Moyer’s generosity also his downfall

Fair Store owner William Moyer was a generous town booster who not only donated money for a pool, he helped finance roads over Douglas Pass and through Unaweep Canyon.

Although William Moyer wasn’t a character in one of Horatio Alger’s “rags to riches” stories, the longtime Grand Junction businessman and leader had as colorful a story as any Alger hero.

A casual mention of Mr. Moyer in a recent column about the St. Regis Hotel led to an e-mail request from a reader who wanted to learn more about him.

After some research, here is what I put together:

Born on Aug. 21, 1859, on a farm in Reading, Pa., to William H. and Elizabeth Kissinger Moyer, he started as a youngster in the mercantile business. He was just 10 years old when he became a clerk and handy boy at a country store.

He came to Colorado in 1888 and was the store manager for the Colorado Trading Co. in Coal Creek.

In 1890 he came to Grand Junction where he opened the first Fair Store, which measured only 12-by-20 feet. He married Ida Shantz in 1894.

Within a few years, the store outgrew that small space, and in December 1905 he opened a larger Fair Store on the southeast corner of Fifth and Main streets, stocking it with quality merchandise. The basement had dishes and hardware; the first floor was stocked with dry goods, women’s and men’s clothing, notions, millinery, embroidery and laces. The mezzanine housed women’s dresses, a waiting room and a beauty parlor. That same year, the Moyers built their beautiful home at 620 N. Seventh St.

Mr. Moyer was the model for the main character in Dalton Trumbo’s novel “Eclipse,” which caused quite a stir in Grand Junction because most of the characters were based on local residents. While the novel wouldn’t raise eyebrows today, it was somewhat daring for the 1930s. “Eclipse,” reprinted in 2005, can be purchased at the Mesa County Public Library.

For many years, Mr. Moyer was a community builder and philanthropist and was exceedingly generous with his money. The Moyer Natatorium, dedicated on June 8, 1922, as a gift to the city of Grand Junction for the children, was only one of his legacies.

Mr. and Mrs. Moyer made it possible for 18 young people to attend college.

He was one of the organizers of the Grand Valley National Bank and was a bank vice president for years. Mr. Moyer donated ground on South Fifth Street for the Goodwill Industries’ first building and was instrumental in building the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), located where Alpine Bank is now.

Mr. Moyer made sure that many children were outfitted with school clothes he had personally selected from the store, wrapping them and giving them to the customer at no charge. He was the first merchant in Grand Junction to give his employees a Christmas bonus.

Dedicated to the growth of Grand Junction and western Colorado, Mr. Moyer was always willing to help out individuals or institutions, giving both his time and money.

In a 1972 story written by then-Sentinel reporter Alice Wright, she noted that many fund drives “began in Moyer’s office,” with roads among his pet projects. He helped finance Douglas Pass and Unaweep Canyon roads, according to the story.

So what led to Mr. Moyer dying a pauper?

It could have been his large investment in the Colorado Pear Co. or, as it was known, Copeco, which turned out to be a financial disaster.

Mr. Moyer had financed a number of ranchers, and most of them were customers at his store. When the bottom fell out of the cattle market after World War I, his finances took a nosedive. Certainly the Great Depression played a role.

He also hired his employees on the basis of their need rather than their ability. Not all were honest. Two longtime local residents, the late Richard Williams and Howard McMullin, told Miss Wright that two of Mr. Moyer’s “fair-weather friends” had taken advantage of his financial generosity.

In 1929 the depression hit Grand Junction, and the Fair’s dwindling assets were assigned to the Grand Valley Bank for liquidation. The bank itself succumbed when the 1933 bank holiday was declared. It reopened as the First National Bank and is now the Dalby-Wendland Building.

Although Mr. Moyer lived for several years virtually penniless, he wasn’t abandoned by all of his friends. He lived at the St. Regis Hotel as a nonpaying guest of owner Harry Burnett for several years. Other friends arranged for the city of Grand Junction to hire him as the $75-a-month manager for the pool he built as a gift to local children.

Mr. Moyer, who had given so much to build this city, had been mostly forgotten by the residents of Grand Junction when he died a pauper on May 24, 1943, at a convalescent home operated by Mrs. H.N. Land, atop the Fifth Street Hill. He is buried in Orchard Mesa Cemetery alongside his wife, who died in 1926.

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Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many local preservation efforts and is on the board of directors for Colorado Preservation Inc.

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