The dual role of fire is both destructive and cleansing. When Salida nearly burned to the ground in January 1888, there arose from the conflagration the brick structures that we recognize today as part of the largest historic district in Colorado.

It was a frigid January morning, and a worker was completing some construction inside wealthy proprietor Peter Mulvany’s new three-story hotel at Second and F. When the worker accidentally touched off a spark, an explosion rocked the building, catching the attention of the neighbors. The entire building soon became engulfed in flames. A towering inferno of three stories is no match for the smaller one-stories that hug up next to it. Right next door, George Sullivan’s hardware store was flattened when Mulvany’s hotel came crashing down upon it in a fiery heap. The buildings down on the Second Street side were consumed, including the Salida Fire Department’s hose house; Salida’s Fire Boys were already fighting the fire by this time, with the help of the lads from the Denver & Rio Grande fire brigade.

The raging fire jumped Second Street and took out the Craig Opera House (today the Five & Dime) and the buildings that surrounded it. Then the fire jumped F Street and consumed Gillett & Whitehurst’s grocery store (today The Mixing Bowl). The blaze ravaged F, taking off in both directions, burning both businesses and residences. Most distressingly, from a historical standpoint, Salida photographer C.H. Clark’s business was burned, and his entire collection of negatives was destroyed. In all, the fire burned through four half-blocks, starting at 201 F and sweeping outward from there.

Salida lost more than 60 businesses that day. The only things that stopped the fire from consuming the rest of downtown were the brick structures at the alley junctures. The post office at 124 F was generally considered the bulwark that saved downtown from complete conflagration.

A smoldering ruin was left behind, but Salidans vowed to rebuild. Brick would be the standard. Later that year, Al Duey, an engineer on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, bought property on West First Street and built the Duey Block, a large, two-story brick building with a wide 50-foot front: “The upper story is cut up into large, airy rooms, each well-lighted. The lower story is divided into two storerooms, with a broad stairway in the center of the block.”

It cost $7,000 to build and there were rooms available to rent. By the end of 1890, the block had been let to Professor Carroll, who ran a dance school there. Incidentally, a block in this sense is a large, single building that has been subdivided into rooms, apartments or offices. It is not a typical American quadrangle block.

Albert Duey was one of the pioneers of Salida, having moved here in 1880. He was a popular D&RG locomotive engineer and worked on the Gunnison Fourth Division. He never had an accident during his long tenure with the railroad. Al served on city council and was a member of both the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the Masons. He was an early promoter of the Salida Opera House, which would soon be built right next door to his Duey Block.

After marrying Fannie in Salida in the early 1880s, they had four children, one of whom was blessed with the most interesting of names: Ruple, a family name that descends from the Germanic surname Ruppel.

Al died unexpectedly in 1907 from influenza. He had been sick for a while, having recovered from typhoid fever a few months previous. He was 50 years old. Fannie kept on and operated a restaurant and hotel until her death in 1944.

Ruple never married and lived here all her life at 516 D. She was addressed as “Miss Ruple” until her death in 1970. Some of her personal mementos are housed at the Salida Museum, including a beautiful music box, which plays toothed steel discs on a turntable, producing a pleasant “music box” sound with clear, bell-like tones.

Because of Al’s influence on the railroad, the Duey Block would soon become the meeting place for many of Salida’s fraternities. Comfortable and carpeted open spaces were assurances that no less than three brotherhoods would hold their meetings in the Duey Block: the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. Several churches (Methodist Episcopal, Christian and Catholic) held their church suppers there; the Grand Army of the Republic and the Knights of Honor met there as well. Duey’s Block eventually became known locally as Duey Hall.

Besides offering meeting space, the Duey Block was home to many of Salida’s downtown businesses. Gillett & Whitehurst, who suffered loss from the 1888 fire, opened a buggy and harness storeroom in the Duey Block in 1893. During the last decade of the 19th century, the Salida Rubber Stamp and Supply company, the Crichlow & Co. steam laundry and the Salida Mail newspaper all operated out of the Duey Block. By the turn of the 20th century, new businesses were renting out space: A vaudeville theater was housed in the west part of the building and the Elysium bowling alleys on the east side.

Several stores came and went. The 1920s brought in a new owner, Moses Greenberg, who opened up Greenberg Furniture. His family’s tenure was longest, lasting into the 1980s. Various other furniture businesses moved in afterwards until the building was renovated. Today the Duey Block is the home of Joshua Been’s gallery and Coldwell Banker Realty at 139 W. First.

Joy Jackson is desk clerk and archivist at Salida Regional Library. Follow to see historic images of Salida.