A “tailing tale” of Henry James Hawley

A Colorado Pioneer

By Maggie Magoffin

Henry James Hawley, President of the Hawley Merchandise Company of Central City, was born May 13, 1839 in Stephenson County, Illinois and was raised and educated in Lafayette County, Wisconsin. He attended public school at Argyle and later Platteville Normal under Professor Pritchard. At 14 years of age, he obtained a clerkship in Wiota and lived with his parents until he was 21 years old.

In 1860, he joined his uncle, Lewis Sargent, and set out for Colorado in search of his Eldorado. They crossed the Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa, the Missouri River at Omaha, Nebraska, then travelled up the Platte River to Ft. Kearney, reaching Denver on May 13th. They later located in Central City where they engaged in mining. Lewis returned home later that summer, however Henry continued his mining endeavors with varied success for the next eight years.

On March 22,1868, Henry J. Hawley married Annette Miller of Ohio, and that same year he borrowed $800 to invest in a partnership with Benjamin Lake, procuring half interest in in his grocery business. In 1869, Hawley and Lake introduced a soliciting and free delivery system which increased their sales in three months from $1,300 to $4,500 per month.

In 1872, Hawley dissolved his partnership with Lake and formed a partnership with Mr. Manville, who acquired Lake’s interest in the business. Hawley and Manville continued a successful business until 1874 when the great Central City fire destroyed their building and entire stock, leaving them $10,000 in debt. However, not to be deterred by their loss, the next day Hawley and Manville purchased the grocery department of Roworth & Lake for $20,000 and resumed servicing their customers. With their record of fair dealing they retained their old patrons, and with strict attention to their bottom line and customer needs, their business flourished, enabling them to quickly pay off their $30,000 debt.

In 1877, Hawley bought out Manville and for two years was the sole owner and operator. In 1880, after 12 years working 15 to 16 hours a day, he organized the Hawley Merchandise Company. With a capital stock of $30,000 in 300 shares among six stockholders, the company carried the largest supply of groceries, provisions and miners supplies in the county. They had, in connection with their store on Main Street, a warehouse with a capacity of ten carloads aggregating a value of $25,000 to $30,000, conducting an annual business of $250,000.

In 1890, Henry and Annette established their family in a home on Pearl Street in Denver. They had four children: Medora, Mable, Frank and Martha. Medora (Perry) and Mable (Wiley) resided in Central City. Frank was associated with the Morey Mercantile Company of Denver.

Henry Hawley was Republican, but not a politician; Methodist, but not a sectarian. He was described as warm and friendly, public spirited, and a hard worker who conquered difficulties that would have crushed most men. He held the positions of Central City alderman, county commissioner, school board member and was a stockholder in the Gilpin County Mining Association from the time of its organization.

Henry James Hawley died in 1923 at the age of 85.


The Real Pioneers of Colorado, By Maria Davies McGrath

History of Clear Creek and Boulder Valleys Colorado, By Brookhaven Press

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