I have been compiling a history of barbers and shops in Morris County for some time now. I by no means have a complete and authoritative history, but I am sure I have enough to exhaust the most enthusiastic historian. I shall lay it out here for you for several weeks to come.
I thought the Kansas State Barber Board might be of assistance in researching barbers of Morris County. Unfortunately they don’t care to let people rummage through their file cabinets and don’t seem interested in giving any information unless given names. Other sources for my information include telephone directories, business directories, newspaper ads, census records, Sanborn maps, and information collected from various individuals. Mind you, not every newspaper has been scoured; I may have more to add to this history later.
When did the first barber pass through this land? That is difficult if not impossible to determine as our records and accounts of early day Morris County are very few and not particularly detailed. I would like to imagine that someone, even if not an apprenticed barber passed through here on the way to Santa Fe and acted the part of shaver for those heading west.
The first barber I have found record of in Council Grove is Brad Sharp. He was listed on the 1870 census as a barber living in Council Grove age 27. I have not been able to determine where his shop was located. At some point he left the Grove and apparently went to a town that was offering more opportunity for him. We next find Mr. Sharp in the Parkerville Tribune of January 30th, 1896. The editor had listed all the businesses in Parkerville in the previous paper but left out the barber. It reads, “…we unintentionally omitted the name of J.B. Sharp, the tonsorial artist. “Brad,” as he is familiarly known to everybody, came to this country thirty five years ago and has been engaged in every manner of enterprise. He is a finished scholar at his trade, keeps a neat and tasty shop and his work is always satisfactory to his patrons.”
The next barber shop that I have found is Thomas Cleek’s. An advertisement for this shop first appears in the Morris County Republican Saturday May 13th, 1876. The ad reads, “shaving, shampooing, haircutting, and hair dyeing promptly attended to. Ladies and children’s hair dressing done. Shop on Main Street, one door east of bank building. Open till 12m Sundays.”
The bank mentioned above is most likely the Morris County State Bank which was located at 116 W Main, present day Bosch Furniture in the building closest the Hays House. The barber shop was located where the extreme west part of the Hays House is now. In 1886 a fire swept the entire block west of the Hays House, the barber shop was destroyed in this blaze. Sometime after this fire an addition was made to the Hays House that included the site of Cleek’s barber shop.
Thomas Cleek was born in Kentucky about 1851. How he came to Council Grove we do not know. He was about 25 years old when he started his shop here. The 1880 census shows his brother-in-law, T. McKinney, lived with Thomas and wife Ida. McKinney was also a barber and I believe they worked in the same shop together. McKinney may be the youngest barber ever in Morris County. He was 17 years old and working when listed on the 1880 census. All of these people are absent from the 1900 census. It is likely that after the 1886 fire took the shop the family moved elsewhere to make a new start.
An ad from the Council Grove Republican of Saturday June 7th, 1879 reads, “New shaving saloon. Henry Weigand proprietor; Council Grove Kansas; one door west of Commercial House; Hairdressing, shampooing, shaving, etc. done in the latest Chicago style; hair tonic prepared and for sale. Call and see me.” The Commercial House was built by Charles Gilkey in 1859, and originally known as the Gilkey House. It was known by other names over the years such as Hotel Somnus as we will learn more of later. The Commercial House was torn down in 1939 to make way for our present day Post Office at 103 W Main.
Between the Commercial House and the Miller Kerr building (now Alderman Dentistry) there were two or three wood frame buildings. Weigand’s shaving saloon was located in one of these. By September 20th of 1879 Weigand’s ad had changed and encourages the reader to check out the new White and Barth store. This leads us to believe that Weigand had moved his shop to the White and Barth building which was located between the present Farmers and Drovers Bank Plaza at 123 W Main and the McCardell building now Red Bud Design at 129 W Main.
I have been curious as to what ‘done in the latest Chicago style’ means. A. B. Moler established the first barber school in the nation in Chicago, but that was in 1893. So it is not possible that Weigand learned from Moler’s school. One of his children is listed as being born in Illinois, so I presume that Weigand did live in Chicago at one time and most likely learned the trade there. So I conclude that the latest Chicago style simply refers to where he apprenticed and the fact that Chicago would be comparable to New York City in fashion and latest developments in the trade at that period. Weigand was born in Missouri May of 1852 and so he was in his late twenties when he first went to work in the Grove. Take note of the ages, I have a point to make later. Like the Cleeks, the Weigand family left Council Grove before 1900. However, if my notes are correct, Henry is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Springer’s Barber Shop is advertised in the Council Grove Republican of September 20th, 1879. I’m afraid I cannot give a clear picture concerning Springer as I am certain there were more than one, possibly father, son and maybe even a third generation. John J. Springer was born in Tennessee in 1872. This however could not be the same that operated in 1879. It is possible it could be the same Springer who opened their Tonsorial Palace with a Mr. Withrow in 1890. He would have been 18 years old. I have found no further information on Mr. Withrow.
An ad from an unidentified/undated paper reads, “M.W.A. (Modern Woodmen of America) Barber Shop J.J. Springer Proprietor-at the old stand-near the bridge.” The ‘old stand’ means the same old place I’ve been and everyone knows where to find me. Since this was near the bridge I am sure the shop was located where Adams 66 now stands at 15 W Main. There was a shop shown on the 1900 and 1914 Sanborn maps at that location. R.E. Ashburn was the successor to Springer’s M.W.A shop. By 1901 J. Springer had his shop in the Hotel Somnus. This shop boasted a billiard table.
As we skip ahead a bit to 1923, we find an ad in the Council Grove telephone directory for Springer Barber Shop. This Springer was E.B., possibly a son or grandson of J. Springer. This is the largest shop I have found in Council Grove or the County for that matter. It boasted six chairs! Shines and baths; no waiting. It was located at 128 W Main where Catlin Lakeside Properties is now. One item of interest to this particular shop is it advertises a “full line of Boncilla toilet articles.” The Boncilla Clasmic Pack or Boncilla Facial claimed to remedy all sorts of skin ailments. One ad from 1931 says, “After thirty minutes see the results-your face amazingly refreshed, fatigue lines utterly removed, color in the cheeks no rouge can bring; crows feet, black heads, pimples gone; enlarged pores closed; a smoother softer more lovely skin.”
I would like to think that I have found the first Black barber in Morris County. Discovered on the 1880 census is John Matthews, barber in Dunlap, age 23. And that’s all there is to say of John. I have some other barbers for Dunlap but I’m afraid I cannot tell you their skin preference. Frank Ryman advertises his City Barber Shop in the Dunlap Reflector of February 7th, 1896. In a later ad, Ryman also repairs clocks and watches. Melvin Whitaker told me of a barber he remembers in Dunlap by the name of Ikey Ryman. I don’t know for sure if Frank and Ikey are one and the same, but think it very likely.
A little talk with Melvin Whitaker in July of 2011 revealed some more barbers in Dunlap. Besides Ikey Ryman, Melvin remembered a Charlie Wiley and a man named Henderson that worked as barbers. Wiley was what they called a ‘tramp barber’ according to Whitaker. He would fill in for a barber while they were on vacation, but never had a shop of his own and usually worked out of his home. He most likely was not a licensed barber. Wiley charged 25 cents for a haircut while all the other barbers were getting 40 cents. Wiley was also known to be a bootlegger, maybe that’s why his haircuts were so cheap. As Whitaker recalls, it was around 1945 that Wiley worked in Dunlap.
Let’s go back to Council Grove for a bit. I have a long list of barber and beauty shops in the Grove during the early to mid part of the 20th century. I don’t have details as to who all operated in them.
The Sanborn maps show barber shops located at 216 or 18 and 123 W Main in 1885. In 1887 there was a shop in the middle of the 400 block E Main, approximately where Tom’s bar is; also, a shop in the basement of the National Bank at the corner of Neosho and W Main. By 1908 there was a barber shop at 214 W Main. In 1914 there was a barber shop located at the southwest corner of the block where the Neosho Plaza high-rise stands. This was a little brick building that once served as the Express Office. By 1922 there was a shop located at 105 W Main, next to the Commercial Hotel. This may have been the same building Henry Weigand was in back in 1879.
Larry Kellogg sent me some information concerning his mother, Neva Jane Rees. She opened a beauty shop in 1924 in the balcony of the Leader department store, which was located to the east of Red Bud Design. It was called the Jane Beauty Shop, it was only open for a very brief time as the following year she was married. Larry was told it was the first beauty shop in town. I will grant that it may be, for it is the first that I have run across.
Bruce Scott of Delevan said when he got out of the Navy he went into a shop in California for a haircut. As he was talking with the barber they discovered they were from the same County. This barber, by the name of Nethercutt, once worked in the basement of the Farmers and Drovers Bank back in the 30s. E.R. Nethercutt is listed in the 1936 phonebook.
A couple years ago a picture was brought to me that otherwise would have been thrown in the trash. The person was cleaning out their garage and didn’t know who was in the picture, but since it was an interior picture of a barber shop, thought I might be interested in having it. And so I was. The picture is of three barbers with three customers in the chair; you may come in the shop and see it for yourself. Careful examination of the photo revealed that the names of the barbers were hanging above them on the back bar. Only one was legible, but that was all we needed. ‘C.W.Taylor’ was what the one read. I went to Ken McClintock and asked if he could fill in the blanks. He thought some time and said he knew a Charlie Taylor but he worked on the railroad. It was worth a shot to ask Charlie’s daughter, Charlene McRae, who lived here in town. She came in and confirmed that the man in the picture was her father. Charles W. Taylor was born September 5th, 1906. He learned the barber trade in St. Louis and at some point bummed a train to Kansas. He was employed with the railroad for most of his life, but it appears early on, and when not working on the railroad, he worked as a barber. He was in his mid 20s in the early 1930s when he barbered here. Taylor died in 1968 at the age of 62. The location of the shop has not been confirmed yet. Jack Foster said that Charlie Taylor gave him his first haircut in the basement of the Nation Bank; that would have been in the late 30s. Another old-timer of Council Grove told me that Taylor worked on the east side in the 400 block location. That may be the shop the picture was taken in.
In 1936 we find the Mae Howard Beauty Shop at 219 W Main, Mays Beauty Shop at 126 W Main and Springer Beauty & Barber Shop at 1 S Neosho; this was in the basement of the Farmers and Drovers Bank (it would appear that Nethercutt must have worked with Springer). By 1942 Springer’s had moved to 119 W Main. Then in 1944 it became Harrison Beauty Shop and about 1946 moved to 119 ½ above Scholes Jewelry Co.
From 1940-41 we find Davis Beauty Shop at 406 E Main. Mrs. Ella Kreth’s Beauty Shop was at 28 N Mission in 1940 and moved to 412 W Main in 1941 where it closed up not long after. From 1940-43 the Mallory Beauty Bar was located at 126 ½ W Main, above Mallory Drug. At the same time Mi-Lady Beauty Shop operated at 20 E Main. From 1940-44 West Shoe and Beauty Shop was at 215 W Main, sometime in 1944 it changed to Goodman Beauty Shop. By 1946 Goodman moved to 22 S Mission and then in 1947 became House of Beauty. Evelyn’s Beauty Shop took its place by 1948 and then moved to N Neosho Street by 1949. In the nearly 9 years I have been in Council Grove I have always found it remarkable how often businesses change hands or locations here. It appears that it is by no means a new practice when you look at how often these shops changed.
In 1943 we find Alice Gillespie Beauty Bar at 18 Wood St. From 1945-47 White Barber and Beauty Shop was at 206 W Main, in 1947 it became McAtee Barber and Beauty Shop and remained so until 1952. By 1956 McAtee was at the old Express Office at the southwest corner of the lot where the Neosho Plaza high-rise is. Johnny Baker had his barber shop at 123 W Main from 1946-48. He moved it to his home at 27 N Washington and operated from 1963-68. The 1965 phone book shows it at 25 N Washington; I don’t know if that was a misprint or if he moved it briefly for some reason. Lawrence Strouts told me a little story about Baker. Strouts used to get his hair cut by Baker and one day Baker told him that if he had someone in the chair that he didn’t particularly care for, he’d leave a few hairs around the corners of the mouth during a shave. This of course is irritating and the person would not likely come back.
Melba’s Curli-Q Salon was at 130 W Main in 1947 and Pullins Beauty Salon at 214 Hockaday in 1948. Mel’s Barber Shop was at 610 Conn Street from 1973-76. Mel Keyser had a shop at the Leader location and following a fire that took out those buildings he operated out of his home. The shop by the Leader seems to have been a barber shop from the time it was built until it burned down. In 1955 the Mary Ruth Beauty Shop was at 8 N 4th street, *(I assume this was on the east side of town). More next week.
Claude Steck, or as everyone remembers him, ‘Smokey’ Steck went to the Moler Barber College in Chicago in 1947. That’s where he started barbering in 1948 then moved back to Council Grove in 1949 where he barbered with Buck McAtee. Information from Steck’s daughter Claudia sates that in November of 1951 Steck purchased the Hays Tavern Barber Shop and in 1958 moved to the Farm Bureau Building where he remained. The telephone directory shows he operated at 222 W Main from 1955-67 and 1978-83. He sold his shop in January of 1986. Steck was a character and all who remember him have a story or two to tell. I was told that he had a sign on the ceiling of his shop so that when people were getting a shave they could see it. It read “what the hell you looking at?” I have been told by more than one person that Smokey had one haircut to give, and if you protested he would point to the barber pole out front and say “that means I know how to cut hair.”
Russell Shubert started out cutting hair in the south portion of what was known as the Home Café. The building was located where the Saddle Rock Café now stands. From 1978-82 he worked at 412 E Main. I had the pleasure of knowing Russell and I’m sure all will agree that you could not find a more kindhearted and genial person. Russell use to come into my shop after hours and we would trade haircuts. For as long as Russell had been out of the barbering business he could still give a very satisfactory cut. Russell told me of the time when he would help Apache Joe braid leather strips for watch chains. Apparently Russell didn’t do as well at that and Apache Joe would take his braids that he had worked so diligently at and cut them into little pieces with his knife.
Russell told me there was a time when he once barbered in Wilsey. He soon gave that up because what was happening was all the guys would come sit in the shop and drink coffee and chat all day and wouldn’t get their haircut. But when he was at his shop in Council Grove they would be lined up for hours waiting to get their hair cut.
C.B. Smith told me of Erville Winfield, he was apparently not a licensed barber but I must include this in the annals of haircuttery. Erville Winfield worked for the railroad along with C.B. Smith. One day Smith mentioned he needed to get his hair cut. Winfield offered to do it for him. Smith didn’t know Winfield cut hair but gave him a shot anyway. So Smith went to Winfield’s house and got a pretty decent haircut and continued to go to him for the service. As it turned out, Winfield was also a drunk. So it was best to get your hair cut earlier in the day rather than later. One day as Winfield was cutting Smith’s hair he asked, “Did you have ketchup for lunch?” Smith said ‘no’ and Winfield replied, “Never mind then.” After having his hair cut one day Smith went home and found that only one half of his head had been cut and the other completely untouched. So he went back to Winfield to have it finished and found Winfield passed out drunk. It was at this point Smith decided to find a new barber. Oh yes, Erville also played the guitar and banjo.
As we get closer to modern times, we find that Council Grove went without a barber shop for nearly ten years. Smokey Steck was the last until John’s Barber Shop opened up at 12 N Neosho in 1992. The following year the shop appears as John’s Barber & Styling Shop. Then in 1994-5 it appears as Council Grove Barber Shop. Folks don’t seem to know too many details about the barbers that operated here, but from the accounts I have heard it does appear that there were two different barbers in this location. It also sounds like the individuals who ran the shops were both a bit different. One got in trouble with the law, had problems with his girlfriend. The other locked himself in his apartment and shot holes in the ceiling with a pistol. Of course, that’s what I have heard from the locals.
Once again Council Grove was without a barber for nearly ten more years until I came to open my shop in October of 2003. Remember I said I had a point I wanted to make concerning the age of the barbers? Most of the time when someone comes in my shop for the first time they say something like, “I expected someone older.” Or they mention how all the other barbers they know are old men. Well, they were young once too you know. I was 19 years old when I started my business here. And most all the other barbers listed in this history were in their early 20s when they started working.
The Council Grove Barber Shop has made its mark as not only an old fashioned shop but a center for music. For nearly as long as the shop has been in business it has hosted a music jam on the last Tuesday of every month. Musicians gather from miles around including White City, Alta Vista, Manhattan, Cottonwood Falls, Canton, Galva, McPherson, Topeka, Emporia, Herington, and even farther. There have been amazing musicians pass through the doors over the years. A young man named Daschle, who was just out of high school and walking from Washington State to Florida for Soles4Souls, came through Council Grove. This was back when I had a piano in the shop and Daschle played and sang a piece he wrote and it was very good. I have had flamenco, jazz, and rock style guitarists pick up the community guitar and make sounds come out of it that will never be reproduced. And of course Alex comes over from La Hacienda and he spends time teaching me to play requinto music on the mandolin. Which I admit is not my strongest point, but it is beautiful music none the less.
And who doesn’t know about the homemade ice cream and root beer that we have on the street in the summertime? People stop to listen to the music and have a refreshing dollop of blackberry or some other favorite ice cream. Maybe even a root beer float. And Elvie Aikens more often than not brings some delicious cookies or something to munch on. My favorite to date is what I call her birdseed cookies. They have sunflower and maybe flax seed in them. Like history, this too shall pass so make it a part of your memory while you have an opportunity to enjoy it.
To complete my list of barbers I give you the ones I know little about. They are Bill Stoddard who worked in the upstairs of the Leader building in the early 60s; Leo Davis 400 block E Main; and Frank Means a ‘colored’ barber in 1928 all of Council Grove. The Council Grove Guard of August 8th, 1913 advertises the “Union Barber Shop, The only shop in town; good barbers-courteous treatment; sanitary shop; E.A. Brunts proprietor. Bath in connection; opposite the Missouri Pacific Depot.” A business directory of 1889 shows Henry Davis barber in White City, and in 1901 H.V. Scholes also White City. Max Walton barber in Dwight; Bill Ohm Barber Shop in Latimer, period unknown to me. Palace Barber Shop J.T. Houseman proprietor, advertises cigars, tobacco and summer drinks; I think this was in Dunlap but am not sure. Also a barber named Bradshaw and Eckleberry; I believe Ernest Braun told me of these. A.J. Coffin was the proprietor of the Wilsey Barber Shop; I believe this was the early part of the 20th century. And finally, Art Johnson the barber of Burdick, who played the banjo, harmonica and bass drum for cake walks.
And now a parting anecdote about barbers from the Council Grove Republican March 15th, 1906. “John Drew, as he lunched, talked about barbers. ‘They are so uncomplimentary,’ he said. ‘They tell you such unflattering things. A friend of mine went to be shaved at the Dark Harbor hotel one day last summer and the barber said to him, “Your hair is getting thin sir.” “Yes,” my friend answered, “I have been treating it with anti-fat. I never did like stout hair.”
Addenda: *The Mary Ruth Beauty Shop opened February 9th 1954. Mary Ruth Carr Lakey Walker first worked in Freda Goodman’s shop and then later in Buck McAtee’s. When McAtee closed his business Mary purchase the beauty equipment from him and began her own business which was located at the rear of what is presently Santa Fe Liquor in Council Grove. She continued to work at her own shop until December of 1969 when she slipped on the ice and broke her ankle. She continued to help in Goodman’s shop until 1983.