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Osage City historical downtown property shares in statewide preservation grants

The Star Block, at 520 Market Street, Osage City, center of photo, was once an early day doctor’s office, operated by Dr. Roup for a year or so sometime around the early 1890s. Photo thanks to the Osage County Historical Society.

OSAGE CITY, Kan. – An Osage City property will receive a historic preservation project grant as part of 2021 round of Heritage Trust Fund grant program.

The Star Block, a portion of the downtown in Osage City on Market Street, will receive $90,000 of the total of $1,168,492 awarded for 15 historic preservation projects across the state.

HTF grants reimburse expenses for projects that preserve or restore qualifying historic properties. The funded projects represent a diverse collection of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places or the Register of Historic Kansas Places. All awards are contingent upon available funding.

“Kansas has a unique and rich history, and with these awards, we can continue to celebrate and learn about that history for generations to come,” Governor Laura Kelly said in announcing the grants.

Osage County Places: Vassar schoolhouse, still serving as center of its community

In 1913, the town of Vassar moved ahead with its plans for a new school and requests for bids were sent out to the surrounding area. Merchant and aspiring architect Clarence Silven, of Osage City, submitted the plans chosen for the school, competing against firms from Ottawa and Topeka. Clarence also created successful plans for Osage City’s Swedish Lutheran church and the high school at Reading.

Frank Cargey, of Baldwin, was selected for the carpentry work and A. M. Duty, of Melvern, was chosen to do the concrete and brick work. As bricks emerged as a building material for schoolhouses, the sturdy material made it the style of choice. Vassar’s second school was torn down and much of the material was reused for the new building. Total cost for the new Vassar school was $3,299.

Serving as a school until 1977 with its last class of 12 students, the schoolhouse is now Vassar’s community center.

Hidden History: Vassar schoolhouse stands as monument to one-room education

Student photo of Vassar School 1939-40. Wendi Bevitt collection.

Throughout the countryside, remnants of schools of a bygone era dot the landscape. The one-room schoolhouse was the core of not only its surrounding community’s education but also a social center supported by its citizens. Sometimes the only public building in the area was the town’s school. On the edge of Vassar, Kansas, the town’s one-room schoolhouse still serves as a center of the community.

The first schoolhouse for Vassar, District 68, was located on a farm northwest of the modern day town site. A second school was built in 1884 closer to the center of the school district, a half mile northeast of what would become the town in 1887. When Pete Peterson gave land to the community in 1912 to be used for stockyards and a depot, part of it was set aside for a new school.

In 1913, the town moved ahead with its plans for a new school and requests for bids were sent out to the surrounding area. Merchant and aspiring architect Clarence Silven, of Osage City, submitted the plans chosen for the school, competing against firms from Ottawa and Topeka. Clarence also created successful plans for Osage City’s Swedish Lutheran church and the high school at Reading.

Frank Cargey, of Baldwin, was selected for the carpentry work and A. M. Duty, of Melvern, was chosen to do the concrete and brick work. As bricks emerged as a building material for schoolhouses, the sturdy material made it the style of choice. Vassar’s second school was torn down and much of the material was reused for the new building. Total cost for the new Vassar school was $3,299.

The year the Vassar school was completed, 54 percent of teachers and 42 percent of pupils in the state were in one-room schoolhouses. One-room schools typically had two teachers that split the responsibilities of teaching the different age levels. Back then, schoolteachers’ professional lives only lasted on average about four years, but they were at the core of social improvements in their communities.

Chamber installs billboards, invites highway travelers to drive 7 minutes to Osage City

Osage City Chamber of Commerce sign committee members gathered at a new billboard Sept. 21, 2020, to celebrate the recent installation of the sign and completion of a long-term project, from left, Casey Mussatto, Joe Humerickhouse, Chamber director Jeanette Swartz, Jim Lohmeyer, and Dave Azwell.

After many years of trying to secure locations, developing designs, and getting bids and references, the Osage City Chamber of Commerce sign committee has replaced a billboard that used to direct people to Osage City from U.S. Highway 75.

In September, Thomas Signs, of Manhattan, erected the billboard about a half mile north of the U.S. 75 roundabout at state highways 31 and 268 on the west side of the highway.

The sign replaced a longtime billboard that used to sit near the location of the roundabout. The former billboard was removed due to the construction of the roundabout, which was completed in 2014.

The sign committee had previously erected an almost identical sign east of the roundabout on the north side of Highway 268. In addition, the Chamber has also installed an information sign at the intersection of state highways 31 and 170 on the west edge of Osage City, and three signs at the city’s limits that denote local amenities. The signs were design by Trevor Keeffe. The city of Osage City assisted with the sign project and the city crew helped prepare the sign sites and clear brush.

The new billboard on U.S. 75 encourages everyone to “Explore Osage City”, an “Outstanding Community”, and points out “Shopping, Recreation, Industry, Schools” are only “7 Minutes” west on Highway 31. The sign also denotes the city’s website, osagecity.com along with Osage City Schools’ mascot logo.

Hidden History: Osage County hospitality served with side of Southern pride

The road to Santa Fe was forged right through the middle of Osage County, and by 1822 the route was secured, opening travel for wagon traffic. Starting in 1825, the route was surveyed and mapped, treaties were made with the Native American tribes to secure safe passage, and modifications along the route such as bridges were constructed for easier travel.

After the establishment of the trail, the land in what would become Osage County became part of a tract land reserved for the Shawnee. The Shawnee favored settlement along waterways and had long been active in trade with Euro-Americans, so trail crossings like those at Switzler and 110 Mile Creek were a natural location for settlement.

The name for 110 Mile Creek, originally called Jones Creek, received its new name indicating its distance along the Santa Fe Trail from Fort Osage, in Missouri. The location was lined with a considerable amount of timber and had a few Shawnee houses with their fields nearby. The grove at 110-Mile Creek was well known to the military and saw regular use as a camping spot.

Aside from those of native blood, no other individuals were supposed to enter reservation lands without ties to the local Indian agency or the military. Some, like a man named Richardson and his compatriot who settled at the 110 Mile crossing, found their way around this by taking wives among the Shawnee. The pair had conducted a toll stop on the trail at that location, built a story and a half tall building and another smaller one near it.

The Richardson claim was sold to a man named Fry P. McGee in the summer of 1854 in anticipation of the land being opened up for general settlement. McGee had spotted the location on a return trip from Oregon where he had previously taken his family. McGee, apparently not content with the land, returned the following year and acquired the property in Kansas Territory. McGee assumed Richardson’s claim but retained the name Richardson for the area. McGee’s arrival was not only one desiring the favorable location, but a move intent on helping secure Kansas’ admittance to the Union as a slave state.

Carbondale celebrates construction of new library with groundbreaking Saturday

CARBONDALE, Kan. – Plans are in the works for construction of a new library at Carbondale. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, at the library’s new location across from Carbondale City Hall at Third and Main streets.

The new 6,000-square-foot library facility will increase seating from eight to more than 100 people, and provide areas for quiet study, group meetings and community events. It will offer multi-purpose programming space, including a kitchen, suitable for classes. It will provide much-needed space for lifestyle enrichment programs for people of all ages. The accessible layout, designed by Treanor Architects, will accommodate physically handicapped patrons and parents with strollers. The contractor, Shirley Construction, plans to begin excavation in February, weather permitting and the goal for completion is August 2020.

Franklin County’s Civil Conservation Corps topic of historical society annual meeting

Four enrollees at a C.C.C. camp northwest of Ottawa. Photo thanks to Franklin County Historical Society.

OTTAWA, Kan. – From 1933 until 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps employed millions of young, unmarried men in jobs related to conservation and natural resource development as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Tod Bevitt, of Oskaloosa and formerly of Overbrook, will explore how the C.C.C. impacted Kansas and Franklin County during a presentation at the 83rd annual meeting of the members of the Franklin County Historical Society, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, at Neosho County Community College, at Ottawa, Kansas.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was arguably one of Roosevelt’s most successful New Deal programs. The C.C.C. was a program of conservation and construction that changed the lives of more than three million men and their families by offering employment opportunities during the Great Depression. For the past 10 years, Bevitt has been studying the C.C.C. in Kansas, researching the men, their camps and the projects they completed. In 2018, he and his wife, Wendi, contracted with the Kansas Historical Society to document what remains of the C.C.C. camps in Kansas. His presentation will give an overview of the C.C.C. and specifically its impact in the Ottawa area.

Tod Bevitt is the owner and principal investigator for Buried Past Consulting LLC, performing cultural resource investigations throughout the state of Kansas and the Great Plains. Wendi Bevitt has more than 20 years of experience conducting historical research and genealogy and is the author of “Hidden History of Osage County,” a monthly column in the Osage County News.

The Jan. 26 program will begin at 2 p.m. with a review of 2019 FCHS activities. Tod Bevitt’s presentation will begin at approximately 2:45 p.m. This program is free and open to the public. In the event of inclement weather, this event will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 2. The Old Depot Museum will be closed on Jan. 26 so that all staff members and volunteers can participate in the annual meeting.

For more information, contact the Franklin County Historical Society, 785-242-1250.

Hidden History: Legislating the dogs of Dogtown

Founded in 1869, Osage City built its foundation on the industry of mining veins of coal that ran under the earth. As the town grew, small communities of people of many nationalities sprang off of the main townsite, such as Craig on the southwest side and Dogtown on the northeast. The name Dogtown has been thought by some to be a derogatory reference to citizens who inhabited that area of town, but instead it referred to the large population of dogs that originated in that neighborhood.

Early in Osage City’s history, Dogtown earned its moniker due to a man named John “Jack” Kidd, who had many dogs. When Jack heard of the gold being found in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1874, he left coal mining for the potential of more profitable mining. When he left, though, his dogs stayed behind.

As the town increased in size, Jack’s dogs, joined by more brought in by other citizens, also grew in numbers. After many years of a rapidly growing dog population, in 1889 the city hired a “dog policeman” by the name of George Russ. George was a well-liked man of color, who had worked in the local mines.

When George assumed his position, there were an estimated 1,000 dogs within the city limits of Osage City. Dog owners were expected to pay a tax of $1.50 for male dogs or $3 per females. George was given the authority to shoot any dog without taxes paid, no excuses.

By July of his first year, George had killed approximately 120 dogs, and only $62 had been paid from city pet owners. By the middle of his second year, George had dispatched 140 dogs, and only collected $66 in tax. George’s progress on curbing the growing population of rogue dogs was halted, however, when he was found to be violation of prohibition laws against selling “fire water,” which led to his prompt resignation.

Bixby School students reunite, reminisce about the day the school burned down

Bixby School students and teacher, 1949-1950. Courtesy photo.

By Ardis Ann Diehl

Twelve students comprised the student body of the one-room Bixby School during the term of 1949-1950, along with their teacher, Clara E. Christesen. After 70 years, six of those students met Nov. 6, 2019, at Lamont Hill Restaurant for dinner and an enjoyable evening of talking about times at Bixby – mostly everyone’s memories of the day of the fire.

‘Twas an eventful day in March 1950 – Bixby schoolhouse burned to the ground. Embers from the burning trash in the furnace had floated up the chimney and out onto the wood roof. Of course, it was a typical day of Kansas wind which contributed to the rapid spread of the blaze.

I remember sitting at my small desk, looking up between the spaces in the ceiling boards and seeing flames in the attic and hearing the crackling sound. At the same time, the teacher was cranking the “four longs” general ring on the party line telephone and shouting, “Bixby schoolhouse is on fire!”

None of the patrons who picked up the call acknowledged they had heard it – they all headed to the school in a rush. So the teacher kept calling the alarm, thinking no one had heard, all the while we 12 students were still sitting in our seats.

We all got out and were safe. Older students went back into the burning building and rescued some of the rows of runners of desks, coats from the cloak room, and yes, the lunch pails with our not-yet-eaten lunches. The neighborhood men arrived and the upright walnut piano (weighing enough to take four men and a horse to move) was saved, along with the heavy teacher’s desk.

One of the horses in the horse barn spooked and ran two and a half miles home at full gallop. Students, teacher, parents, and community folks stood at the far edge of the school grounds and watched the fire entirely consume the District No. 53 education building.

One month of the eight-month term of school was left that spring. We finished the year at Lone Elm School on Highway 68 and had the typical last day of school picnic. The teacher and all of the students of the last school year of Bixby School are shown in a photo taken that day, April 22, 1950.

Those attending the reunion dinner, along with their spouses, were Donna Miller Young and Marvin, of Quenemo; Leo Williams and Gloria, Osage City; Garry Niehoff and Lila, Topeka; Jim Niehoff and Diane, Baldwin City; Carolyn Burkdoll McMillin and Gerald, Lyndon; and Ardis Ann Diehl and Clyde, Lyndon.

Hidden History: Spiritualists reach final earthly destination at Ridgeway Cemetery

Hidden in Ridgeway Cemetery along the backroads of northern Osage County is a queer monument of stone. This grouping of stones is not any ordinary memorial, but rather a remembrance to a belief system held by former resident Hiram K. Reilly and other area individuals.

Hiram K. Reilly was born in 1839, the son of Hiram and Elizabeth Reilly. The entire family moved to the Ridgeway area around 1865. Hiram Sr. suffered from debilitating chronic asthma, which prompted his daughter to eventually reach out in 1871 for assistance from James R. Newton, a well-known spiritualist healer in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Dr. Newton wrote Hiram Sr. a magnetized letter, which Hiram Sr. credited with curing him. Magnetized letters were a method used by Spiritualists in which they would think about the disease and its location within the patient, which they believed infused the letter with spiritual magnetism and connect the healer to the patient. When the patient received this letter, they were instructed to wear it on the part of the body afflicted as long as the paper lasted to maintain a continuous connection between doctor and patient until their healing.

Hiram Sr. died in 1875, but believed that his nearly five years of healing was “a greater miracle than was ever performed by Jesus Christ.” Hiram Sr.’s story influenced nearly a dozen local people with his testimony of healing and promotion of spiritualism. Elizabeth Reilly died in 1891. Her stone in Ridgeway Cemetery reflects the family’s belief in spiritualism, depicting her spirit standing beside her physical body lying on her deathbed.

Hidden History: Mineral Springs gush healing waters at Carbondale-area sanitarium

A painting of the Mineral Springs Hotel, donated by the Jungmann family, hangs in the Osage County Historical Society museum, in Lyndon.

The Carbondale area was once home to Mineral Springs, a health resort that drew the attention of locals and others from far beyond the boundaries of the county that wanted to receive health benefits promoted by its proprietor. The resort, located about a mile north of the town, was founded by a man named Moses “M.D.” Merrill. Merrill’s Mineral Springs would go on to become a refuge for many seeking healing for more than 25 years.

M.D. Merrill purchased his land just north of modern-day Carbondale in 1859, a year after coal was discovered in the area. At the time, however, Merrill was living in Rock Island, Illinois, as a prosperous former land agent, newspaper editor, and railroad man. It wasn’t until 1884 that he moved to the north side of Carbondale and made use of springs located beneath his land. Local lore indicated that Merrill’s springs were located on an Indian camping spot, where they constructed dams across the beautiful stream flowing from the spring, calling this fount, “medicine water”. Merrill did not immediately realize the benefit that these waters held, however.

Within two years of his arrival, Merrill decided to find out the truth of the healing aspects of his springs and sought out the expert opinion of Dr. Albert Merrill, reportedly unrelated, of St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Merrill analyzed the water and reported that the water contained purgative salts that could be utilized in treating digestive disorders.

M.D. Merrill seized the opportunity to bring the healing waters to the public and started selling his water for curative purposes locally and shipping orders as far as New York. For a time, there were as many as 100 visitors per day to the springs coming in “vehicles of every description, from the barouche and road wagon to the typical Mexican burro, loaded with kegs, cans, big jugs, and little jugs to be filled with those marvelous waters”, as reported by the Carbondalian. The spring water was also sold and delivered at 15 cents a gallon by the Cooke Fuel Company, of Topeka, which also sold Osage County coal.

Hidden History: Incognito contest winner shines perpetual spotlight on Overbrook

Mindy Allen, Scott City, Kan., recently completed a new painting of the “Don’t Overlook Overbrook” mural.

“Don’t Overlook Overbrook.” More than a hundred years ago, this memorable slogan was created, but even today will spark strangers to recognition when the town’s name is mentioned.

In 1911, the village of Overbrook was joining a nationwide trend of growth across the country during this period. “Boosters” sought to boost their communities by increasing the visibility and appeal, acquiring utilities to improve the living conditions in their towns, and bring commerce and new citizens. Of course, not everyone was happy with prospects for change, folks content with the status quo and speaking out against any change were dubbed “knockers.”

Overbrook’s booster group was called the Overbrook Commercial Club. This club put out a call for a slogan. Topeka had decided on a slogan “Topeka can, Topeka will.” Overbrook was quick to follow the example, and added an incentive of $5 paid to the person who supplied the chosen phrase.

The winning submission was made by Lewis Coffman, a West Virginia resident who had two brothers in Overbrook. He sent the motto to the Commercial Club under the pseudonym “Mary”, since he lived outside of the 20-mile radius required for submissions. However, the club was so pleased with the line that they gave Coffman not only the $5 award, but voted that he receive a lifetime membership to the club.

Coffman accepted, stating it was “impossible to overlook Overbrook anyway. It was too good of a town.”

Osage County Cemeteries: Map and list updated 2019

No Name No. 8 Cemetery, near Lamont Hill. Photo by Jan Williams.

In cooperation with the Osage County Historical Society, Osage County News has published online a list of Osage County cemeteries and their locations. The historical society had previously published similar information in a brochure, and volunteers of the society updated the list.

Osage County News has also created a map that shows the general locations of the cemeteries, which are listed with directions on the reverse side of the map. A printable version of the two-page map and cemetery list is available here.

When visiting the cemeteries listed, visitors are advised that some are on private property and property owners’ privacy should be respected. Not all cemeteries are located on all-weather roads, and some are in remote locations in Osage County; visitors should watch weather conditions and be aware of possible road hazards. Use of a highway map or GPS device to assist with navigation when trying to locate cemeteries is also advised.

Hidden History: Osage County monuments ‘perpetuate the memories of fallen heroes’

Burlingame Cemetery soldier’s monument, date unknown, but photo possibly taken the day of the monument’s dedication. Photo thanks to Burlingame Schuyler Museum.

The Civil War was the bloodiest war in United States history, claiming the lives of about 620,000 individuals. After the war, veterans organizations were created to help those who survived the war to band together and honor those who were lost and the battles they fought. Largest among these groups was the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), established in 1866 for those who had fought for the Union army. General John A. Logan of the G.A.R. first proposed a decoration or memorial day in 1868 as a day of remembrance. This day was not one of any particular battle, and one in which the flowers would be in bloom to decorate graves. Observance of this day was determined by individual states, but by 1890 each of the northern states had made Decoration Day a state holiday.

Another group that arose during this time was the Woman’s Relief Corps (W.R.C.). This womens’ group had evolved out of the Christian and Sanitary Commission, whose mission had been to care for wounded soldiers. The W.R.C. was created to aid Union veterans, in particular the dependent ones. This group eventually became the auxiliary of the G.A.R. and was established in Kansas in 1885. Along with aid for veterans, this group aimed to “invoke a spirit of patriotism, respect for the nation’s flag, a love of country and reverence for her defenders in the minds of the youth of the present day, [and erect] monuments to perpetuate the memories of fallen heroes.”

Around the turn of the century the W.R.C. began seeking to memorialize those who served in the Civil War, because those that had remained were quickly disappearing as a present reminder of their service.

In Osage County, Kan., the first major monument to be erected was the soldier memorial at Burlingame, in 1905. The women of Burlingame’s W.R.C., consisting of 70 members under the leadership of president Lucy Jennings, commissioned Nettleton Marble & Granite Works, of Ottawa, Kan., to do the work.

L.H. Nettleton had been creating marble masterpieces for the area for 21 years. In 1904, he bought out his former partner, M. K. Ferguson, and became the sole proprietor of the business. Nettleton’s company had previously created war memorials for Baldwin City, in 1896, Garnett, in 1899, and Peabody, Kan., in 1900, but Burlingame’s monument was to be his greatest achievement yet, working in a grander style than before.

In order to secure the contract and gain the chance to showcase his abilities, Nettleton cut the W.R.C. a significant discount of the original $1,250 cost. The granite monument stands 15 feet, 8 inches tall, with a soldier standing atop keeping watch over the cemetery’s sleeping heroes. The monument was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1905, with exercises starting at Sumner Park including orators and band performances, and a visit by Governor E. W. Hoch.The veterans joined the procession to the cemetery for the dedication, following the local Kansas National Guard company, and only had “to look ahead to be reminded of what they were when they went first to battle for their country in their hour of need.”

KRTC gains grant for Landon Trail near Overbrook

Landon Trail trailhead at Overbrook, Kan.

TOPEKA, Kan. – The operators of the 38-mile Landon Trail have received a $14,745 grant from the Walter S. & Evan C. Jones Trust, Emporia, Kan. The grant will be used to develop another one-mile section of the trail south of Overbrook, Kan.

Developed by Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, the scenic recreational trail’s right of way stretches from the Shunga Trail, in Topeka, Kan., to Clinton Wildlife Area, Pomona Lake, and the 117-mile Flint Hills Nature Trail, near Quenemo, Kan.

“We appreciate the support the Jones Trust has shown for developing outdoor recreational opportunities,” said KRTC President Doug Walker. “Kanza is working to create a remarkable recreational trail, which will provide a safe place for families to walk or bicycle away from traffic.”

Currently, the trail is completed for 13 miles from the trailhead at 17th and Monroe streets in Topeka to the Clinton Wildlife Area, and two miles at Overbrook, Kan.

When completed, the trail will be the only recreational trail in the U.S. to link the Oregon National Historic Trail to the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. The trail crosses the Santa Fe Trail north of Overbrook.

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