Wilsey

John Derrick Wilsey, town founder. (Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.)

I must apologize for not getting articles in as regular lately.  It seems that age old conundrum of making a living along with other distractions have prevented me from doing as much research as I would like.  I think some of you will be pleased to know that one of the things that have been occupying my time is putting all of my past articles on a blog.  If you go to fromthebarberschair.wordpress.com you will be able to look up past articles and (where I am able to procure some) I have added photos!  Photos always help.  Now for some more Morris County history.

The Hill Spring post office was established August 21st 1868, Lorenzo M. Hill serving as first post master.  The office was moved to Mildred on December 12th 1878.  The name was changed to Wilsey on May 23rd 1884 and remained in operation until September 27th 1997.  James S. Watkins served as first appointee of both Mildred and Wilsey.

Something interesting concerning the name Mildred is that the name came from the first school which was located at the northwest corner of 1800 Rd. and V Ave.  We don’t know for certain when the structure was built but we do know it was in existence and in use by 1873.  Sometime in the 1880s the old schoolhouse was moved downtown where it served for a number of years as a doctor’s office.  Then after 1950 it was move to the corner of Vorse and Gilmore streets where it served for someone’s home.  Finally it was moved to the lot west of the Christian Church in 1961 where it remains today as a residence.

Mildred school house. (Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.)

In 1925 A.J. Coffin wrote a brief history of Wilsey for the Centennial.  I hesitate to use him as a reliable source because he states that G.W. Coffin was the first postmaster of Wilsey.  However, as you can see from above, State records do not agree with this claim.  Coffin was the second postmaster of Wilsey, he was appointed less than two months after James Watkins.  J. D. Wilsey owned the land on which the first buildings in Wilsey were erected in 1884.  J.D. was originally from Bloomville, Ohio.  According to A. J. Coffin’s history the first store was built by C. R. Francis.  A Quaker by the name of A.W. Hampton built the second and the third was built by G.W. Coffin, of Coffin Insurance.

Businesses in 1925 were A.J. Coffin, barber; Otis & Mowery Lumber Co.; Wilsey Café; Campbell Theatre &Café; Brown’s Variety Store; Baum & Son Garage; A.R. Sisson Garage; Wilsey Oil Co.; R.W. Powers Drugs; F.S. Riegel; Hudson Blacksmith Shop and Bert Fay Hardware.  H. Scott Wilson was president of the Wilsey State Bank and Alex Randle the vice-president.

Floyd Whiteman, currently of Mission Kansas, remembers working at Riegel’s store from 1946 to 1956.  Whiteman recalls that Bert Fay had an envelope prominently displayed near the cash register in his store.  It was postmarked New York, New York and simply addressed ‘B Fay Wilsey.’  Bert would always comment that there must be only one Wilsey in the United States for that letter to have arrived in his mail, and it appears to be so.

The Kansas Cyclopedia of 1912 says Wilsey “has a bank, a weekly newspaper (the Warbler), a flour mill, a grain elevator, a hotel, telegraph and express offices, and a money order postoffice with two rural routes. The population in 1910 was 350. It is the shipping and receiving point for a large agricultural area, and large quantities of grain, live stock and produce are handled every year.”  The population of Wilsey reached its peak in 1907 with 374 inhabitants.  The population in 2011 was 153.

Although Wilsey is one of the younger towns in the county, its history precedes its founding and incorporation.  There were a number of settlers in the area in the 1860s including Jacob Welcher, the ex-slave and Civil War veteran who we have learned about elsewhere.  The Santa Fe Trail also passes just south of the town, in fact a powder flask and a couple of other artifacts found near Wilsey are on display at the Kaw Mission.

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