June 14th of 2003 I completed my 1500 hour course at the Old Town Barber and Beauty College in Wichita, Kansas. After having passed the State Board examination I set out to seek employment around my home near Lyndon in Osage County. After much searching and disappointment I recalled one of the instructors at barber school mention that Council Grove had no barber shop. At the drop of a hat, with no further thought, I jumped in the car on a hot summer afternoon and drove to Council Grove to investigate. Arriving in the Grove shortly before the town closed up, I pulled up in front of Bluestem Brokerage and there met Bill Wilkerson who would afterward prove a faithful and entertaining customer.
Well, to skip ahead, I purchased the old Council Grove Telephone office at 210 W Main, which also had living accommodations above, making it a very convenient opportunity. The deal was closed on September 22nd of 2003 and by the last week of October the Council Grove Barber Shop was open for business. It hasn’t changed all that much since then, but the first thing patrons saw when they entered was a five mirrored oak back bar with marble top dating to the 1880s. There were two antique chairs, one an Archer from 1894 and a Climax from 1887. The Climax chair was used for a number of years to cut hair in. Since it had no hydraulics a box was used to stand on while cutting hair much as was the custom 150 years before.
On the wall was an oak clock that originally hung in the Frisco Depot in Augusta Kansas when it was first built in 1880. When the depot was torn down my great uncle Melvin ‘Hap’ Bailey, rescued the clock from the trash heap and it has run faithfully ever since. Many have often pointed out to me that the second hand on my clock is broken. Much to their surprise I tell them it doesn’t have a second hand. The red hand with a crescent moon points to the day of the month.
Eventually newer chairs were purchased for the shop. Two matching Emil Paidar chairs dating to about 1923. I got a good deal on these chairs and drove to Oklahoma to get them. Some other additions since opening were a National cash register from the turn of the century, glass display cases for the tonic and talcum powder, and an ongoing collection of shaving mugs and other paraphernalia. The Council Grove Barber Shop has always made an effort to fit the historic atmosphere of the town and to give patrons the feeling that they are walking into a turn of the century barber shop.
It was about a month after opening that the barber shop started hosting a weekly jam session for musicians. Every Tuesday at 7 people from all over would gather in or in front of the shop depending on the weather. This went on for maybe a year when the jams were held on the last Tuesday of each month only. Sometimes the last musicians didn’t leave until 2 in the morning. That made it very difficult to get up and go to work the next day. The final jam was held this past Tuesday with food and drink to mark the 10th anniversary of the barber shop. I will not be hosting any more jams at the shop.
I have many special memories in the Council Grove Barber Shop. One is of my regular customer from England; at least he was more regular than some in this town. About once a year John and his mother would fly to the states to visit a friend in Emporia and they always made an effort to come see me. My wife and I also received a card from them when we got married. It’s the only wedding card we have that came from England.
Ten years have passed and young boys that I remember sitting on the booster seat are now about to graduate high school. I’ve witnessed some, whose hair has turned grey over the years and others whose hair has turned loose. But I have noticed some grey in my hair as well. I’ve also had many patrons go to their long home in this time. And so, thinking back on the past decade I have mixed emotions; joy, sorrow, excitement, disappointment, frustration, anticipation, a sense of achievement but at the same time a feeling of inadequacy. I think, however, that the good has outweighed the bad.
I have been very fortunate to make the friendships I have, which in turn have lead me to discover my family’s deep roots in this area. So much of my family history here was unknown to me until I started meeting folks who turned out to be relation. They were generous enough to share what they knew. Now, instead of feeling like I have made Morris County my home, I feel that I only just returned home.
Addendum: The Council Grove Barber Shop closed its doors on July 17th, 2015, just three months short of 12 years in business. Although my customers have been very good to me over the years and very supportive, the increasing cost of keeping a business operating, along with the poor economy and continual decline of the town, have left me no choice but to throw in the towel. I will very much miss visiting with customers and hearing their stories.