Category Archives: Uncategorized

#79 Wear Green and Plant Potatoes

            Will you be wearing green this Thursday?  As the saying goes “Everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day” so you may very well choose to do so.  The people who settled Kinsley were not Irish immigrants, but the celebration of this holiday was observed from the earliest years.

            I found the first reference to the tradition in the March 20, 1879 issue of the Edwards County Leader.  It reported that a dance had been held at Gem Hall (upstairs at 217 E. Sixth St.). Forty couples attended and it raised money to support the city band.

            I’m not sure why, but this holiday was often used to raise funds.  On St. Patrick’s Day in 1896, the Congregational Church ladies held a dinner and entertainment for the price of your age.

“This birthday party is given to you
‘Tis something novel, ‘tis something new,
We send to each this little sack.
Please either send or bring it back
With as many cents as years you are old
We promise the number shall never be told.
If any object their ages to tell,
Please put in one hundred,
‘Twill do just as well.
Kind friends will give you something to eat,
And others will furnish a musical treat,
The Cong. ladies with greeting most hearty
Feel sure you will come to your own birthday party.” 

            The next week, the Graphic editor remarked that “High Bingham is bankrupt since St. Patrick’s Day but thinks he got his money’s worth.  The ladies are thinking of charging him two cents a year next time.” Hiram C. Bingham was 67 at the time.

            A similar fund-raiser was held three years later by the Methodist Epworth League, a group made up of 16-35 year-olds.   Their invitation was to a ‘”Measuring Social” where participants were asked to give three cents for each foot they were tall for an evening of “music and song, recitation and pleasure”. (Graphic, March 24, 1899)

            In 1903, one dollar got you admitted to a St. Patrick’s Day concert held at the opera house to support the city orchestra.  The next year, the city band provided a concert to support raise funds.

            In 1906, the Congregational Christian Endeavor group had their Paddy’s Day fund raiser in order to purchase new books for library.  At the time the library was located at the church.

A book plate from the Christian Endeavor Library of the Congregational Church. 
In 1903, a benefit was held on St. Patrick’s Day to raise funds to buy books. 

            Kinsley hostesses often used St. Patrick’s Day as an occasion for parties where they decorated with shamrocks and candles with green shades. 

            Mrs. J. E. Clark and her mother Mrs. Catherine Steward seated their guests at a long table that had small green ribbons running from the plates to the centerpiece.  Attached to each ribbon was an envelope with a different verse of a familiar poem on the leaves of a broken shamrock, which were to be pieced together to complete the lines.  (Graphic, March 24, 1910)

            That same year, the domestic science class at the school held a dinner for their mothers who were very pleased that their daughters prepared it all at school during class. They served fruit cocktail, pigs in blankets, mashed potatoes with gravy, cabbage salad, olives and pickles, lemon pie, pineapple sherbet, cake and tea. 

            The Royal Neighbors (a women’s insurance group) played a game at their meeting where each member was blindfolded and given chalk to draw a pig on a blackboard.  (The pig was one of the sacred animals of Ireland.)  Then they were given a potato, tooth picks and paring knife to sculpt a pig.  Mrs. King was the winner and was given her pig as the booby prize besides the blue ribbon.   (Mercury, March 13, 1923)

Wishing you the luck of the Irish with this vintage postcard decorated with green shamrocks and a little pig.  Pigs have been a main stay in Ireland since Neolithic times and were sacred to the Druids.

            If you have ever wondered when is the best time to plant potatoes, the following story from March 17, 1917 in the Graphic might answer your question.

            “There were four men in town and they were arguing about when it was the best time to plant potatoes. One said March 17th on St Patrick’s Day was the one and only lucky day for planting.  The next man argued that Good Friday was the only day to do the work.  Naturalist No. 3 said wait for signs, the dark of the moon, etc., etc., etc.  Arguer No. 4 disbelieved all the theories and said plant whenever you have the time and money to purchase the ‘spuds’.  And the argument broke up and each man decided arguer #4 was right insofar as to bury the ‘spuds’ if you had the bankroll to purchase the seed.”

            The last stanza of the traditional Irish folksong, “The Wearing of the Green” reflects the universal desire for freedom and homeland.  This is very appropriate this year as we witness Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and show solidarity with their yellow and blue.

“Oh Ireland must we leave you driven by a tyrant’s hand
And seek a mother’s blessing from a strange and distant land
Where the cruel cross of England shall never more be seen
And in that land we’ll live and die still wearing Ireland’s green.”

# 78 Memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Last’s week’s news of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine shocked the world and put it on edge.  Putin’s nuclear threats have also brought back memories for me from sixty years ago when we learned that the Soviet Union was building missile sites in Cuba capable of launching nuclear weapons at the U.S..  October 16-28, 1962 is now known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I grew up in Saline, Michigan about 50 miles outside of Detroit.  I remember in elementary school being taught how to shelter under my desk to avoid nuclear fallout. Really?!

I was eleven in 1957 when I watched the Soviet Union’s Sputnik, the very first satellite, glide across the night sky.  This was only a couple months after they had launched the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. 

All of a sudden, the U.S. had fallen behind the Soviet Union.  Our government quickly enacted educational reforms that required we students to take more classes in science, math and engineering so our nation could regain technological ground.

But it was when I was in high school that I really became aware of and saw how political events could impact me.  John F. Kennedy was president, and the Vietnam War was on the horizon. In April, 1961 the Bay of Pigs invasion failed to remove Castro from Cuba. In August, 1961 the Berlin Wall went up.

In 1962, I was a junior.  My chosen topic for the speech contest was on the fear that was leading people to build fall-out shelters. When the missile sites were discovered in Cuba, I vividly remember my fear.  I worried about survival and about my classmates and older brothers who might be called to defend our country.

While the world hovered on the brink of nuclear war, the 1962 KHS football team battled its homecoming game against Ashland to a 7-7- tie on October 19.  The pouring rain, cold wind, and an occasional exploding field light matched the ominous mood of the of the country.

Putin’s recent threats have brought all these memories back to me, and have also caused me to wonder what central Kansans were thinking and doing at that time.  Industrial Detroit was an obvious target for a missile attack.  Were there also targets in the wheat and corn fields of central Kansas?

I found the answer on the library shelves in an article, “Kansas Missiles: Central Kansas and the Nation’s Cold War Nuclear Arsenal, 1959-1963” written by Landry Brewer in the Spring, 2020 issue of Kansas History.          

Schilling Air Force base was located at Salina.  Early in 1960, it had been decided to install twelve Atlas ICBM missile sites within 50 miles of that base.  They were at Bennington, Abilene, Chapman, Carlton, McPherson, Mitchell, Kanopolis, Wilson, Beverly, Tescott, Glasco, and Minneapolis.  It was Schilling AFB and these sites that put central Kansas in the cross-hairs for a nuclear attack. That October, the 550th Strategic Missile Squadron at the base was put on high alert.


Shown here is a Convair SM-65F Atlas Missile at the Abilene, Kansas, site circa 1962.  Photo is courtesy of the U.S. Air Force as it appeared in Kansas History, Spring, 2020. This article is available at the library or online through the Kansas State Historical Society website:  https://www.kshs.org/p/kansas-history-spring-2020/20269

These Atlas missiles sites had been constructed in 1961 for $47 million dollars, a real boon to the local economy. They were big, each being 174’ deep and 52’ in diameter, and were built entirely underground.

According to the Kansas History article, “The Atlas missile was 82.5’ long and 10’ wide and weighed 18,104 pounds when filled with liquid fuel.  In flight, the missile reached speeds of 16,000 miles per hour, allowing it to travel nearly 7,000 miles in just 43 minutes, landing within 2 nautical miles of its target.  Upon arrival, the Atlas’s warhead would deliver a 4-megaton yield” which was 200 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The fears I had in Michigan were shared by the people here.   Bill Britton was a junior at Lewis High School.  “It was scary,” he told me.  “I was afraid that we would go to war.  It might be one of the reasons I joined the Navy two years later.  I ended up serving on the USS Enterprise which had been part of the blockade of Cuba in 1962.”

Marlin Butler also remembers the crisis well.  “I was scared, and remember it well. I was in my first year of college at Fort Hays and sitting in the Varsity Barber Shop when President Kennedy came on the TV with the announcement.  Some of the guys I knew were in the National Guard, and they were immediately activated.  I was scared to death.  Later I found out exactly how close we had come to nuclear war.”

The guys having coffee at the pharmacy on Monday all agreed that it was a scary deal, “but Kennedy took care of it. He called Khrushchev’s bluff and the Soviet Union backed down.”

These missile sites in Central Kansas soon became outdated and were all decommissioned by June, 1965. The missiles were shipped away, and the equipment and land were sold. 

I will close with this thought from the Kansas History article.  “The Kennedy administration operated with the hope that the Soviet Union would not initiate a nuclear war knowing that both countries would be destroyed. This was the essence of the doctrine of ‘mutual assured destruction’ (MAD)…. Soviet leader (Nakita) Khrushchev pleaded with Kennedy by letter to join him in taking the necessary steps to avoid ‘the catastrophe of thermonuclear war’ between the two countries because ‘only lunatics or suicides, who themselves want to perish and to destroy the whole world before they die, could’ allow such a war to happen.”

#77   Pulling Out All the Stops for 135 Years

                The oldest church organ in Kansas is located at the Methodist Church in Cawker City.  But it might surprise you to know that this beautiful organ’s majestic chords first filled the sanctuary of the Kinsley Congregational Church.

Oldest church organ is at the Cawker City Methodist Church had the Pilcher organ restored in 1976 before moving it into the sanctuary of their new building where “It continues to provide faithful service to the glory of God and is a source of pride for the congregation and community.”  (Photo: Cawker City Hesperian Historical Society)

            In 1885, when the Congregational Church members decided to build a new church on the corner of Niles Avenue and Seventh St, some wanted to purchase a pipe organ. Others thought that was only a “pipe” dream.  Kinsley was a frontier town; there were no organs west of Emporia. 

            But acting with the faith of pioneers, the congregation went ahead and ordered an organ from Henry Pilcher’s Sons of Louisville, Kentucky.  Its $1800 cost would be paid through donations, local fund-raising and the promise of proceeds from future concerts.

The Congregational Church second building was built in 1886 on the corner of Niles Avenue and Seventh St. It was replaced with the current building in the same location in 1982.

            The new church building was dedicated in October, 1886, and the new organ arrived in November.  It was big, occupying a space on the floor of 10 ½ feet wide by 7 feet deep and standing nearly 20 feet high.  It was handsomely decorated in bright colors with gold and silver leaf and had 628 pipes and 12 stops. 

            What really intrigued the people while watching it be assembled was seeing how it worked.  This description in the December 11, 1886 issue of the Kinsley Mercury helped me to understand.

            “The mechanism of the instrument is a marvel of ingenuity and somewhat difficult to describe. The wind is supplied by a bellows measuring seven feet long and five feet wide with double feeders worked by a lever at the back.  The wind is then conveyed to the four wind chests which contain the valves, of which there is one for each key and pedal.  As the keys are pressed down thus opening the valves, the compressed air is admitted to as many pipes as there are stops drawn.

            “There are two sets of keys and twenty-seven pedals, besides the composition movements for rapid changes of stops, and a balanced swell pedal, all brought under the control of one performer.” 

            Professor Willis J. Peck was hired as the first organist, and he carried out a dedication recital on December 15, 1886 which was “artistically and financially a complete success”.  Tickets amounting to $450 were sold to pay toward the outstanding balance on the organ.

            “Mr. Peck seemed in his element as he took his seat at the organ, giving as the opening number the popular wedding march from Mendessohn’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ and in which he brought forth the power and beauties of the organ with fine effect.”  Mr. Henry Pilcher, owner of the organ company, had come to Kinsley and played two numbers. Many talented local vocalists and musicians also performed.

            During the following years, the organ provided music for church services, weddings, funerals, and concerts, some of the latter being performed by well-known organists including Dwight H. Seymour of Colorado Springs.  He came in 1907 to repair the organ and to give a concert. 

Dwight H. Seymour

             That’s when Seymour (age 47) met Morton Schnatterly (age 43).  She ran the local millinery shop in Kinsley with her sister, Myrton.  Between his performances in Kansas, trips Miss Schnatterly’s took to Colorado Springs and correspondence, they must have fallen in love.  They married on September 11, 1909, and he became the Congregational Church organist.  For the next few years, Seymour was instrumental in fostering music with the youth and adding to the culture of the city.

            Pipe organs can be expensive to keep in repair.  When Mr. Day of Kansas City was hired to rebuild it, he reported that “…the material in this instrument is all of the best quality, and that when the rebuilding is completed it will be as good as new and will last another twenty years.” (Graphic, May 27, 1909)

            To help fund the repairs, well-known organists were again brought in for concerts including Prof. Charles S. Darling of the 2nd Presbyterian Church of Kansas City and Roland Diggle of the Episcopal Cathedral at Wichita.

Roland Diggle

            One critic reported that Mr. Diggle “is indeed an artist, excellent in technique, exquisite in taste, serious in purpose.  But his playing… lacks spirit, enthusiasm, inspiration …. the writer ventures to believe the musician has not yet had his heart broken.  He will play better after that experience.”  (Mercury, June 2, 1909)

            In August, 1911, the congregation debated replacing the organ as the costs of repairs were more than it was worth.  A fund was set up, but whether the money could not be raised or for whatever other reason, a new organ was not purchased.

The organist of the Salina Cathedral played on the Pilcher organ in the Kinsley Congregational Church for the wedding of Marion Edwards and Jouette Shouse on October 18, 1911.  The organ is nearly hidden behind all the white and yellow chrysanthemums and greenery.

            The Pilcher organ continued to serve the church and community until 1931 when Mr. and Mrs. W. D. West gave a substantial gift in memory of their son toward the purchase of a larger, more “modern” organ from the Reuter Organ Co. of Lawrence, Kansas.  This Reuter organ is still used in the current Congregational Church building.

            In 1931, the husband of the Cawker City Methodist Church’s custodian, Clarence Wolbert and Elda Coe drove a pickup truck to Kinsley to haul the dismantled Pilcher organ away.  Their current organist, Steve Richardson, has done considerable research and created a wonderful website which continues the fascinating history of the Pilcher organ as it continues to fill a sanctuary with lofty praise on Sunday mornings.   https://1886pilcher.weebly.com/1886

#76 Is It Catching?

             “The annual   __  epidemic has broken out in the northeast part of Kinsley with unusual virulence. We understand that some of the young folk have it very badly.  At this time, it is reported to be spreading to other parts of the city.” 

            Before you grab your mask and head for quarantine, the above announcement appeared in the May 25, 1894 issue of the Kinsley Graphic, and the blank did not refer to “Covid” but to “lawn tennis.”  

            In celebration of the new city tennis courts in South Park, I decided to look into the history of tennis in Kinsley.

            One year after Kinsley was founded in 1873, the rules for this new English sport of lawn tennis were set down.  This was the second sport that was deemed appropriate for upper class Victorian English ladies to play.  The first had been croquet because it was not too strenuous for women, and it offered ample opportunity for flirtation between the sexes. 

September 1907, Alice Rossington, R. S. Sowards, Marion Edwards, Mr. Rossington in Kinsley for D.A.R. dedication of Santa Fe Trail marker. Taken at Edwards home. Croquet wickets seen on right.

            If you have ever played croquet, you know it provides little in the way of exercise and certainly cannot be described as a nail-biting competition.  Lawn tennis quickly rose in popularity because it was more competitive, provided more exercise, and still offered the possibility of flirtation, especially during mixed double matches.

            Lawn tennis is first mentioned in the July 13, 1882 issue of the Kinsley Mercury as “the favorite game for pastime on East Eighth street these evenings.”  By the spring of 1890 several lawn tennis clubs had been organized.

            Lawn tennis courts were relatively easy to establish as reported in July, 1907.  “Dr. Haynes (of Belpre) gave a novelty party to a number of the young people Friday evening.  After a weed pulling, the guests were invited into the dining room where refreshments were served.  The doctor thinks with another crowd of such industrious young people they will have their lawn tennis court in fine condition.” (Graphic, July 19, 1907)

            In 1895 a double court had been set up beside the Bicycle Club clubhouse at the octagon house (411 E. Fifth St.). Other courts followed at Senator F. B. Hine’s house (816 E. Second Ave.), in the south part of town (probably in South Park), at Senator F. Demont Smith’s home (816 E. Second St.), at lawyer W. E. Broadie’s home in the east part of town in 1911, and south of the Graphic office (301 E. Sixth St.) in 1912.

Mable Marsh and Charles Edwards “fishing” in the Edwards pond on the west side of the Edwards home
in 1907 (322 E. Fourth).  The lawn tennis net can just be seen in the background on the right side. 

            In the beginning ladies played lawn tennis in their everyday dresses which had long sleeves, long skirts, bustles, and full-covering aprons.  Gradually the dress was simplified by removing the ruffles and bows, and the skirt was shortened to show the ankles. It still would have been quite confining, and ladies were usually expected to lob the ball to their partner who then hit it over the net.

Illustration of tennis clothing which appeared in the
April 17, 1891 issue of the Kinsley Graphic.

            Tennis continued to gain popularity with prominent people playing in large club tournaments here and in neighboring towns.  In 1913, a tennis court was prepared north of the school as “much interest has been shown in this line of athletics.  There is no better school sport than tennis as it is suitable alike for boys and girls.” (Graphic, May15, 1913) 

            The 1914 KHS annual reported, “This season we have two good tennis courts, and judging from the number who are seen ‘swatting’ the rubber ball, tennis is going to be a great factor in helping work off the spring fever from a goodly number of K.H.S. students.”  There appears to have been a tennis team on into the 1920s but when track was started in 1923, it disappears as a school sport.

Ben Ely, Jr., a graduate of KHS Class of 1916, with his racquet. 

            In 1939, the city commissioners used a WPA Park Improvement project to provide labor to build two tennis courts in South Park.  According to the May 18, 1939 issue of the Mercury, “Backstops will be installed and a gravel-clay floor made for the courts, but players will be required to furnish the nets.” 

            I’m not sure when paved courts were first installed, but perhaps it was about the time tennis was revived as a male sport at the high school in 1951.  There was a team in 1952, but again tennis seems to have been dropped when wrestling was added in 1953. 

The KHS 1950 tennis team. Front row: Mr. Kilgore, Robert Fulls, Gary Werner, Dick Harris. 
Back row:  Robert Gordley, Elton Arensman, Neil Hopper, Dean Gatterman, Jerry Whetstone.

            The June 20, 1974 issue of the Mercury showed a picture of city manager Lloyd Britton on the newly “rebuilt” tennis courts in South Park.

            With the new courts available in South Park, maybe Kinsley will again catch the tennis bug.  The sport certainly provides good exercise, and it can still offer an opportunity to flirt with the opposite sex. 

Two young men enjoying the new tennis courts and the 70-degree weather last Sunday in South Park.

#75  One Story Leads to Another and Another     

            Last week I shared a pictures that Hal Maxey of Boise, Idaho sent to us of the George T. Maxey family moving to Kinsley in their covered wagon in 1886.  I called Sally Frame, the granddaughter of Nellie Maxey Wilson who is the oldest girl in the picture.  Sally had never seen the picture and soon came to the library to get a copy. 

            Sally began to reminisce about her Grandma Wilson.  Sally was in 7th or 8th grade when she went on a trip with her to Washington, D.C. to visit her Uncle Fred Wilson, one of Nellie’s sons.

Fred E. Wilson’s 1917 Kinsley High School graduation picture. 

             Fred had graduated from Kinsley High School in a group of very talented young people in 1917.  He started attending Kansas State Agricultural College (KSU) but had to leave when he was drafted into the army during WWI.  He did not serve overseas and was able to return to earn his degree in architecture when the war was over. 

            Fred moved to Tampa, Florida until the crash of 1929 when he was hired as an architect with the General Services Administration in Washington, D.C.  In 1930, he married Betty Newman, a school teacher, and they had two sons.

Fred E. Wilson

            During World War II when Fred was 43, he used his close connection with his KSU fraternity brother, Milton Eisenhower (Dwight’s brother), to get back into the army to serve as an artilleryman to protect the US coastline in California and Florida.  After the war, the Wilsons went back to live outside D.C.  in Falls Church, Virginia.  

            It was about 1950 when Grandma Wilson and Sally got on the train in Kinsley and rode in a sleeper car to visit Uncle Fred.  She remembers going to the dining car and feeling very special being waited on by the Black matre d’.

            They had to make a stop in Union Station in Chicago for passengers.  “I got off the train to explore all by myself,” said Sally.  “Somehow I managed to get back on the right train before it pulled out again for Arlington, Virginia.”

            “We stayed with Uncle Fred and Aunt Betty for a month,” recalled Sally.  “I remember eating in the Salzbury Club, and he took us to the National Gallery of Art.  I loved it!  Afterwards he said that I was the only one of his relative that had ever enjoyed going to an art museum with him.”

Sally Frame loaned this 1954 oil painting by Fred E. Wilson depicting Kinsley’s Main Street to the library.  It is currently on display.  
Indian portrait by Fred Wilson

             When Fred retired to Florida, he devoted himself to painting portraits and landscapes.  Sally remembers the paintings he did of the some of the directors of the Edwards County Bank which are reproduced in Myrtle Richardson’s book, “The Great Next Year Country”.  She owns several other paintings by Fred.

I wanted to know a little more about Sally’s Uncle Fred, so I searched his name in the newspapers.com archive.  Both Sally and I were surprised to find him linked to a sensational D.C, murder investigation in 1930. The headline of a two full-page story in the Daily New-Sun in August, 1930, asked the question: “Who Killed Mary Baker, Girl of Many Loves? Washington Has Seen a Parade of Many Suspects”. 

Picture of Fred E. Wilson as it appeared in the Daily News-Sun on August 30, 1930 in a cold case story on the murder of Mary Baker.

            Mary Baker was a young, navy file clerk.  Her bloody body was found in a culvert of a remote section of Arlington cemetery on April 11.  Fred Wilson and Mary both worked in the Bureau of Aeronautics and had kept company with each other before his marriage earlier that year.

            The day after Mary’s body was found, Fred was questioned by both the D.C. and Arlington police.   He admitted that he was to have met Mary at 5 p.m. on the night she was murdered, but she did not show up.  After hours of interrogation, he was ruled out as a suspect and released.

            In the days and weeks to follow, the Capitol, Arlington County and Virginia State police departments, as well as navy and Department of Justice agents all questioned another dozen men as suspects.  Finally, Herman Campbell, a wealthy real estate man, was arrested and charged with the crime.

            During the trial in October, a new technology was used to microscopically compare the bullets from the crime to Campbell’s gun.  The comparison was found to be unreliable, and he was exonerated. The murder case was never solved.

            What family stories, known or unknown, might you find in newspaper.com.  Kansas residents can freely access some years of Kansas newspapers through the Kansas State Historical Society which is linked in the right menu on the Kinsley Library webpage:  wwwkinsleylibrary.info .   Like Sally, maybe you will discover more of your family’s story.

This Is the Way Our Archive Grows

This winter, Cindy Courtier of Altadena, California was digitizing pictures to update the Wilson family history.  Cindy’s husband, Brian Wilson Courtier, and Kinsley resident, Sally Wilson Frame, are cousins and grandchildren of Rose Penelope “Nellie” Maxey Wilson and George E. Wilson. 

            Mrs. Courtier wondered if the library would like a copy of the updated history which is well-written and interesting to read even if you are not related.  She also offered a scanned picture of the Wilson children in costume from the 1912 production of “Midsummer’s Night Dream”.  Of course, we wanted both as that is how our archive grows.  I sent the picture on to Dr. William Wolfgang who continues his research of Charles Edwards and community theaters.   

Jerome (Sally Frame’s father), Lawrence, Fred, Ruth and Bob Wilson in costume for 1912 production of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”.  Picture taken at the fish pond beside the Edwards house, 324 E. Fourth St.

            Mrs. Courtier also mentioned that another descendant, Hal Maxey, had a picture of the George T. Maxey family moving to Kinsley in a covered wagon in 1886.  Hal Maxey is the great grandson of George Taylor Maxey and Clara (Burnaugh) Maxey.  She contacted him and he subsequently sent a scan of the picture to me.  What a family treasure to have this rare picture of their ancestors on their arduous journey west.

Picture taken near Hutchinson in 1886 of the Maxey family on their way to Kinsley in covered wagon.  L to R:  George T. Maxey (father), Rose Penelope “Nellie” Maxey, Lura Belle, Clara (mother) holding son Thomas, Edith, Lydia Jane and Charles Robert.

The picture shows George T. with his wife Clara and their six children beside their wagon near Hutchinson.  Twelve-year-old Nellie Maxey is standing beside her father with their dog who also walked from Illinois to Kansas.  They had left on October 1 and arrived in Kinsley on Nov. 7, 1886.

            On the way, George T. had traded one of their old horses for the mule in the picture.  As they began to trek the last nine miles to their claim, the mule lay down and died one-mile south of Kinsley.  They had to go back to Kinsley and buy another mule to reach their new home in Brown Township.

            The Maxeys would soon move to a place 2 miles west of Kinsley and have three more sons, Harvey (Hal’s grandfather) Oscar and Jessie.  George T. would die at age 57 in April, 1909.  Clara would marry Jacob Rapp in Oct. 1910. All are buried in Hillside Cemetery.

Maxey Family.  Front row, L to R:  Nell (Rose Penelope) Maxey (aka Nellie Wilson and Sally Frame’s grandmother), George Taylor Maxey (father), Clara Maxey (mother), Charlie Maxey.  Back Row, L to R: Oscar Maxey, Lura Maxey, Harvey Maxey (Hal Maxey’s grandfather), Jessie Maxey, Edith Maxey, Tom Maxey, Lydia Maxey.

    On March 26, 1958, when Nellie was 83, the Congregational Ladies Society narrated a skit, “This is Your Life… Nellie Wilson: A Portrayal of the Kansas Life of Nellie Maxey Wilson,” written by Helen Buxton and Nell Lewis Woods. The script was printed in the Kinsley Mercury on April 24, 1958 and is available to read at the library.  Wouldn’t it be fun if the Frame women recreated the skit at an event at the library this coming summer.

            After Hal Maxey sent the wagon picture, he generously wrote: “I did look thru your internet site, and I found it easy to use and obviously shows the work already put into it.  It was easy for me to find my family members when I took a quick look and will definitely return when I get back to it.” 

            On his recommendation, I invite you to also discover all the genealogy and local history resources on the Kinsley Library website.

            And remember, you have stories that happened yesterday or before that we would love to add to our archive.

Fire! Sound the Alarm! (Part 4)

            When the city purchased the two hose carts in 1888, they stored them in a 2-story frame building on the west side of Marsh Ave.  In 1889 the second floor was fitted out as a meeting room for the volunteers, but because the building was in the railroad right of way, it was moved two lots to the south. 

            However, the city did not own this lot, so in July 1896, the hose house was again moved, this time to the east side of Marsh Ave where the Alcorn livery barn had burned down eight years earlier. The 1899 Sanborn insurance map labels it as both the city hall and hose house. The bell tower was moved to its south side and the “lock up” located behind it. 

            No major fire had occurred in Kinsley ever since the Carlin House and the livery barn fires eight years earlier.  But that good fortune ended on July 22, 1896, when a fire started in the bakery of the Kinsley Depot Hotel. Because there was no wind, the help and all the guests with their baggage were able to get out, but it was not possible to save the hotel and all its contents which burned to the ground.  The hotel might have been saved except “Upon arrival of the hose companies on the scene, the building was in full blaze, and the water pressure was so feeble that their efforts to suppress the flames amounted to little.” (Mercury, July 23, 1896) Tests conducted the following week proved that there was an obstruction in the lateral main that the hose had been attached to.

The Depot Hotel was a Harvey hotel and was built in 1881 close by the depot at 213 W 8th St. 
It was destroyed by fire on July 22, 1896 and torn down two years later.  

            The next month, the city looked into the cost of running a wire from the hose house to the pump house whistle at the waterworks. In a subsequent fire, both the bell and whistle were used.

            Besides obstructed water mains, hydrants could also present problems as described in the following article in the Mercury: “Hydrants and pumps in all quarters of the city are taking a rest these days and our city dads should look after the hydrants and see that they are open…. Two severe fires could not be checked on account of the hydrants being frozen up.” (February 22, 1899)  

            In March 1901, the Graphic reported that “The tower which has faithfully supported the city alarm bell went down before the gentle zephyr which visited this section Tuesday.” I imagine that this is a bit of sarcasm about our Kansas wind.

            I began this series on fire when I read about a “fire triangle” being used in 1880.  The city had needed a proper bell for the years since then.  Finally, in 1904 the Graphic reported that “A new fire bell was put up on the city building and the testing operations kept people jumping to ascertain the trouble.”  (February 26, 1904)

The fire bell was purchased by the city in 1904 and is now part of the
Edwards County Historical Society Museum collection.

            In April 1904, the attic of Wilbur Oliphant’s house on Fourth St. caught fire.  Rain the night before and a garden hose slowed the progress of the fire until the volunteers arrived.  However, the north side of town only had the hydrant at the courthouse and the firefighters’ hose was not long enough to reach it.  The fire had to be fought without access to the city mains but was kept to the second floor. The fire and water damage necessitated the family, suffering from measles at the time, to move in with relatives until it could be repaired.   The editor of the Graphic wrote, “This fire again calls attention to the fact that a fire plug should be placed on Fourth Street west of the one at the court house square.”  (April 22, 1904)

            By 1906, the Kinsley Mercury began advocating for a decent city building as “There was no place for the city police court, justice court of the township, place for the fire company to meet or place for band practice.  What is more, the city fire apparatus is housed in an old wooden building, a perfect fire trap, where it is entirely unsafe…. Our city fathers meet in a room that would disgrace an Indian village and if a citizen in town interested in the doings of the council should come in, he could not find a chair or a place to sit.” (July 13, 1906

            A decision was made to build a new cement building, 24’ X 50’ which ended up costing $3,300 of which the band boys gave $100, the Woman’s Club loaned $500 for five years without interest, and a Business Men’s Base Ball Game contributed $100.  The new building was completed the end of October, 1907.  The first floor housed the firefighting equipment and firemen’s uniforms and a good jail room with steel cages in the back.  The second floor consisted of a good-sized hall for police and justice courts, room for their records in a fire-proof building and a decent place for the city council and others, including the Band Boys, to meet.

This City Hall and Fire Station was built in 1907 of gray concrete block with a “rock face” and had a green shingled roof.  After the 1941 high school fire, the library was located on the second floor until a new city hall, fire station and library was built in 1954.  This building was torn down in 2014.

            The Mercury proudly wrote, “The new City Building is a credit to the town and speaks well for the work and enterprise of the present mayor and council.” (October 25, 1907) And that old frame hose house got moved once more, and I assume for the last time, to Jim Alcorn’s farm.

Fire Alarm! (Part 3)

By February 15, 1888, the water mains and hydrants were working, but it had not been done without some controversy.  Kinsley had two newspapers at the time: The Kinsley Mercury and The Banner-Graphic. They often offered different views on the subject of the day.  Both papers had supported the waterworks project as evidenced in this colorful defense the Graphic made when attacked by the Mercury.

            “We want it distinctly understood by all parties, either born or unborn, civilized or uncivilized, Barbarish, Caucasian or otherwise, regardless of previous condition or past servitude, that we are and always have been in favor of the water-works.” (Graphic Dec. 16, 1888)

            The attack had come when the Graphic editor criticized the city council on water main and hydrant placement. “Oh it’s a very fine scheme to be a councilman and have mains built through your yards and along the thoroughfares of your back alleys” when the rest of the north side got none.

            He wrote “Almost ever since this town has had an existence (1873) there has been an ill feeling between the people of the north and south side…. These people say ‘give us something, if nothing more that plug two inch pipes,’ but the all-wise and ever to be adored council tells them that such a line would be of no value, that it would only be dead water, and offer a thousand other unplausible excuses” of why they will not do it.  Except for the courthouse area near the waterworks, the north side of town was not provided with water mains, not even to the north side school on First St., to save it from fire or keep the trees from dying during the hot summers.

A water main was not run to north side school, built in 1877,
at the location of Lincoln School on First St. 

            Two hose carts had been purchased and the Eagle (south side) and Elk (north side) fire companies were formed.  Both carts were stored on the SW corner of Marsh Ave and 5th St. In 1889, the council fitted out a room on the second story of that building for the firemen to meet. This location turned out to be within the Santa Fe Railroad right-of-way, so the building was moved two lots south in 1890.

            On Feb. 15, 1888, when the water was turned on, a trial test occurred.  “The north side fire company made a run of one hundred feet, attached the hose to the hydrant, and started a stream of water in five seconds.”  (Graphic, Feb. 17, 1888)

            Then as now, fighting fires was dangerous and required training and practice to pull the carts and hook up the hoses to the fireplugs.  The very next month, “George Burt met with quite a painful accident …while out drilling with one of the hose cart companies.  It seems the boys were running with the cart when one of the wheels struck an obstruction, and all hands letting loose, the tongue flew around striking Burt in the side, breaking his watch to pieces and badly bruising him.” (Mercury, March 29, 1888)

A stand pipe to create the necessary water pressure for the mains was located
at 504 W. Sixth St. where the city waterworks remain located today. 

            By the end of the year, city councilman and fire chief E. M. Boies had taken “a great interest in drilling the boys, who in turn have confidence in him.  As showing the efficiency of the ‘laddies’ a ‘test case’ was made last Thursday.  An alarm of fire was sounded in the afternoon when all the members of the company were scattered about town engaged in their various occupations.  At the first tap of the fire bell the boys dropped whatever business they had in hand, and in just two minutes, by the watch, they had taken out engine No. 1, hauled it two blocks and had a stream of water flying, and in just seven minutes they had the second engine out and hose attached to a hydrant, ready for business.”  (Mercury, January 17, 1888)

            The Elk Fire Company appears to have disbanded by the fall of 1888.  Two attempts and a petition to revive it were turned down. The city remained with only one company and two carts until 1896 when the Elk Company was reorganized. 

            The call for a more adequate fire alarm that could be heard all over town continued and was answered sometime between 1890 and 1893 when a bell tower appears behind the hose cart house on the 1893 Sanborn map. There had been discussion that they use an extra bell from the north side school and perhaps this is what happened.

The Blanche House (located west of Palace Theater at 219 E. Sixth St.)
was saved by the volunteer fight fighters on March 6, 1894.

            On March 6, 1894 the Blanche House (219 E. Sixth St.) caught fire and the boys “promptly ran out the hose carts…unreeled the hose from the nearest hydrants and two minutes after the first tap of the bell had a stream of water playing upon the fire.”  The fire was quickly brought under control.  “The damage was very slight but the possibilities were immense.  Our citizens who sometime complain of the water works tax can especially derive an ‘object lesson’ from the occurrence, for had it not been for the water works the city would undoubtedly have had the most disastrous fire in its history.  Too much credit cannot be given to our volunteer fire department for the prompt and through way in which they did their work, although Bob does say that he thinks it was entirely unnecessary to turn the hose on him.  However, ‘all’s well that ends well.’” (Graphic, March 9, 1894)

            So many interesting fire-related stories and history in the 1880s, that news of a proper bell and fire station will again be postponed another week.

#71 Fire Alarm! (Part 2)

            Part 1 of this series described a fire-plagued week in Kinsley in early January, 1880.   When the Hart home burned to the ground that week, over one hundred men carried buckets of water to prevent the buildings and nearby prairie from catching fire. 

            The next month “The city fathers erected an engine house on the square and bought an engine and a hook and ladder truck.” The “square” referred to was the triangular block formed north of Sixth street and enclosed by Colony Ave., Marsh Ave. and the railroad tracks.  Besides the ladders, this truck probably carried axes, pry bars, picks, and leather buckets.

            A “hook and ladder” describes a roof ladder that had spring loaded hooks on the tip which could turn perpendicular to the ladder so it could lay flat.  The hooks would then grab the roof ridge and hold the ladder in place enabling firefighters to work off the ladder with better footing on steep pitched and wet roofs. These ladders, as well as poles with hooks, were also used to pull down burning material to keep the fire from spreading.

            The March 13, 1884, issue of the Kinsley Mercury describes the most destructive fire in western Kansas to that date.  It was started by a spark from a locomotive as it was nearing Offerle.  It was spread by a “hurricane” wind from the south which changed from the west, so that the flames “swept eastward in the direction of Kinsley with frightful rapidity leaving only death and destruction in their path…. houses, barns, windmills, farm implements, hundreds of cattle, grain and feed were lost.”  A number of people narrowly escaped death and many were seriously injured.  If the wind had shifted again, nothing could have saved Kinsley, but it ran one mile north of Kinsley and on east.  The words in the Mercury echo down to us this winter, “There is nothing much worse than a big prairie fire when it once gets under headway with a high wind behind it.”

            This series will be making use of Sanborn maps which are detailed maps of U.S. cities and towns in the 19th and 20th centuries. They were created to allow fire insurance companies to assess their liability. The October 1884 Sanborn map describes Kinsley (population 500) as having nothing but ladders and buckets for fighting fires.  There was no steam and no hand engines, no independent hose carts, and no water facilities.


Detail of Marsh Ave. area on 1884 Sanborn map.   Designations in red added for clarity.    Sanborn maps are freely available on line from the Library of Congress.  https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps

            When the Weeks’ Elevator burned to the ground (located in area of present elevators) the following appeared in the December 11, 1886 issue of the Kinsley Mercury: “We hope that this will arouse the people of Kinsley to the danger they are constantly in of being burned out of house and home.  The city is large enough to build water works without their cost and maintenance being a very burdensome tax.  If we do not have them built, the day will surely come when those who are opposed to the measure will stand beside the blackened ruins of their business houses or home and bitterly repent when it is too late.”

            The city council responded and seven months later, on July 7, 1887 a bond issue to install water mains and hydrants in the city was passed nearly unanimously.   Work began laying the mains in November.

            On December 1, 1887, the Carlin House hotel was set on fire by an arsonist and burned to the ground.  It was located on Marsh Ave about where Fireside Realty is today.

One of Kinsley’s hose carts is preserved and on display in the Edwards County Museum.

            That month, the city ordered two hose carts and 1200 feet of 2 ½” hose.   The plan was to keep one cart on each side of the railroad tracks. Two volunteer hose companies would be organized: Eagle Company on the south and Elk Company on the north.  The carts arrived on February 10th.  The city also purchased two “elegant fire trumpets” which the fire chiefs would use as megaphones to instruct the volunteers. 

Two fire chief trumpets, probably like this one, were purchased in 1888.

            On February 15, 1888 the fire hydrants were in place and the water mains were turned on.  However, this did not save two large livery barns owned by Ed Watrous and W. P. Alcorn when on April 12th another nighttime fire, perhaps started by a tramp, burned them down. They were located just north of where the Carlin House had been on Marsh Avenue. 

            The fire was not discovered until both stables were ablaze.  “The fire companies were on the ground fully 10 minutes before there was pressure sufficient to throw a stream of water, and for a while it looked as if the row of frame buildings on the opposite side of the street would have to go.  One building did catch fire, but fortunately by that time the water from the mains was available.”  Eighteen horses, 18 head of cattle, feed, and implements were lost.       

            The next Sanborn Insurance map in 1888 shows that progress had been made to fight fires in growing Kinsley, population 1000.  The map reports that there still were no steam and no hand engines, but two independent hose carts (or reels) and ladders were now located in a building on Marsh Ave (Frame Law Office today).   

            Sometime in the 1880s an “inadequate” bell had replaced the iron triangle for the city fire alarm.  There is mention of it on the roof of the Edwards and Nobel dry goods store which is Circle K Auto Parts today.   Coincidentally, our fire chief Larry Myers owns that building as did his fire chief father, Niles, before him. 

            The story continues next week with the addition of a proper fire station and bell.

#70 Fire! Sound the Alarm! (Part 1)

“There has been new developments in the mystery of who tried to fire the town a week ago last night (January 9, 1880), nothing to assist in pointing to any one with suspicion has transpired, and yet that there was a villain in this town bent on wholesale destruction of property…. is a certainty.  Who he is, is the mystery and may heaven have mercy on him if the mystery be cleared.  Monday morning (January 12) a passing engine set fire to the prairie, and hard work alone saved considerable hay belonging to N. L. Mills.  Monday evening the residence of Mr. L. V. Lewis took fire and with his household furniture, burned to the ground.   Mr. Lewis and his wife at the time were sitting in the house, and were not aware of danger until it was too late to even save their wearing apparel.  Tuesday morning (January 13) a prairie fire came up from the south, and would have made its way into town with a certain loss to property, had not the citizens turned out and fought it out.   Tuesday afternoon the residence of S. S. Hart, with nearly everything in it, burned to the ground…. Mrs. Hart and Mrs. Gregory were sitting in the kitchen sewing, when the smoke from the roof of the house blew by the window.  Almost the same instant, and before they could move, some men who had seen the fire, broke the door open.  It was but a few minutes until a crowd of men were present and doing what they could to get some of the furniture outdoors, and in doing so got the doorway blockaded so that the ladies could not get out.  By this time the fire and smoke in the house was unbearable, and seeing the peril they were in, the ladies broke the sash out of a window, but before they could get out they fell fainting on the floor, and were dragged out by gentlemen from the outside.  At the time of the fire there was a high wind blowing from the south, and it was with considerable difficulty that the buildings on the north nearby were saved, as burning shingles were setting the prairie on fire and lighting on buildings for some distance.  We should judge there was over a hundred men busy carrying water and doing what they could to prevent buildings in danger from catching fire….

Reproducing this one article nearly in its entirety from the January 17, 1880 issue of The Valley Republican seemed to be the best way for me to convey the prevalence and fear of fire in early Kinsley. 

Since its founding seven years before in 1873, fires had been a constant threat.  In March, 1877 an earlier arson attempt was reported in the Edwards County Leader.  “The office of Messrs. Flick & McCanse was entered at night by some fiend in the shape of a human, and a slow fire started…. This scare caused the citizens to organize a system of night watching.”      Kinsley organized its first volunteer fire company in December, 1878.  The 26 volunteer members were only equipped with a wagon with buckets and hook and ladders

Early in 1879, the city purchased 12 large fire extinguishers for $30 each.  Eight were distributed around the city and four were assigned to the fire company to be carried with their ladders.  The city had a public well located in the middle of the intersection of Sixth St. and Marsh Ave. where water could be drawn for bucket brigades. 

1909 postcard of Sixth St. which still shows the water well or cistern at the intersection of Marsh Ave. 

In March 1879, the Kinsley Graphic advocated for the acquisition of a fire bell.  It was not purchased before a major fire broke out on April 20, 1879, and all 28 businesses on both sides of Sixth St., from Marsh St. to Niles Ave, were set ablaze within twenty minutes. Nothing could be done to save these businesses due to strong wind. However, every man and woman fought hard and kept the fire from spreading to the surrounding homes, businesses and prairie.   The losses were estimated to be from $75,000 to $100,000 with only $11,000 of insurance coverage. As a result of this fire, many of the new business buildings were constructed of brick.

The following month, The Valley Republican wrote, “There is an organization of a fire company in the city, but with nothing to work with except a ladder or two that is kept at Berkely’s carpenter shop over west of the railroad, which could not be gotten to before a building had time to burn down, can be of little more advantage than no organization.  This city needs an effective department equipped to do effective work.  A department in name will do at all times except in time of fire.  Our experience has been dear.  Let something now be done to avoid a second calamity.”

Probably busy with rebuilding, not much was done until after the week of fires in January 1880 that began this article.  Then the city council set about reorganizing the fire company. 

The Valley Republican reported an alarm system being establishedon May 8, 1880 where “That large tri-angle in the engine room is to take the place of a fire bell.”  Now the sound of that clanging iron triangle would cause every man’s heart to palpitate with alarm as he was called to fight a fire.

The story of volunteers, fire alarms and equipment will be continued next week.