office occupied the northern part. A ten-foot sidewalk was laid in front of the building.

In October 1917, the Press reported, “In one show window of the J. W. Blair Hardware Store is a display of all kinds of carpenter tools and in the other guns and ammunition.” In April 1921, the store advertised “Everything from a dish rag to a vacuum cleaner.” John and Jessie Blair spent the winter of 1924-25 in Riverside, California. When they returned to Colorado, they put their hardware store and their home up for sale. In December 1925, J. M. Kelly purchased the hardware store from the Blairs, who moved to Riverside, where they opened a small grocery store. Jessie Blair died in 1939 and John passed away in 1964.

James M. Kelly, who acquired the store in 1925 and operated it until 1942, had previously owned the Boulevard Filling Station. In May 1925 a spark caused a fire there that resulted in the loss of $4,500 worth of property and resulted in the death of Kelly’s brother-in-law, Giles Schell. Kelly, who was born in Kansas in 1888, had homesteaded south of Galatea in 1910 and served in World War I. Kelly operated the hardware business with his wife, Lillie L. Schell Kelly, a former schoolteacher at the Black Lake School. A 1926 advertisement for “J.M. Kelly Hardware” had the motto, “Ask Jim.” In 1926, an ad indicated the store carried dishes, radios, wagons, tools, stoves, harnesses, shot guns, and more. Kelly also advertised Dempster windmills and John Deere products. In 1927 Kelly advertised “the largest stock of hardware in the county.” In that year, Kelly purchased the electrical goods and stock owned by the Town of Eads since it started the light plant.

In 1942 the Kellys sold the business to Jess B. Miller, who leased the building. Miller’s granddaughter, Julie Baxter, reported that he operated Miller Hardware for 35 years. She noted, “This was a store where all your hardware needs could be met at prices that seemed to be so low by today’s standards.” Family members, including J.B. Miller’s wife, Trix Miller, and son, Robert C. Miller, operated the store, keeping long hours and even opening on Sundays for emergencies. The store carried everything from plumbing supplies to vacuums to toys. In 1950 the store moved to a new location with more space. That building, which the Millers sold in 1974, is now Kiowa Healthmart located on the southeast corner of Maine and 12th Street. A local resident also recalls Blakemore Hardware operating at this location in earlier years.

The Kelly family retained ownership of the building until 1978, when Irene Gade purchased it from Chet Kelly. An Eads High School publication noted the building had been vacant since the 1970s. Don E. Aldrich, the current owner, acquired the building in 2001. Don Edgar Aldrich IV was born on August 19, 1950, the son of Don E. and Barbara Aldrich, who were farmers living in Eads.