The Huning Brothers
The Huning Mercantile in the early 1900s
When we left the Hunings last week, they were struggling to pay off debts and recover from a disastrous decade. Let’s see how they did.
Recovery and prosperity
Louis Bismark Huning had married Emma Gerling in 1873, but she died during childbirth along with the infant. (The unnamed infant is buried in a small fenced grave adjacent to the west wall of the hacienda.)
In 1877, Louis married Henrika “Henny” Busch, a beautiful and well-educated German immigrant, who was working as a governess for a New York City couple, and who was 17 years his junior. The couple would have four children, Emma, Fred, Louis and Dolores, who went by the name Lolita.
Henrika continued to live in the home after Louis’ death and worked to resolve the company’s debts. Using Louis’ life insurance and with financial help from her nephew, Henry Fergusson, the store was reopened in 1903 in partnership with her son, Fred, and her daughter, Emma’s husband, Walter Connell.
All the indebtedness was cleared by 1906. Henrika continued to split her time between her beloved Los Lunas home and those of her children, Lolita and Emma. Henrika died in Albuquerque in 1922.
Louis’ son, Fred, and his family continued to live in the Los Lunas home, and Fred expanded the land holdings to the west, first with large herds of sheep and then, starting in 1930, with cattle.
Fred Huning married Maude Jagels in 1912. A son, Fred Jr., was born in 1913, but Maude died during childbirth in 1915. In 1916, Fred Sr. married Ethel Tyler and they had three children — Betty, Lucille and John, known as Jack.
According to family lore, Ethel, a school teacher from California, was less than enamored with southwestern architecture and was particularly put off by the exposed vigas in the house. She went so far as to have canvas draped beneath the vigas. This decorating motif did not last long because the sound of mice scrambling across the canvas was too distracting.
Eventually, the family responsibilities were divided. Jack, who had a degree in animal husbandry from Colorado State University, managed F. D. Huning Company, the land and ranching operations, and Fred Jr. ran Huning Mercantile Company, based out of the original store.
Fred Sr., always a staunch Republican, an affiliation he “inherited” from his father, was heavily involved in the civic activities of the village, the county and the state, in addition to his family business. He served as the third mayor of Los Lunas from 1936 to 1952, president of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District from 1927 to 1933, and as a member of the Board of Regents for the New Mexico School of Mines (now New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology) from 1935 to 1938.
Fred Sr. died in October 1956, and was remembered by the Albuquerque Journal as “a man of vision and a man of courage.”
Ethel Tyler Huning
Fred Huning Sr.
Closure and transition
Fred Jr., who had a civil engineering degree from The University of New Mexico and who had worked on the construction of Hoover Dam in the mid-1930s, enlisted in the Army in World War II and returned from the Army to manage the Huning Mercantile store. He died in 1992.
Fred Jr.’s son, Louis, took over management of the store from his father and continued to manage it until it closed in 1993. He also managed the Huning Limited Partnership, the ranching and land development company that oversaw the land holdings purchased by Fred Sr., until it was changed to a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in 2021 with all of Fred Sr.’s children and grandchildren as members of the corporation.
Jack Huning’s daughter, Nancy Schmierbach, took over the management task. Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Louis was Los Lunas’ longest-serving mayor, serving the village from 1982 to 2009.
The last Huning family member to live in the home was Louis, who occupied the residence area in the 1970s until he moved to his present home on Tondre Road. The east wing of the building was maintained as the offices of the Huning company.
Louis closed the Los Lunas store in 1990 and moved the operation across the river to a location at the Valencia Y. The then-vacant Los Lunas store was rented to a video rental company for about a year, and then Cynthia Rogers opened the antique store known as Leftovers, Etc. Steven Montoya took over the store in 2004 and renamed it Steven’s Leftovers, Etc. The store is still operating at the original location.
Renters and ethereal visitors
After the Huning family left, the western wing of the building was rented to various people, while Jack Huning (and later Louis) kept the east wing for their offices.
Newlyweds Alex and Laura Sanchez moved in in 1968. In 1976, Jack Huning had decided to turn the house into a restaurant, and he asked the Sanchezes to find other accommodations.
In 1980, they moved to the house on Main Street (in which they still live) that Henrika had built for her daughter, Emma, when she married Walter Connell in 1902.
The restaurant plan never materialized, and Geri Rhodes and Ralph Flores rented the west wing of the house from Jack between 1980 and 1999. Joan Summerhays lived there from 2000 to 2005. When Joan moved out, Jack tried to rent the apartment, but when no prospects appeared, he decided to renovate the west wing and use the entire building for offices and display areas for the many paintings, photographs and antiques that had been collected over the years. The restored building now serves as the headquarters of Huning LLC.
Alex Sanchez recalls that he and Laura paid only $90 per month, and Geri Rhodes said that their rent was also extremely low — between $120 and $170 per month, including utilities.
Joan remembers encountering a ghost whom she believes to have been the original owner of the home.
One night, while sleeping in her bedroom in the northwest corner of the west wing, she woke up and sat up in bed. She heard five stomping footsteps at the foot of the bed and felt someone rubbing her back. As soon as it had started, it stopped.
Then the same thing happened again — five stomps and clockwise rubbing on her back. This time, Joan shouted, “Who are you and what do you want?” Then, thinking better of the answer, she said, “Never mind! I don’t want to know!” At that, everything returned to normal.
Another time, Joan’s son, Tom, who was sleeping in the dining room, woke up to see the transparent image of a man wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat at the foot of his bed. The apparition rose up and went to a window, where it peered out before disappearing.
Jack Huning later remarked that people would frequently hear stomping noises in the courtyard. He, himself, said that he would never sleep in the house!
Louis also recalled an experience with the spirit occupant. He and his fiancée, Nancy, were watching a movie on television one evening. One of the characters in the movie told another one to turn off the lights, and all the lights in the room where Louis and Nancy were sitting suddenly went out.
Some of the people who work in the store and the hacienda also have experienced unexplained phenomena — soda bottles strewn on the floor, alarms that will not reset until the employee pleads with the ghost that he or she is his friend.
Ruth Ann Huning-Gonzales recalls hearing her father talk about seeing a woman floating in the placita area wearing flowing 19th century clothing.
As an interesting side note, one of the first “non-Huning” occupants of the house was Dr. William Wittwer, the first full-time doctor in Los Lunas. For a short time after his arrival in the village in 1899, he had his home and office in the Simon Neustadt store, which was across the street from the Huning house. However, he relocated to the Huning’s in 1900, and he stayed until he built his new home and office (now Teofilo’s Restaurante) in 1904.
In 2020, Louis’s daughter, Ruth Ann Huning-Gonzales, joined Nancy on the Huning management team. Louis’ son, Louis Jr., is the museum director at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts.
The Huning house remains one of the historically significant buildings in Los Lunas and truly reflects the importance of the rise of mercantilism during the second half of the 20th century and the critical role played by families such as the Hunings across multiple generations.
As preeminent New Mexico historian Rico Gonzales says in his seminal work on the Huning family, New Mexico merchant capitalists, such as the Huning brothers, established roots in their communities, earned fair reputations, adapted to New Mexican culture, provided economic services, and spawned multi-generational family businesses.
(La Historia del Rio Abajo is a regular column about Valencia County history written by members of the Valencia County Historical Society. The author of this month’s column is John Taylor, a retired engineer from Sandia National Laboratories and board member of the Valencia County Historical Society. He is the author or co-author of twenty books on New Mexico history, including “Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem in the Rio Abajo,” “A River Runs through Us,” “Tragic Trails and Enchanted Journeys,” “Mountains, Mesas, and Memories,” and “Years Gone by in the Rio Abajo,” all co-edited with Dr. Richard Melzer. Opinions expressed in this and all columns of La Historia del Rio Abajo are the author’s only and not necessarily those of the Valencia County Historical Society or any other group or individual.)