Dodge City Then and Now: Part III

As we prepare for our return to the desert, I am rushing to make sure I gather all the local information I need while I can still ask for it in person. There are photos I swear I took that are MIA, probably forever. Some of them belong in this post.

At the end of Part II, I promised the next one would be a heartbreaker. I still don’t 100% understand all the myriad ways things went sideways but I loved this house and was so psyched about spending my teen years in the same bedroom my grandmother once occupied.

Merritt Beeson House (The Big House)

My great-grandfather, Merritt Beeson, began construction of his home south of Dodge City in 1910 and it was quite an ambitious project. The blocks used to build the house came from a sand pit on the Beeson Farm. To say Merritt overengineered the house would be an understatement. It was a big beast and it was built to last.

Each of the three bedrooms had a lavatory and a walk-in closet. Those were features that mattered to me as a teenager and I’m still impressed by Merritt’s foresight. I’m also still impressed by the walk-in cedar closet inside the door going up to the attic.

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, September 30, 1910

The house was finished in 1911 and Merritt lived there with his daughter, Betty, until he married my great-grandmother, Beth, in 1913. They hosted a state gun club shooting tournament at the house in 1914 and expected 100 shooters and their families to visit. Four sets of automatic traps were set up on the east side of the house for maximum visibility from the upstairs windows and rear balcony.

In 1917, Merritt volunteered to host area WWI troops needing a place to camp temporarily while they waited for supplies and vaccinations before proceeding to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Betty would have been 10 years old at that time and I can only imagine how exciting she would have found having actual soldiers staying with them. They called the site Camp Beeson.

Dodge City Daily Globe, August 24, 1917

My grandmother, Irene, was born in 1921 and she was a big fan of the house as a child. There was a playroom right next door to her bedroom and she had all sorts of critters to keep her company.

Irene Beeson in the backyard, facing west

Merritt and Beth were very active in the community and received visitors constantly, even before turning the house into an official museum.

Irene with Kathleen Gleason (center) and Ida Beeson (right) and the dining room Dutch window in the background

As the Beeson Museum collection grew, Irene’s enthusiasm waned. She described to me the tedium of cleaning the exhibits, especially when the Dust Bowl was in full force.

The Beeson Museum collection inevitably outgrew the house so it moved to another location on South Second Avenue in 1950 along with Merritt, Beth, and Irene. Betty moved into The Big House with her husband, Red Miller, and their children, Mike and VeeAnn.

Merritt and VeeAnn next to the small shed, Summer of 1950

Betty went to work right away transforming the former museum back into a proper family home.

After Betty’s death in 1956, Red moved the kids to a house near the sand pit and The Big House went to the Good Samaritan Society to be used as a nursing home. A ramp was added to the back porch. A commercial kitchen was added in the basement as well as a dumb waiter. Solid oak doors at the nurses’ stations were cut in half. A hallway was cut between the two south bedrooms and the French doors in each bedroom were eliminated in favor of a single door in the center leading to what was originally an open balcony. It wasn’t long before they ran out of room and attached a long, skinny brick wing to the west side of the house. The front porch was bricked in using the same material as the new addition.

As laws and building codes evolved, the house became severely outdated and was only used for storage. Additional buildings were added to the west end of the site and the house deteriorated. Beginning in 1980, I walked past The Big House twice a day on my way to and from school for five years. I spent a ton of time with Irene during those years and I asked a million questions about that house. She shared tons of photos (many included here) and told me so many wonderful stories about living there. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to live there.

The bricked-in front porch assaulted the senses.

The Big House served as a haunted house for several Halloweens and what a trip THAT was. I really hate haunted houses but it was hard to pass up an opportunity to go inside Merritt’s home and just be near recent family history.

My parents apparently shared my fascination because we actually began trying to save it in the late 1980s. The Dodge City Good Samaritan Center agreed to portion off the area of the house and its crazy appendage while we figured out what the hell to do next. Omg the pigeons! And the bedpans! And wheelchairs! And sugar dispensers! We spent so much time dragging discarded equipment out of the house and the addition. We had yard sales. We had a huge dumpster. It was so much freaking work.

The house had a fragillion windows and the majority had been boarded up and left to rot.

The boiler in the basement was an issue. Trying to figure out how to demo that addition without damaging the house was an issue. Asbestos was an issue. That freaking roof! A guy had died working on the original tile roof not long after it was built. It was super high and super steep and he slid right the hell off the damn thing.

But the walk-in cedar closet still smelled like cedar and the house was still super solid. The layout was incredibly functional. It had the right amount of space and the right amount of separation. It was cold inside even when it was hot outside. The Big House may have been a hot mess but it was still wonderful and we loved it.

Unfortunately, it had been allowed to sit for too long. Vandalism and weather created problems that were just too expensive to fix. In today’s climate, it might be possible to obtain grant funding for such a historic property but it was a different time and Dodge City is a small town for such an expensive project.

By 1992, the site was subdivided to include an L-shaped City Park named the Beeson Arboretum that ran along the east and south sides of the property. The money in the escrow account from the yard sales and such went toward developing the park. And The Big House just sat there taking more and more abuse.

Ultimately, demolition was the only solution but the old girl didn’t go down without a fight. My dad sat and watched this horrible end to such a wonderful and well-loved home. He said the crew had trouble with all that damn rebar mentioned in the 1910 newspaper article and I was proud that Merritt didn’t make it easy for them a century later.

Demolition photos courtesy of Norman Holladay

The only visible reminders of Merritt’s home are the garage and some of his beloved evergreen trees.

If you ever find yourself driving down Beeson Road with a few moments to spare, stop at the Beeson Arboretum (southwest corner of Beeson and Sunnyside) and enjoy the view.

While you’re here, check out Part I and Part II of my book research detour. I’ll get back to Otero’s Odyssey (not the title) post haste.

Dodge City Then and Now: Part II

My hometown leaned ALL the way in to Urban Renewal and basically ruined the most historic parts of the town. Trends are slow to arrive in Dodge City and by the time our “leaders” started demolishing history, most of the country had already realized this is a piss-poor approach. It’s like sidewalks in Dodge…the people who need to use them don’t and they just assume no one else does either. But thanks for trying to run over the dog and me…really.

This little gem doesn’t go into a lot of detail but sums the situation up quite well. Most questions about Dodge City that begin with “Why” are answered with “Urban Renewal.” Fortunately, lessons have been learned and there is now an appreciation for not only property rights but also history other than the Old West. One day, we’ll talk about Ford County property taxes ruining people’s lives but today is not that day.

Today’s photos are a mix of the good and the bad.

First Baptist Church

This building isn’t particularly old but I grew up looking at it every day of every summer for most of my childhood in jail at Kiddie Corner (with another K?). Anyway, I’m a fan. The postcard colorization on the left is pretty intense. I don’t think grass has ever been that green here.

Walnut Street Looking West from Central Avenue

I’ve entered all of the Dodge City street name changes in Excel because it’s impossible to remember them all. Walnut became Gunsmoke, Chestnut became Wyatt Earp, North and South Front Streets were demolished and now something called Front Street runs through parking lots, etc. and so on. So the postcard on the left is from the 1960s and I took the photo on the right a couple weeks ago. It looks basically the same but the gigantic Masonic Temple on the left wayyyy down the block is long gone. You can still see the old Chalk Beeson Theater (MUCH more on that later) at the end of the block on the left side of *Walnut*. The marquee is missing from the Dodge Theater on the right side of the street but the buildings are otherwise intact until you get to First Avenue.

Masonic Temple

Construction on this marvel began in 1907 and was completed in 1908. There were so many bricks lined up along the street that one of the newspapers ran a piece joking that visitors from out of town asked if they were building the Great Wall of China.

The Journal-Democrat, October 25, 1907

I think the initial cost estimate was around $26,000 but it ended up in the neighborhood of $36,000 and I can only imagine the grandeur of the third floor. They had a special carpet sewn in Kansas City that cost about $4.00 per yard and the room was enormous. The building had no trouble attracting commercial tenants and was in use for several decades.

Etrick’s Directory of Ford County 1920

Here’s the 1926 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. It was a beast!

Why is it no longer there? Urban Renewal! It didn’t survive the 1960s and the land was later donated by former Dodge City Daily Globe publisher (and daughter of Jess Denious) Martha Elizabeth “Betty” Muncy for Eisenhower Park, which was established in 1976.

First Avenue Looking South

Standing in the middle of First Avenue is not an option so it’s difficult to recreate the perspective of the postcard on the left without a drone. That’s clearly the Masonic Temple across First Avenue from the Chalk Beeson Theater and the old flour mill in the postcard background. You can also make out what looks like the old Western Union building behind the theater. Here’s the 1918 Sanborn map for reference.

O’Neal Hotel

Central and what??? Exactly. The parking lot north of the depot looks like a road runs through it because a road used to run through it…all the way east to Avenue B, where it met up with that weird little Chestnut Street jog. Take a look at the 1926 Sanborn map.

The O’Neal Hotel opened in December of 1912 and I can’t think of a better location for the time.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, December 9, 1912

Over time, several buildings were added and can you imagine renting a house of any size for $8.50 per month?

The Dodge City Daily Globe, February 16, 1915

The O’Neal Hotel operated in that spot forever and a day until it, too, was a victim of Urban Renewal. Hotels circle the drain pretty quickly when things start getting seedy and this one was no exception. I’m calling this one a victory, though, because parking in this area would be a nightmare without the City lot.

Next time, I’ll share a real heartbreaker. Until then, you can take a look at Part I.

Dodge City Then and Now: Part I

I love looking at before and after photos of home restorations (not renovations) and am mesmerized by then-and-now photos of famous landmarks. This has probably already been done in Dodge City, Kansas (The Cowboy Capital of the World) but I’m here right now and have a dog to exercise so kindly allow me to reinvent the wheel. I’m also blaming any crappy photography skills on the dog who somehow jerks on the leash at the exact moment I hit the button. Otherwise, they would be *perfectly* shot.

A lot of people are surprised to learn that Dodge City has paved streets. A lot of people are also idiots. So I decided that while I’m here I should document some of the old buildings before it’s too late. We lost the Water Department building with the cool-ass windows just a few months before I arrived back in town and that was truly a loss. I also missed the demolition of the old high school but actually wouldn’t say I missed it. It feels like a punch in the gut every time I walk by that empty sloping lot. Lincoln Elementary was another one. I taught French to fourth graders there while I was in high school and that spot on the hill just isn’t the same without it.

I understand money and what things cost. I owned a 100-year-old farmhouse and had to pay for stuff. I made a lot of concessions because reality is a bitch. That doesn’t make me cringe any less when I see windows made smaller with crappy wood framing or bricked over altogether.

Here’s an easy one that hasn’t broken my heart yet.

First National Bank Building

The bank first opened for business on January 5, 1901 at the corner of First Avenue and Front Street as the State Bank of Commerce of Dodge City with capital of $10,000.

On June 1, 1904, the name was changed to National Bank of Commerce with capital of $25,000. The bank changed names again on January 8, 1921 to First National Bank in Dodge City with capital of $100,000.

In 1924, First National Bank advertised 4% interest on savings accounts…can you even imagine?

Etrick’s Ford County Directory

The bank occupied a few different locations before formally opening the new building at the corner of Second Avenue and Spruce Street on August 19, 1930.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, August 18, 1930

Banking conditions were often questionable at best in this era so this ad from September 24, 1930 would have been reassuring.

The Dodge City Journal, October 2, 1930

The bank had federal deposit insurance beginning in 1934 and changed the name again in June of 1977 to First National Bank and Trust Company.

This is Second Avenue today looking north. The Eckles sign is gone but the building is still there. More on that at later date.

I almost forgot about the mural. Stan Herd apparently patterned this after a Remington and I believe it was completed in July of 1979. I’m not really a fan of Western art but this is what you get in the Queen of the Cowtowns.

First National Bank and Trust Company has been listed inactive as of June 30, 1994, which is when it was acquired by Bank IV Kansas. The 1990s were bananas when it came to bank mergers. Banking laws changed during that time and increased the limit of assets that could be controlled by a single entity so Fourth Financial Corporation, which owned Bank IV Kansas, went on a spending spree. So we barely blinked and then along came Nationsbank, which was then merged (or whatever) with Bank of America in about 1999.

Bank of America closed the main branch in 2014 and there she sits. There are still businesses leasing office space in the building. Don’t try creeping in there because it is definitely (thankfully) occupied.

Here’s a memory-holed piece from the local paper I found on the Wayback Machine.

If you’re still with me, I was initially surprised to learn the building is so *new* and decided to check the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps to see what had been on that corner previously.

There is only one 1884 map online and it stops at Walnut (now Gunsmoke) Street.

The 1887 map shows a drugstore on the corner of Second and Spruce. The Ford County Business Directory from the same year is a mess to read and doesn’t really list locations so I’m not sure which drugstore it was.

The 1899 map shows a Christian church.

The 1911 map shows a garage on the main level and a hall on the second floor. This was the Santa Fe Trail Garage, which was sold by Ed J. Oliphant to James P. McCollom (from Carthage, IL) in December of 1911. Mr. Oliphant started the garage in a brand-new building in December of 1910.

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, December 9, 1910
The Dodge City Kansas Journal, December 16, 1910

The 1918 map shows a 100-car garage with a repair room on the second floor.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, January 19, 1918

The McCollom brothers opened Dodge City Auto School at the garage in January of 1923. C. H. McCollom was the main instructor.

The 1926 map shows auto sales & service with an office on the first and second floors. It appears the McCollom brothers also tried out a new name.

The Dodger, December 21, 1926

The last ad I could find for McCollom Motor Company or Santa Fe Trail Garage was in April of 1927 and it didn’t include an address so I’m not sure if the business moved, morphed, or closed. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the auto school became part of a Vo-Tech program.

This is becoming quite a journey. It turns out in early 1930 J. P. McCollom and (Hiram T?) Burr built a new structure on the site of the first building to be constructed in Dodge City. H. L. Sitler’s sod house was located at what is now Second Avenue and Trail Street, directly south of the railroad tracks on the west side of Second. I think it’s the Lopp Motors building but I just literally cannot even at this point.

And then we come full circle…guess who joined the radio business and was general manager for the brand-new KGNO? That’s right, J. P. McCollom and KGNO leased office space on the mezzanine level of the First National Bank Building in September of 1930. McCollom still owned the lot to the west of the bank and planned to use it for KGNO employee parking. The studio was moved to town because the place they built the tower was too remote and they wanted people to be able to actually visit the studio.

la fin

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑