Company Founder R. E. Sloan was an officer during the Civil War in Union General William J. Palmer’s 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry. After the war Gen. Palmer moved west to build the railway for the Kansas Pacific Railroad into Colorado. He sent for Sloan to assist him. Sloan, with a young family and a business in Pittsburgh, declined his old commander’s request by demanding terms he was certain Palmer would reject. However, Gen. Palmer wired him back, “Come immediately.”
Sloan went on to spend twenty years on the Eastern Slope, largely in the lumber trade. Then, in 1880 Palmer recruited him to oversee the production and inspection of railroad ties for Palmer's new concern, the Denver and Rio Grande Railway. To aid him in this, Sloan recruited a cousin Alec Sullenberger and another Civil War veteran, T. C. Graden. By July of 1881, Sloan and Graden had lain timber into the lightly settled Animas Valley. After a brief and most likely prefunctory negotiation with civic leaders in Animas City, the D&RG founded Durango as the site of its depot and, more importantly, the location for an ore smelter. From Durango, Sloan and Graden pushed northward, into the mineral rich San Juans.
Sloan and Graden went on to play important roles in the development of Durango. Graden served two terms as mayor; Sloan's son-in-law and grandson both served terms as mayor as well. The publicity-shy Sloan founded the first large mercantile concern in the town, again turning to Graden, a famously affable bachelor who had pioneered in Animas City, as the face of the business. By the turn of the 20th century, The Graden Mercantile Company offered fashionable dry goods and operated a flour mill, a lumber mill, and a beef packing operation. Sloan moved his home from Denver and retired in the flourishing town that had been nothing more than a meadow at a bend in the Animas River when he first arrived to scout for the railway. He died in 1932.
In February 1948, the Graden Building suffered a catastrophic fire that began in the alleyway separating the store and the warehouse behind. The structure was destroyed. R. E. Sloan’s grandson Robert Ayres oversaw the construction of a new building on the site at the northwest corner of 8th and Main to be opened by the end of the year. Known as “The Nice Place to Shop,” Graden’s outfitted generations of Durangoans before closing in 1986. The building carried on, becoming one of the most desirable retail and office locations in Durango.