If These Walls Could Talk

This is what the interior of the Council Grove Barber Shop looked like in the late 1870s and 1880s. The bearded man behind the counter is A.J. Collier.

A story of Council Grove from the Scott and Anderson building, 208-210 W Main.

By Derrick Doty

Surely you’re familiar with the old adage, if these walls could talk? We have all wondered what stories are hidden in the silent walls of time. The events of the past hundred years that cast their shadow on the threshold of some old abode. The laughter that reverberated along the hallway of history. If only these walls could talk. Well, why can’t they? Some walls do talk, if only we listen.

While reading through the histories of Morris County, and in particular Council Grove, I find many bits of past lives that set my imagination going. I often think of the stories my Barber Shop could tell me if only it could. So, for your entertainment and education, I present an account of the past one hundred and forty years, as told by the Scott and Anderson building, which you may know as the Council Grove Republican and Barber Shop.

So you want to know of the wonders I’ve seen eh? Well, where to start, where to start? I suppose the beginning is best. Let me see, if I remember right, I believe I was built about 1872, or was it 3? I’m sure I was here in seventy three, there was much goins on that year. B. R. Scott and John Anderson were the ones who built me. In the beginning, Bertram and Nicholson had their law office upstairs on the 208 side. November 11th of seventy three, P. S. Roberts, also a lawyer relocated his office to the rear of Bertram and Nicholson.

Mr Anderson partner of B.R. Scott

John Anderson partner of B.R. Scott.

Scott and Anderson did a lot for this town early on. About the same time I came along, they paid for the construction of a wooden foot-bridge across the river. There were a lot of sweet-hearts names carved on the handrail of that old bridge. Oh, then about ten years after me in 1883, B. R. Scott had another building erected across the street from me. If you look sometime you’ll see his name up there on it. The building and completion of our courthouse was the greatest shake of seventy three. They got her finished up just in time for a dance on Christmas night. I could just barely see it from here. It was the finest structure in the county for sure. And in 1902 when they added the front part, I was sure she couldn’t be more grand! I never thought I’d see her go, but I’ve outlived her pretty close to fifty years.

An occasion marked with great sadness was the death of our pioneer founder Seth Hays. He passed on the fifth day of February at his residence. If you could have seen the funeral procession you would not have remained unmoved. The whole town felt the loss of their long time friend. And they all turned out to send him to glory in the best way they knew how.

One thing I remember clearly, in May of seventy three the Kaw Indians absquatulated, that is to say, they left our little town. They were in town several days saying good- bye to old friends, giving gifts such as tomahawks, bows, arrows and such. Then when the last fare wells were exchanged, about 1,700 Kaw Indians were escorted by Fort Riley soldiers to the Indian Territory. In later years we would receive visits from some of the Kaw, but never again would they live among us. If they hadn’t all ready been given the “little end of the horn”, they sure got it at that time.

The biggest disaster of that year was the prairie fire west of town. It started in Chase County on Friday the 13th of November. By Saturday the fire was pretty well under control, but then to cap the climax, some bad egg went and deliberately set fire west of White City on Sunday. The wind was blowing from the north like a hurricane. Many folks lost their homes, farm implements, livestock, and crops. The landscape was black disaster. James Lindsey lost his life trying to save his home and granaries. They said he run his well dry trying to hold off the fire, then he took his horses and wagon to the creek and filled up barrels. As he returned, he found the fire had cut him off. So he drove his horses through the blaze. The horses shied away from the heat and threw James from the wagon. He made it out of the fire but his clothes were burning. He tore and cut every bit of his clothes off except his boots which were charred to his feet. Friends responded to his cries for help, but when they got to him he was mostly senseless and a terrible sight to look upon. He lingered a couple of weeks and then died. When the fires were extinguished, our town was covered in black soot and ash, and they reckoned the loss in the county at $50,000.

There was a panic that fall, and it left a lot of our business men unsettled. Financial disaster had swept across the nation, but our local codfish aristocracy had made it worse by a coal mine farce of the previous year. Apparently, some no account critter, honey-fuggled our town’s men into investing in a coal mine on the W. K. Pollard farm. The city council invested $500 dollars in the mine and found that the hole didn’t seem to be getting much bigger. Turns out, the only coal that came out of that mine was two buckets of Pennsylvania coal that had been planted there in order to sham the investors. To make matters worse, the next year (seventy four) we had drought and grasshoppers. The fate of a few of our business men was sealed, and some were left as poor as Job’s turkey.

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The fourth of July 1876 was a rip-roaring time. Council Grove put on a celebration that nobody else could hold a candle to. At 10:00 am everyone gathered at the courthouse to begin the procession to Shamleffer’s Grove. For a whole hour I watched as this grand parade marched passed my doors. First came the Council Grove Band, followed by county officers, the mayor, city councilmen from all over the county, then secret organizations, next came chariots with 38 young ladies to represent the states, and13 more ladies to represent the first states, then the Company of Horribles commanded by General J.B. Munson, and bringing up the rear were all the citizens. There were at least 3,000 people in this parade, and when they reached the Grove there were at least a thousand more already there! The rest of the day was spent in speechifying, drinking, toasting, drinking, eating, drinking, and so on and so forth. They tried in years after to live up to or surpass the sensation of seventy six, but they never quite pulled it off.

Scott & Anderson building third from left with the clock in front circa 1880.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the McKinley monument up on the hill. They laid the foundation stone on the day McKinley died. And there it has remained a silent memorial of the past. But it wasn’t always silent. That bell used to ring every Fourth of July as we celebrated our Independence Day. It also called our town’s folk to the Lords Day and Sabbath School services. Occasionally it would ring out an alarm for fire. And one solemn day in 1881, that bell rang monotonously for half the day when President Garfield died. It was a lonesome and sorrowful sound echoing through this Neosho valley. It use to happen that when such things of national importance came to pass, all the stores would close for the day, some would put a wreath on the door, some would drape their windows in black crepe. At the time of recalling these things we are celebrating our states one hundred and fiftieth birthday. And do you know what? I haven’t seen one American flag (except the one that always flies at the post office) not a Kansas state flag, not so much as a puff of red, white, and blue bunting anywhere. In fact the day passed just like any other. Things have sure changed I tell you. But let me change the subject before I sound too misanthropic.

The Missouri Pacific line was completed from Kansas City to Wilsey in 1883. That track used to run just about two blocks south of here.

A story of particular peculiarity from eighty three, is the strange coincidence regarding two ministers here. Rev. W. B. Maxey from Kentucky and J. R. Bennett from Virginia. Both came to Council Grove about the same time, preaching in churches in the area and in town. Both were 75 years of age and each had been in the ministry for 53 years, and both died on the same day within two hours of each other. Both were taken to the South M. E. Church at the same hour for funeral services, and laid to rest in the Greenwood Cemetery, each buried with Masonic rights. I looked on as the funeral procession passed.

Sketch by E.S. Glover’s 1873 Bird’s Eye View of Council Grove.

The year of 1885 found the I.O.O.F. housed on my second floor, while A. J. Collier owned a grocery store on the first floor. At least, I’m pretty sure it was Collier. By eighty six a number of new buildings had sprung up down town including the Methe Jewelry, the Cottage House, the A.F. and A.M. Lodge, a bookstore at 211 W Main, the Ewing Smith building, B.R. Scott building, Gibson Miller & Simms Hardware, Dumm Furniture, and buildings at 15 N Neosho and 219 W Main. The winter of 85-86 was a cold one. We had some bad blizzards and lots of blowing snow. The city also installed a street car that year. It ran from the courthouse to the Missouri Pacific depot. It was drawn by a mule, and the fare was a half dime. The street car ran for about ten years and then it was sold to Strong City, where I understand it ran for a few years from the courthouse at Cottonwood Falls to the depot in Strong City.

We’ve had our fair share of fires in this town, and one swept through on September 19th of eighty six. It took out the whole block from the Hays House, or what we at one time called the Arway Hotel, to Neosho Street. It took a few homes to the north of the block as well. The wind was blowing a gale and it took great effort to put the blaze out. The women formed a bucket brigade to the river and worked till the fire had burnt itself out. Some owners were at a complete loss. The town reported a total of $100,000 in destruction.

Around 1887 Collier moved out and an insurance office moved in at 210. Then from about 1890 up till 1903 F. E. Pirtle had a jewelry store here as well as a music and publishing company. I must take a side rail here and relate the story of the “Morris County Exposition March.” It is connected to me in a most remarkable way. First of all, Andrew J. Guille, of Emporia, wrote the “Morris County Exposition March” and it was copyrighted and published by F. E. Pirtle in 1899. It was sold right here for a half dime. Nearly a hundred years later, the piece of music was discovered in the archives and arranged for an ensemble from the original piano score. It was played by the Council Grove High School Band on the ninth of May, the year 2000. Since then, it has been played by the Flint Hills Community Band every fall down at the old Kaw Mission. That’s not the end of the story though! Who’d a thought that the “Morris County Exposition March” would make it full circle? You see, unbeknown to D. Doty, he was practicing said “March” on his cornet, in the very place that it was sold over a hundred years before him. Curious, ain’t it?

Parade in 1906, Scott & Anderson building center of photo.

Amongst the many fires that have threatened our town, we have had as many or more floods. 1902, 3, and 4 left us anything but high and dry. The flood of 1903 was the worst. The Main street bridge washed away, several people were drowned and the water reached from Belfry street to the Missouri Pacific tracks. Every store downtown and many homes received damage. And as usual, fire follows flood. A fire broke out in the M.R. Smith lumber yard and burned part of the block west of Farmers and Drovers Bank. That year F. E. Pirtle left me and moved across the street, as many business men were forced to start over. I also have received some fire damage, I don’t remember when or what caused it. Could have been an oil stove or maybe electrical. But my chard timbers and floor attest to a very close call.

In 1908 there was a millinery store here, then in 1922 Brueggen’s Variety Store, which was here till 1929. After Brueggen’s closed, Edith Craven and Bertha Rissler opened the Specialty Shop, which remained here until 1936. Around that time the Council Grove Telephone Company moved in and remained till February l3th of 2003. Finally, on the last week of October 2003, Derrick Doty moved to town and opened the Council Grove Barber Shop within these walls, and the rest they say, is history.

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What other curiosities can I relate? So much has happened and I don’t remember all the dates, but I’ll tell you of some once common scenes from our Main Street. I recall many a time when the circus would come to town. The calliope drawn by two teams of white horses passed in front of my doors. The steam bellowed out of that carriage in thick clouds. Elephants, caged tigers and lions, monkeys, clowns, and side show acts passed this way. People were sitting in the windows and standing on the street and wherever they could get a good view. I’ve seen hot air balloon ascensions on more than a few occasions. What a sight to see the balloon lit up in the night about two hundreds of feet over the town.

Sometime around 1911 or 12, a shocking story was exchanged within these walls. A man by the name of N. T. (Tanny) Olson, a farmer here in Morris County, had shot his hired man, Walter H. Newfarmer, and then hacked him up with a corn knife. He had been charged with second degree murder and was sentenced to twenty five years in the penitentiary. Supposedly he had acted in self defense, or at least that’s what many of his friends believed. Unless he was a lousy shot and ran out of bullets, I find it awful hard to swallow. Olson was a bachelor and was boarding with Newfarmer and his wife. It was rumored that Olson had been intimate with Newfarmers wife and that’s what led to the killing.

Several newspapers reported the happenings of the trial. I clearly remember the following from the Dwight Signal. “It was in the trial of this case that Captain Joe Waters, as attorney for the defendant, made his famous tearful plea for the acquittal of his client. Joe was crying and he had the members of the jury and spectators in the courtroom crying. One of the attorneys for the prosecution began removing his shoes and stockings in the courtroom. Fearing that the attorney had lost his reason under the strain of the trial, the judge halted Captain Waters’ impassioned plea while he asked the other attorney what was the matter. “I am getting ready to wade out.” said the attorney, and the flow of tears was partly checked in the laugh which followed.”

In December of 1914, several prominent men of the County were petitioning for a pardon from Governor Hodges. Olson had served a little over two years at that time. I never did hear what became of it all.

I witnessed a robbery at the Farmers and Drovers Bank once. Yes sir, it was March the 2, 1926. Two men went into the bank and a man waited in the getaway car out front. C. H. White was just returning to the bank while the robbery was taking place. As White opened the door, one of the robbers pointed a revolver at him. White slipped to the side and out of the gunman’s view and dashed across the street to the Durland and White Hardware store. The bank employees and the customers were escorted to the vault and locked in. As the men made their escape, White and Durland fired buckshot at the car as it sped off. They filled the car with holes but they couldn’t stop them.

For the most part of the twentieth century the Council Grove Republican and the Council Grove Telephone Co. have been housed in me. Many books could be written on what has passed in each office. I’ll tell you a few that stand out to me. About 1959, young C. B. Smith was sitting on the steps leading upstairs, facing the street. He was employed for Mr. Don McNeal folding newspapers to deliver. Unbeknown to Smith, two little urchins by the name of Jeff Baker and Louie Furman, slipped up the back stairway with a water balloon. It just so happened as those little miscreants let loose with the water balloon, Smith bent down for a paper. He felt a rush of air near his head. Heaven also ordained that Mrs. Lavon Olsen walked by at that very moment. As you can guess, Mrs. Olsen was pegged with the water balloon and the two little rats ran out the back, laughing. Mr. McNeal came out of the newspaper office on hearing the ruckus, and of course C. B. Smith appeared to be at fault. Smith told McNeal someone had just ran out the back way, McNeal met the scoundrels in the alley, much to their chagrin.

I remember Bonnie McClintock working for about a year in the telephone office here. It was around 1944, and J. W. Admire owned the company at that time. Gladys Strom, Elizabeth Ratliff and Harriet Admire (J.W.’s daughter in-law) worked here as well, and Grace Gillespie was usually the night operator, but for two weeks Bonnie sat in for Grace. Before Bonnie would start her shift at 9 p.m., she would first stop by the library and check out two books. There was always a considerable amount of activity on the lines up to around midnight, but after that there was very little to do but read. So she’d read through her two books and then the next night she’d come back with two new ones. I think she pretty near exhausted the library. Bonnie operated the fourth switch board farthest west. “509 R” the caller would say, and Bonnie put em through. The few calls that came in after midnight were usually railroaders on the Missouri Pacific, or folks from California that didn’t realize what time it was here. One night, Bonnie over heard a marriage proposal on the line. Now, of course she didn’t make a habit of this, the party had been on the line for a considerable long time and she was just checking to see that things were all right. Turned out though, that those two found someone else and never married each other.

Several years back, my current occupant D. Doty was awakened by one startling rap on the door. It was about four in the morning and still as a tomb. Doty got up wondering who could be upstairs at this time of night? Prowlers no doubt, nosing around to see what valuable property they could walk off with. So Doty went to the closet and quietly as possible put a shell in the 12 gauge. With the hammer cocked and aimed at the door, he stood there resolved to shoot first and ask questions later, should they break the door down. I must admit, it was quite a sight seeing him stand there in his under shorts pointing a shot gun at the door at four in the morning. After a few minutes, whoever it was in the hall left just as quietly as they had come in. Doty went to the window to get a look at who had been there, but they kept close to the building and could not be seen. It wasn’t till a couple months later that Doty found out who it was snooping around. It gave him great comfort to know that Council Grove still has a night watchman who makes a stroll downtown on occasion. Doty has since double checked the locks before going to bed.

West end of the Morris County courthouse as it looked prior to the 1902 addition. The second man from the left is R.M. Armstrong and the man on the right looks like W.K. Pollard.

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One night a Council Grove policeman stopped me and a friend on the street. He asked if I was the one who lived above the Barber Shop. I answered yes. He replied in sort of a saucy manner, “So it was your floor I almost fell through. You left your door unlocked so we had to check and make sure everything was okay.” Knowing full well the floor was springy but not that bad, and that this was the ‘prowler’ that had been in the hall at 4 in the morning; I looked at him and said, “So you’re the one that almost got shot.” That ended our conversation.

An elderly lady whose name I did not get stopped me one evening as I was leaving the Christian Church and told me more about Tanny Olson.  I think she said that Newfarmer was her uncle.  Olson had actually decapitated Newfarmer and Newfarmer’s nephew was the one who found the body.  Olson served his 25 years in prison and when he got out he tried to hook up with the woman involved and she wanted nothing to do with him.  You can imagine she was surprised to read about this in the paper almost 100 years after it happened.

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2 thoughts on “If These Walls Could Talk

  1. Debi and Angie came to Council Grove in Jan 2003, on Sept 2003 they bought the Methe building right next door to the barber shop. We looked over the deed and seen were George Methe would borrow money for his inventory of watches, rings and so on, he would borrow from an individual. The secound building we bought was the lumber yard 511 East Main, it was built sometime in 1880s, it stayed in business until 1960, were the Furmans open up a Mobil station, then from there it was sold to a gentelman that put a mechanic garage in it for years, then from there it had a few more owners until we purchased it on Oct 2009, now we have our used car operation in it.

  2. Very enjoyable reading. My mind could envision all this with the words given. I think, yeah, next few years will bring more wonderful reading. Keep going D. Doty. I’m proud to know you and proud of the way you walk your talk. ❤

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