The Bilsings – one of Craig’s great landmarks
September 6, 2008
Some of Craig’s greatest landmarks – structural and human – began with modest beginnings but have given Craig a rich history of American commerce.
When Francis Bilsing was growing up in Crawford County, Ohio, he probably didn’t dream of the places his life would take him. Born on August 7, 1875, he experienced the post Civil War economy and farm living. He married Laverta Laughbaum on Oct. 10, 1900, and together the young couple set out to make a home for themselves.
Their first daughter, Clella, was born two years after their wedding, but Laverta’s poor health made things difficult for the young family. Seeking a healthier environment, the Bilsings moved to Monte Vista. Francis soon heard about the homesteading movement in Moffat County and decided to check things out. He liked what he saw and filed on a homestead in the Bell Rock area in 1908.
He returned to Monte Vista in 1909 to pack up his family for the 400-mile move to the new ranch. His nephew, Rollo Pry, and another family, the Godfreys, came with the Bilsings.
The party took a month to make the trip in covered wagons. Sometimes there were poor roads to travel on, and sometimes there were only rough trails. When they arrived in Craig, they rented a home west of Craig (what is now Signal Hill) until they completed their homestead house. Francis and Laverta’s second daughter, Nella, was born in Craig in 1914.
Like so many other homesteaders, Francis needed to take an outside job to make ends meet. He began hauling freight from Steamboat Springs to Craig for the J.W. Hugus Company, taking four days to make the round trip using teams of horses. After a short while, he gave up the lines in favor of a job as a clerk in the Hugus store.
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When the family moved onto their homestead, he would walk or bicycle the six miles to and from town each day.
Again, like many other homesteaders, family began to join Francis and Laverta in their new community. In 1910, Henry Bilsing came for a visit and decided to stay, moving onto their homestead at Bell Rock in 1913. The following year, another brother, Adam, and his wife came for a visit and saw the same promise that the previous Bilsings had. They stayed and homesteaded on land adjacent to Henry and Francis.
Francis eventually moved from the Hugus Store to other endeavors. In 1942, he became the deputy treasurer of Moffat County and remained in that position until his retirement in spring 1959. He died a few months later in his Craig home at the age of 84. He had lived in Moffat County for half a century. LaVerta died July 7, 1960, and was buried next to her husband in Craig.
Adam and Clara Bilsing had three children, Bill, Paul and Ada Ruth, the first two would become well-known figures in the Craig community.
William Glenn “Bill” was born July 23, 1913, at the family ranch. He graduated from Craig High School and went into business. He married Millie Lowe on Dec. 7, 1938, and the couple settled into what would be a long life in Craig.
Adam and Clara left Craig because of Adam’s failing health and went to Albuquerque, then on to Ohio. Adam died shortly after arriving in Ohio, and Clara returned to Craig to prove up on the homestead.
In 1939, Bill Bilsing recognized a need for Craig ranchers to have their beef and other livestock slaughtered and processed. He also knew city folk needed a place to keep bulk purchases of meat in a time when a home freezer was the exception rather than the norm. He left his job at Safeway and opened Bill’s Market and Lockers in a modest log building. The business grew quickly from 100 meat lockers to 900, and Bilsing kept up with the increased demand by expanding his building and his services.
By 1942, the Bilsings’ business had outgrown its first location and moved to a new building at 356 Ranney St. The new store offered large modern retail meat display cases, as well as fresh produce year-round and other grocery staples. In 1948, he hosted a grand opening at his new supermarket and throughout the years, he kept expanding the building – adding sporting goods, a bakery, ice manufacturing and other goods for the Craig community. His cousin Nella’s husband, Lester Carroll, was hired as the manager of the supermarket, and Nella later worked for him, as well. Bill’s brother, Paul, was the produce manager for many years.
Bill separated the processing plant from the supermarket, but Big Country Meats continued to supply the meat for Craig tables. His new building at 55 Ranney St., also provided space for an S&H Green Stamp redemption store.
By 1969, he employed 43 Craig workers in the supermarket and brought in three semi truckloads of food each week to the specially designed enclosed unloading bay. Bilsing was constantly looking for additional ways to improve his business and improve the lives of Craig residents. Around 1970, he sold Bill’s Supermarket to City Market. They operated City Market at 356 Ranney St. for about two years until they built a new building at the corner of Ranney Street and Victory Way.
The building that was once Bill’s Supermarket went through several major changes and owners, finally becoming an enclosed shopping center with offices and a veterinary clinic. It burned to the ground Nov. 27, 2007.
Bill Bilsing didn’t live to see his structure burn. He died Sept. 1999, in Craig. His ashes were scattered on the Yampa River by his family. His wife, Millie, and his daughter, Sue Thompson, still live in Craig.
Paul died Oct. 20, 1994, and Alice died Aug. 8, 2008, in Centennial.
Shannan Koucherik may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org