Simon Durlacher, men’s wear merchant whose name lives on

There aren’t many downtown merchants in Laramie who put their names in stone atop their buildings, and even fewer where the name remains after a century.

 One exception is Simon Durlacher (1837-1893), who emigrated from Germany with family members in 1852. They settled in Pennsylvania, but the outbreak of the Civil War interrupted the young man’s career in business.

 Durlacher enlisted in 1861 and joined Company H of the Sixth Pennsylvania Reserves at Danville, Pennsylvania, which saw action in Virginia campaigns. One battle resulted in an injury to Durlacher; probably as a result he was mustered out in June 1864, 10 months before the war ended.

 He may have resumed employment in Pennsylvania; all that is known for sure is that he was in the Laramie area in April of 1868, fully one month before the first train arrived to put Laramie City on the map.

 According to his obituary, he found a job with Ben Hellman & Co., clerking for the 2nd Street, Laramie branch of this Omaha men’s wear retail business. He may have begun by taking orders for Hellman’s Cheyenne store which had already opened when Durlacher arrived in the region.

 He travelled to Corinne, Utah, an important railroad junction being built in 1870, but apparently decided against establishing a store there. Instead, he branched out on his own in Laramie in a building at 203 South 2nd St., formerly the location of the Alhambra Saloon, likely demolished to make room for the new brick block that Durlacher and his partner built. The Laramie newspaper of April 23, 1872 announced the store’s opening.    

 His partner was William Manasse, who had a section of the building to sell tobacco products that complemented nicely the “gents’ furnishings” Durlacher advertised. Eventually their partnership ended, and in 1890, Durlacher added the cornice to the store at 203 South 2nd that still carries the “Durlacher” name.

 Long before that, however, Durlacher went east in 1878 to marry Hanna Gross (1854-1930), who had been born in Baden, Germany and was about 17 years younger. She had emigrated from Germany that year, and probably had relatives in the Boston area since that is where they were married.

 The couple had three daughters, Blanche (Durlacher) Colt (1879-1927), Hilda (Durlacher) Roach (1882-1945) and Jean (Durlacher) Tebbitt (c. 1884-1947). Hannah helped out in the store at first, and recalled (in the days before Laramie had street lights) that it was an adventure to walk from the store on 2nd Street to their spacious home at 501 South 5th St. (now Edward Jones Investment Co).

 Though a person who usually minded his own business, Durlacher was prominent in the local Democratic Party. He was elected Albany County Commissioner in 1874, when Wyoming was still a territory.

 Simon Durlacher died in 1893, of complications from “throat trouble” according to his obituary. He had been ill for a while and mention was made of his seeking a cure in Florida for a time before his death.

 Durlacher was very quiet about his Jewish heritage. His obituary makes no mention of that at all and features prominently his involvement in the Masonic Lodge of Laramie, and the Grand Army of the Republic.

 But a book titled “The American Jew As Patriot, Soldier and Citizen” cites Simon Durlacher’s service in the Civil War. Published in 1895 after his death, this book was passed down in his family and became part of the collection of the Laramie Plains Museum when his son-in-law, Neale Roach, died in 1967.  Roach willed his home and its contents to help establish the LPM.

 Durlacher left a building with his name prominently on the second story cornice of what is in 2016 a private consulting company office. He also left his widow well off, with a $50,000 insurance policy, a thriving business and property around Laramie.

 After raising her two young girls to maturity who were 9 and 11 when their father died, Hannah remarried. In November 1909 she became the second wife of another Laramie businessman, Otto Graham (c. 1854-1927). At the time, Graham was president of the UW board of trustees and had served in several political offices in the county and state.

 By Judy Knight

Caption: Simon Durlacher (1837-1893) Photo courtesy of the UW American Heritage Center.