The Hays House

Hays House 1868

This 1868 photograph captures the frame warehouse built by S. M. Hays & Company in the summer of 1859. Courtesy Morris County Historical Society.

Since the old Hays House has had a facelift, I thought it might be appropriate to give a briefly abridged history of the property.  To begin with, in 1847 Boone & Hamilton of Westport had a crude log structure built on the west bank of the Neosho River at the Santa Fe Trail crossing.  According to local historian Ken McClintock that structure stood immediately east of the present Hays House.  Seth M. Hays was employed by Boone & Hamilton to do business with freighters there.

In February of 1858, Hezekiah Brake came through Council Grove on his way to New Mexico.  Brake writes, “An old negress who worked for Mr. Hayes (sic) roasted coffee, made cakes, and gave us a keg of pickles and sauerkraut as relishes.”  Sarah Taylor, commonly called Aunt Sally, was Hays’ slave that accompanied him to Council Grove.  Sally continued with him until the end of her life and is buried in Hays’ lot in Greenwood Cemetery.

By 1852 Hays had bought out Boone & Hamilton, and around 1856 took on a partnership with Goodson M. Simcock.  It was Hays and Simcock who, under the title of S. M. Hays & Company, built a new frame warehouse to accommodate the growing trade on the Trail.  According to newspaper accounts of the day it appears this structure was completed in early summer of 1859.  At that time it had a gable roof; it wasn’t until about 1888 that the roof was raised in the fashion we see today to make a full two stories.

July 21st of 1859, Hays held a little party to celebrate the opening of the new store.  Hall’s Quadrille Band of Emporia came to provide music for the dancers, and a generous supper was provided for the attendees.  The Lawrence Republican of September 1859 also mentions the new warehouse opened by Hays & Co., and how it was suitable for a town such as Leavenworth or Lawrence.

Upon moving to Colorado in 1861 Hays sold his interest to Simcock, which took effect January 1st 1862, but retained ownership of the building.  Upon Hays’ return in 1866 Simcock relocated to what is currently the Trowbridge building which the two had built as a harness shop in 1860.  The final years of Hays involvement in the building is a bit sketchy, but it is safe to say he ultimately ended his interest in it February 5th 1873 when he passed from this life.  It wasn’t until 1878 that the administrator of Hays’ estate sold the property.

Prior to 1885, which is the earliest Sanborn Insurance Map in the Morris County Historical Society’s archives, the function of the Hays House is uncertain.  Using these maps we can draw a pretty good picture of the evolution of the building over the years.  We know that in February of 1885 it was divided into three separate businesses.  There was a store on the west end, restaurant in the middle and dwelling on the east side.  At that time (1882-1888) it was operated as Farmer’s Hotel by J. F. Atchison.  By July of 1887 the partitions are not noted and the whole building was designated as Farmers Hotel, except for a little insurance office in the southwest corner of the building.

Then from about 1890 to 1902 it was called Grove Hotel.  Another partition noted in the Sanborn Maps was made on the west side behind where the insurance office was located and extended to the rear of the building.  By this time the vacant lot west of the building had been developed and was listed as a restaurant.  It’s not clear if this restaurant was part of the structure or a separate entity, but it stood where the western most end of the Hays House is presently.  The building that once occupied that space was a barber shop in the 1870s but at the time of the September 19th 1886 fire was vacant.  It was ‘torn down’ with the intent to prevent the Hays House from catching fire.

Main St. Hotel circa 1908

Main Street Hotel circa 1902-1911.

In 1902 the front porch was built on by W. L. Stickel, who sold the building the following year. The building changed owners several times at this period, but by December of 1908 the name had been changed to Main Street Hotel and a restaurant and confectionary were listed as well as hotel rooms. From around 1914 to 1930 the building was called the Ar-Way Hotel which boasted a café and confectionery.

Hays House 1934

Although this photo is dated 1934, the cars are obviously from the early 40s. Notice the striped porch post advertising a barber shop which occupied the eastern front portion of the building. It is believed that a barber shop occupied this space as late as 1958.  Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.

Over the following decades the building housed a number of other businesses as well, such as a barbershop, appliance, restaurant, hardware and dry goods store to name a few.  It is also known that rooms were let in the upstairs through WWII, as late as 1947.  In 1954 V. A. Ward was proprietor of the Hays Tavern and it was then advertised as ‘the Oldest Place to eat between Council Grove and Santa Fe, N.M.’.

In 1974-75 Charlie and Helen Judd took over and renovated the Hays House Restaurant and Tavern and made it the destination eating establishment we all know and love today.  The recent renovation of the Hays House façade is intended to emulate the appearance of the building as it stood shortly after the turn of the 20th century.  And so it stands offering good food within, and historic charm without.

Uncle Dick

In the summer of 1836, 18 year old Richens Lacy Wootton arrived in Independence, Missouri. He had spent a couple years in Mississippi on his uncle’s cotton plantation and decided to head to the West to see new sights and meet with what adventures he may.

It was at Independence that he found a wagon train consisting of seven wagons belonging to Bent and St. Vrain loaded and ready to head out for Ft. Bent. At that time, each wagon required 10 to 12 mules to pull the load. Wootton had no difficulty in getting on as a wagon man for his first trip out west. This train was to catch up with a larger train of 57 wagons and about 150 men that had started a couple days earlier. This would be Wootton’s first trip to the Council Grove, and certainly not his last.

The reader may not recognize the name of Richens Wootton, but it’s likely the nick name of ‘Uncle Dick’ Wootton would ring a bell. It appears that he was christened Uncle Dick upon his first freighting trip to Ft. Bent, and the moniker stuck ever after.

Uncle Dick spent the rest of his life, over 50 years, in the West and is well known as a mountain man, trapper, freighter, Indian trader or fighter (as the occasion called for), farmer, rancher, toll road builder/operator, shop keeper and whatever else he needed to be. His accuracy with a gun, particularly the old flintlocks, is nigh fantastic. Uncle Dick has admitted to missing shots, but those were seldom. Once he was chased by two Indians on foot when all he had was a flintlock rifle to defend himself. He stopped, took aim and dropped the leading Indian at 100 yards, then continued to load his gun for the second Indian while running.

Uncle Dick was known by practically everyone west of the Mississippi River and he knew anyone who was worth knowing. Dick hobnobbed with such notables as Kit Carson, August Claymore, Chief Conniach, James Denver, Chief Ouray, Chief Uncotash, Col. Ceran St. Vrain, Lucien Maxwell, brothers Charles and William Bent, John Fremont and even Seth Hays.

In a book about Uncle Dick Wootton written by Howard Conard in 1890, Wootton shares a short story about Seth Hays that can only tickle our fancy. It was the 1st of March 1856 that Uncle Dick started out on his first freighting trip from Fort Union to Kansas City. I’ll give you Wootton’s account in its entirety;

“When we reached Council Grove, we found the Kaw Indians about to go on the war-path. Seth Hayes (sic), who was there as a government sutler, had gotten into some trouble with one of the Indians, and killed him. The Indians swore vengeance, and things looked very warlike. I stopped there two days, waiting for matters to quiet down, and helped Hayes patch up a truce. I was better acquainted with the Indians than he was, and knew better how to settle a quarrel of that kind. He asked me what should be done, and I told him that the way to make peace with the Indians, was to pay them for the one that had been killed. I knew that this was what they expected, and that they would not be satisfied until the affair was fixed up that way. He requested me to go ahead with the negotiations, and I invited the chief to hold a conference with me. We sat down together, and after we had had a long talk, it was agreed that if the sutler would give the Indians a pony and a hundred dollars worth of goods out of his store, they would be entirely satisfied, and peace would be established. My friend the sutler was satisfied with this arrangement, the Indians got the pony and their goods, and I left them smoking the pipe of peace with Hayes, when I went on my way, congratulating myself on my success as a peace commissioner.”

Upon first reading this story I thought it may be another account of the incident Hays had with the Kaw in June of 1859; resulting in two Kaw being hanged. However, if Uncle Dick is not mistaken about the date (1856), the incident he relates above is most certainly a different episode. Given this morsel of information, it appears Seth Hays may have had more problems with the Kaw than our local history has been willing to admit to us.

Unidentified Person

I inherited this photograph from a family member awhile back, and they have no idea who this lady is.  It was in the Scott family items so I presume it may be a member of the Scott family or a family friend.  The photograph was taken in Council Grove by George McMillan photographer.  I would estimate it to have been taken in the 1870s maybe early 80s.  The prop next to the woman is also seen in another photograph I have of Benjamin and Rachel Scott.  If anyone can identify this individual please contact me.

Far West

It has been a couple of years since we first discussed the subject of Far West and Latimer.  Having done my research, I am ready to give you the final and authoritative explanation on the two, so pay attention.

There have been a number of sources that have said the town site of Far West was northwest of Latimer; directly south of Latimer on the opposite side of the tracks; or as the writer of Clarks Creek Township assumed that Far West and Latimer were one and the same, platted on the same ground. My initial theory was that Far West was southwest of Latimer.  However, all of these assumptions are incorrect.  Careful examination of the plats and their descriptions will plainly show where the two town sites are/were located.

Both towns were platted in Section 23 of Township 15 Range 5 East, which accounts for much of the confusion on the subject.  It is evident from the start that the two towns are not one and the same as they were not platted on the same individual’s land.

Monroe D. Herington owned the northwest quarter of section 23.  And it was Herington who drew up a plat of Latimer on March 25th 1887.  That plat was then filed for record April 2nd the same.  Herington was largely responsible for the Chicago, Kansas & Nebraska railroad coming through the northern part of Morris County.  He owned land in both Dickenson and Morris counties and by making an offer to the railroad of some of his land, he was able to get them to lay track to his newly founded town of Herington.  Latimer was one of the incentives for the railroad as Herington provided it as a watering station.  And, as many accounts say, Latimer received its name from a railroad official who chose the location.

Apparently Herington was not the only one who had hopes of benefiting from the railroad and so David and Mary Korn, who owned the northeast quarter of section 23 just east of Herington’s, platted their own town.  However, they were just a few steps behind Herington.  They drew up their plat of Far West on July 11th 1887 and it was filed for record August 3rd the same.  According to the two plats there was just 350 feet between the two town sites.

Far West was the name of a post office located in Section 15, approximately a half mile northwest of Latimer.  It was established April 26th, 1864 and located in the home of William M. Walter who was the postmaster.  On March 23rd, 1869, the post office was moved to Aroma, Dickenson County where it was operated by Alexis Blanchett out of a corner cupboard in her 16 by 20 foot log cabin.  On October 3rd, 1872 the post office was reopened at Far West and remained in operation there until it moved to the town of Latimer on September 20, 1887.  For unknown reasons the post office closed June 20th 1888 then reopened February 5th 1889, and closed again April 15th 1895 reopening November 2nd 1895.  It closed permanently on January 6th 1961.

In the Clarks Creek Township history there is mention of a plat of Far West in which Railroad Street is labeled.  Also, the writer of that history (under the assumption that the two towns were one and the same) stated that a school (presumably Dist. 36) was marked on the Far West plat and stood in the same location as Dist. 36 in Latimer.  If such a plat of Far West ever existed, it is no more.  There is only one plat of Far West at the Register of Deeds office, and it has no streets or buildings labeled.  It is interesting to note that the alleys in Far West are shown to run north to south while the alleys in Latimer run east to west.

I have not come across any evidence as of yet that the town of Far West was ever developed.  The fact that a number of old timers in that area believed Latimer was first named Far West, leads me to believe that Far West never got further than being surveyed.  And so the absence of any remains of Far West led the locals to conclude that Far West and Latimer were synonymous.   So, to recap; Far West and Latimer are not one and the same.  The post office Far West preceded both the town sites of Far West and Latimer.  Latimer was platted before the town site of Far West, and Far West was later platted 350 feet east of Latimer.

James Joseph McCann

Eleanor and James Joseph McCann.

James Joseph McCann was born in Dublin, Ireland June 24th 1826.  He was predestined to be closely associated with calamity.  Three weeks before he was born, his father fell into an open well and drowned while riding a horse through the country side.  His mother died about a week after he was born, leaving James and his older brothers John and Owen orphans in the world.  They were reared by their aunt Sarah, and according to the family history, John and Owen went and joined the British Army.  At the age of 13 James ran away to follow after his brothers and at some later time all three met in Calcutta, India while serving in the Army.

Also according to family history, on the 25th of October 1854 during the Battle of Balaclava these three brothers stood side by side.  With Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them they bore their arms and fought like men.  While the Light Brigade made their famous bloody charge into the maws of death, James saw his two brothers cut down at his side by saber, while he himself was seriously wounded.  But with the tender care of a young woman named Florence Nightingale, James was nursed back to health.

After James had served seven years in India, he was called back to England where Queen Victoria decorated him with three medals for his service to the crown.  Upon his return to England he met young Eleanor (Ellen) Collin.  After a ridiculously long courtship of three weeks the two were wed in the Church of England August 29th 1857.  Nine months later their first child Katherine was born in London.  Then later in the year of 1858 James was placed in the Guard of Honor to Prince Albert and sent to Quebec, Canada.

The one month voyage across the Atlantic discouraged Ellen from ever wanting to return to England, and James liked Canada well enough they were both persuaded to stay.  They had four more children born to them while at Quebec; namely Mary, Elizabeth, James Jr. and Eleanor.

Sometime around 1868 the McCanns left Canada and moved to Bloomington, Illinois.  There were more children born into the family; Anna and Theresa (Tressa) whose twin died in infancy.  There was also another set of twins which James named after his fallen brothers, Jonny and Patrick Owen. The two boys seemed quite healthy, but at nine months old both were teething and feverish.  It was suggested to the McCanns to take the boys to a doctor to have their gums lanced.  They did so, and both babies slept on the way home.  However, one little boy aroused from his sleep, smiled and then fell into an eternal slumber.  The other baby followed within a week.

The family left Illinois and settled in Missouri where the oldest daughter Katherine met and married Hudson Benson.  They had a little boy named Willie.  When Willie was about a year and a half old the family was once again preparing to migrate, this time to Kansas.  While at a friend’s house for a farewell dinner, Willie was missed at the table.  A black worker of the friend’s discovered that Willie had fallen in an open well, just as his great-grandfather, excepting the horse.

The McCanns moved to Concordia, Kansas where their last child was born in 1878.  From there they ended up moving to Denver, Colorado where James had a job with the railroad.  After living in Denver for a few years the family moved back to Kansas and bought a farm four miles southwest of White City.  It was always said that the McCanns moved there so that their daughters could marry Clarks Creek men, which they did.  But what is James Joseph McCann’s significance to Morris County you ask.  Well, James and Eleanor McCann were the first to live in the town of Latimer.  They did not remain at Latimer for long.  By 1892 all but two of the girls were married off and so the McCanns decided to sell the farm and move to Herington.

James McCann passed away December 14th 1909 at 83 years old.  His wife of 52 years followed him December 9th 1929 being 90 years old.  Although Eleanor was 13 years her husband’s junior, she outlived him by seven years.  Both died at the home of their daughter Anna four miles southwest of White City, where it appears they were being cared for during their advanced years.  The McCanns were both laid to rest at Sunset Hill Cemetery in Herington.

Milton a.k.a Helmick

Town plat for Milton as it appears in the 1886 Kansas Atlas. (Courtesy Morris County Historical Society.)

Quite some time back we learned a little bit about Helmick.  One thing we did not learn at that time was the beginning of Helmick and why it was first named Milton.  I have learned a lot more since working on the book Morris County, which by the way is scheduled for publication the last week of January 2014.  As I had mentioned in the previous article on Helmick, Janet Adam was working on a paper about it for Kansas State University.  Janet has since completed her paper and it is available in hard copy at the Morris County Historical Society or can be read online by searching Wilsey vs. Helmick A Twin Town Rivalry.

In 1878 circuit riding preacher John W. Helmick of Illinois purchased 320 acres from the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad about six miles west and a little south of Council Grove. He continued to live in the Land of Lincoln until 1886 when it appears he moved to Morris County and built a house on his 320 acres.  That year, 1886, he platted a town site and named it after his son Milton P. Helmick; hence the origin of the town Milton that preceded Helmick.  Although I do not know for certain, I presume that the Topeka, Salina and Western railroad was Helmick’s incentive for platting a town site at that time.

The reverse of this photo reads, “House built by Mr. Helmick. Mr. and Mrs. Quince Dains lived in the house from 1913 until 1964.” (Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.)

From the Council Grove Republican Friday October 30th 1903 we read, “Dedication at Helmick-The new Methodist church at Helmick will be dedicated next Sunday forenoon, November 1st, with services beginning at 10:30, President Murlin, of the Baker University, will preach the sermon.  Evening service at 7:30. Everybody invited.”  Information from Janet Adam’s paper leads me to believe there was another church prior to the one mentioned in the above article.   Although there is no documentation at present, oral traditions seem to support that Reverend Helmick had built a Methodist church and preached there until he moved to Baldwin City around 1895.  After that, neighboring pastors tended to services at Helmick.  The Methodist church at Helmick was closed in 1925 and the building moved to Wilsey where it was added to the parsonage of the Wilsey Methodist Episcopal Church.

Milton P. continued at Helmick for awhile after the turn of the century and was active in business and real estate in the town.  Another figure that shaped the fortunes of Helmick was James H. Smart.  He was born in Wisconsin but we find him living in Council Grove on the 1910 census.  The 1901 plat shows Smart owning 90 acres south of Helmick and by 1923 his property had grown to 220 acres.  Smart started out trading mules and horses and then opened a quarry on his land later installing a rock crusher.  Old-timers from the area tell of Black and Hispanic gangs that worked at the rock quarry or on the railroad.

Some may recall Helmick lake.  James Smart is responsible for the construction of a dam which created this lake.  According to Adam it was built for the refreshment and recreation of Smart’s employees at the quarry.  However, others seem to think that it had a practical purpose as well.  If one walks the prairie around Helmick they might just stumble upon some of the old cables which I was told cut the stone at the quarry.  These cables purportedly ran out to the lake where they were cooled in the water.  Since I don’t know much of the stone cutting business at the turn of the century I cannot verify nor discredit this claim.

One last puzzling bit about Helmick is the post office.  The plat map shows that Stener post office was established there.  I have found no other record of this post and the State certainly doesn’t recognize it existed.  It is very possible the State does not have complete records, for there is one other post office mentioned in Morris County and it is also absent from State records.  I came across Beond Bend post office in a 1954 Council Grove Republican.  It reads, “A collector’s item, which is almost a philatelist’s dream, appears among heirlooms on display in Main street windows this week.  It is a postal cancelation by the now abolished “Beond Bend” post office in Morris county.  The envelope bears a 2-cent brown stamp and the cancellation date of Jan. 4, 1888.  It is the property of O. L. Burnett.”  We know nothing else of Beond Bend, and since it was only typed once in the article we are not sure if it was actually spelled ‘Beond’ or if the y was simply left out.  If any of my readers have any clue as to where the Beond Bend post office may have been I would love to know!  What we do know is the post office named Helmick was opened May 14th of 1887 and closed November 30th 1907.

And there you have a few more pieces of the great puzzle known as Helmick.