Re-purposed building to house Wildfire Local Artists Market

By Mark French

The Surveyor

Christmas cheer will be in plentiful supply at the Wildfire Community Art Center this weekend. Wildfire, a local grassroots organization “dedicated to building community through the arts,” will be holding its annual Local Artist Market in its historic building located at 425 Massachusetts Avenue. The building was originally constructed in the spring of 1925 to serve as a funeral chapel. Today it houses a modern art center where classes and events are held on a regular basis. 

During Berthoud’s early years, the community’s funeral needs were met by the operators of the Davis-Hartford Mercantile. Based at the northwest corner of 3rd Street and Massachusetts Avenue, the Davis-Hartford store advertised that it supplied “everything from the cradle to the grave.” In addition to selling caskets, the business rented wooden folding chairs to bereaved families when funerals were held in their homes.

In 1891, Davis-Hartford expanded its stock of hardware to include groceries. Two years later in 1893, Berthoud’s first telephone, or what the local newspaper jokingly described as a “Hello” station, was installed in the store. Farm implements and furniture were also added to the company’s stock around that time.

One of the business’s founding partners, F. Irving Davis, made his home at the southwest corner of 4th Street and Massachusetts Avenue (549 4th Street). A two-story carriage house—no longer standing—sat near the alley behind the Davis residence. The law office of Elizabeth Lamb Kearney is currently based in the Davis house that was constructed in the winter of 1886-87. The Wildfire Community Arts Center occupies the site where the carriage house once stood.

Readers of the Berthoud Bulletin learned about the re-purposing of the Davis house in July 1920 when the tabloid announced, “Charles S. Diesel, undertaker and licensed embalmer has bought the Davis residence property corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Fourth Street and will conduct an undertaking business in Berthoud. Mr. Diesel has had twenty years’ experience in his profession and comes highly recommended. Mrs. Diesel, also with a large experience, will assist him. A fine new auto hearse has been ordered, and his equipment is to be complete and up to date. Mr. and Mrs. Diesel came to Berthoud from Craig.”

By the spring of 1925 the business had passed to Mr. H.L. Humphrey. He upgraded the business by building a funeral chapel on the site of the old carriage house. In March of 1925 the local newspaper noted, “Work on the new H.L. Humphrey Mortuary was started this week. The building is to be 42 x 28 feet, and includes chapel, casket store room, family room and garage. The front is to be of pressed brick, and the sides and rear of stucco finish.”

The funeral chapel was also operated by the Stranahan and Schreiner families before it was purchased to serve as the Wildfire Community Arts Center in 2003. At that time the building was painstakingly re-purposed to contain a modern office as well as spacious movement and arts studios that are not only used for Wildfire’s classes but also for annual events such as the Local Artist Market that will be held this weekend.

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