Albert White Simcock

Albert W Simcock 1884

Albert White Simcock in 1884 Courtesy Morris County Historical Society.

Have you ever driven around Council Grove and noticed Simcock Street? Or passed the large two-story limestone Simcock House just north of the Cottage House? Ever wonder who the Simcocks were or what they did? I’m going to tell you about one of them in particular; an early Flint Hills musician who not only helped cultivate the performing arts in Morris County, but left us a mystery as well.

Albert White Simcock was born at Council Grove September 23rd 1857, in a log cabin built by brothers Fredrick and Cyprian Choteau at 131 West Main.[1] Albert’s father, Goodson McDaniel Simcock, a Virginian by birth, was one of the original stockholders of the Council Grove Town Company which organized in the spring of 1857. The aforementioned large stone house was built by him in 1860, and if the size and quality of that structure speaks of Simcock’s ability as a businessman, then he must’ve done alright. Goodson was also the “Co.” in Seth Hays’ S. M. Hays & Co., but in 1861 he purchased Hays’ interest and went into business on his own, while Hays moved to Colorado to try his hand as a stockman.[2]

We could say more of G. M. Simcock, but Albert is the one of interest for now. Albert appears to have been a pretty sharp and talented boy. In Lalla Brigham’s The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail published 1921, she more than once mentions Albert, at the age of 16, composing Grasshopper Waltz  after said Orthoptera devastation of 1873. A tune for which he was famous, locally at least. In addition to Albert’s early musical ability, he was also quite business minded. In 1877 he became postmaster at Council Grove, sort of. He was officially appointed in September 1879, but had pretty much run the office under Seth Soule who acted as regent since Albert was not of legal age.[3]

In addition to serving as postmaster, Albert had worked as clerk in an attorney’s office and a dry goods store. He also had a stationary shop for a short time[4], and served as register of deeds for Morris County. One wonders how he found time for music and performance with so many responsibilities, but Lalla Brigham ensures us that “During his fifty years residence in Council Grove he was the leader in all musical affairs.” [5]

Beginning in 1877 a number of annual conventions were held at Council Grove directed by Professor Henry S. Perkins of Chicago. Perkins, an 1861 graduate of Boston Music School, traveled the nation from California to Maine conducting music festivals and conventions. He served as principal of Kansas Normal Music School five consecutive summers. An attendance of about 75 people was reported at an early Council Grove convention, some individuals travelling over 100 miles to attend!

In a letter to the editor of an 1878 Folio, a music periodical published in Boston, a writer from Council Grove identifying themselves only as ‘C Natural’ wrote, “we are indebted to Mr. A. W. Simcock of this place for this convention…” They went on to say that Albert had “attended Prof. Perkins’ Kansas Normal Academy of Music, &c. He is a pianist of considerable ability and evident culture.” [6]

Oh! Didn’t I mention Albert played piano? Well, neither did Lalla Brigham. It wasn’t until I came across the following ad, in an 1880 Folio, that I finally knew what instrument he played. “Mr. H. S. Perkins will conduct the fourth annual Convention at Council Grove, Kas., May 11th-14th, assisted by Prof. Otto Schmidt, the brilliant violinist and pianist; Albert W. Simcock, pianist, and other talent…” [7]

The locals, no doubt stimulated by these conventions, exercised their recent study. In the winter of 1881 Albert directed a production of the somewhat recent and internationally popular opera Fatinitza. His future wife Mary (or Sarah) was the accompanist. A performance was held in the Morris County courthouse, and another in Emporia which was said to have been well received.[8]

May 21st 1887 the Council Grove Opera House Company was organized. President-Frank Lower. Treasurer- Geo. E. Irwin. Secretary and Manager-Angus McDonald. Directors-Frank Lower, E.E. Gibbs, Geo. E. Irvin, Chas. Sage, A. McDonald, A.W. Simcock, C.W. Talmadge, Ed. Dill, E. Sharp, W.F. Waller. The company has rented H.W. Gildemeister’s hall.” [9] Henry Gildemeister’s two story building was being constructed at that time at 102 & 104 West Main. It stood east of the Masonic building where the former Duckwalls, now Rerun Consignments, stands. The building would be christened Etta Opera House, which opened its doors in December 1887.[10]

Council Grove post card 1

This circa 1909 postcard shows the view west from the Main Street bridge. Seen at right is Henry Gildemeister’s Etta Opera House, named after his daughter. The building was razed in 1959.  Author’s collection

As if Albert lacked activity, in July of 1887 he entered into partnership with Ed Gibbs and Angus McDonald who owned a book, stationary and music store.[11] Later, in 1898, another music club, The Philharmonic, was organized. Albert directed four other operas performed by that company.[12]

In 1907 Albert moved his family to Kansas City[13], where it appears he continued a prominent businessman until his death, April 8th1928. He returned to Council Grove late June early July of 1921 for the Homecoming celebration which was a reunion of old settlers and a centennial observance of William Becknell’s passing through on his way to New Mexico. Albert was instrumental in procuring some 150 slides of old settlers and historic places projected for a public viewing. He led the crowd in singing old time songs,[14] and one more time played his Grasshopper Waltz.

Now the great mystery Albert has left us is, no one has ever found music for his Grasshopper Waltz. It has tantalized me for years. Having inquired at any archive that could possibly have such a piece in their collection, it looks doubtful that it was ever published. The Library of Congress has no copyright registration for Simcock. There is a Grasshopper Waltz in their collection, but not Albert’s. You’ve heard of a ‘haunting melody’? Well, this lost melody continues to haunt me.

[1] Historian Kenneth McClintock

[2] History of Morris County by John Maloy pg. 41

[3] History of Morris County by John Maloy pg. 74

[4] History of Kansas A. T. Andreas 1883

[5] The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Re Trail by Lalla Maloy Brigham pg. 98

[6] FOLIO Vol. XVII July 1878 No. 7

[7] FOLIO Vol. 18, 1880

[8] The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail by Lalla Maloy Brigham pg.62

[9] Council Grove Republican Friday May 27th 1887

[10] Information from historian Kenneth McClintock

[11] Council Grove Republican, 01 July 1887

[12] The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail by Lalla Maloy Brigham pg.85

[13] Historian Kenneth McClintock

[14] Kansas City Kansan 07 July, 1921