Ford High School Then and Now

8th Street and Prairie Street, Ford, Kansas

The Pioneer 1971
January 2022

Astounding transformation, yes?!

Ford is now a shadow of what it once was. I lived there for about five years and was shocked to learn my street (Prairie Street, natch) had once been paved. Keeping up with maintenance became too costly as the population dwindled, so the City dumped dirt on top of the asphalt and just rolled with it. When the dirt gets worn and washed away, you can still see the asphalt below. Along with paved roads, Ford once had an elementary school and a high school, as well as passenger train service to Dodge City. By the time I bought a house there, even Ford’s liquor store had closed.

But in 1912 (two years after my former house was built), things were happening in Ford!

The Topeka Daily State Journal, May 4, 1912

Unlike their neighbors in Dodge, the people of Ford didn’t mess around with kids in overcrowded classrooms and they had the new building ready for occupancy the same year. The news snippet above referred to the new building as a high school but as you can see below, it was a school for all grades.

The Ford Promoter, November 14, 1912

The structure completed in 1912 (prior to the addition of the auditorium at the south end) wasn’t very big but there were only five students in the first graduating class of 1916.

The Ford Promoter, May 25, 1916

Ford took their sports ball contests quite seriously and enjoyed considerable success for such a small school.

Hutchinson Daily Gazette, October 29, 1916

But what the heck? They then beat Garden City the following month, after having eggs thrown at them while waiting for their train in Dodge. Such drama. They couldn’t have been playing Dodge and Garden varsity teams…right?!

By 1917, the lower grades were bursting at the seams with as many as three grades stuck in one classroom. A local home was rented for additional space and newspaper editorials called for a second school. This time, the residents weren’t so quick to jump on another bond issue. Instead, they built a detached Vocational Agriculture building at the north end of the school.

The Ford Progress, October 20, 1922
The old shop is now used by the City of Ford Maintenance Department.

Since one of the rooms was being used as an auditorium, it made sense to build a real gymnasium/auditorium and free up more classroom space.

The Hutchinson News, May 24, 1927
The Pioneer 1956

The Ford Progress, February 28, 1930

That was long but you need to understand that I didn’t even include all of it. You’re welcome.

The Ford Progress, August 15, 1930
The Ford Progress, October 23, 1931

They were trying to put Ford on the map!

The Ford Progress, August 26, 1932
The Hutchinson, Kansas, News-Herald, February 27, 1936
The Hutchinson, Kansas, News-Herald, November 11, 1944
The Pioneer 1956

I can’t remember when the elementary school was built but it screams 1950s to me. The 1956 yearbook includes some photos taken from the baseball diamond with the elementary school in the background. I mention this because high school events often took place in the grade school, presumably because it was newer and (I think) larger.

The Wichita Beacon, July 24, 1970
The Pioneer 1971
Garden City Telegram, April 28, 1971

The Class of 1972 was the last to graduate from Ford High School. It was all quite messy. For the Fall of 1971, the Ford High School football team was only able to schedule six games because of apparent interference from the Dodge City USD 443, which governed the Ford schools at that time. I’m guessing the interference was caused by the budget/tax revenue whoopsie. By early September, Ford’s fate had not yet been determined.

I’m not 100 percent clear about how the State handled the fallout but ultimately, Ford and Bucklin consolidated and they all became Red Aces. How weird would it be to suddenly walk the hallways of your competitors…after your town seceded from that district? Totes awk.

One of my neighbors said he and his friends still played basketball in the gym after work for many years after the school closed. The building was used for community events until it became a safety hazard.

A former Ford City Clerk told me the City Council had gotten bids to demo the building but it was ridiculously expensive, especially since there was asbestos that needed to be removed. Some locals thought they could pull the walls down with a tractor because there’s apparently nothing a John Deere can’t do. They were wrong. Pulling on the walls just caused the roof to cave in. So they made it worse and there it sat.

Some lady bought the property and refused to do anything with it. People would try to buy it from her and she would refuse. This went on for years until finally a guy thought he had it bought in about 2011. If I remember correctly, he intended to turn it into condos but there was a ton of cleanup to do. Most of the lot was completely overgrown, to the point where trees had to be removed in order to even get to the building and haul out debris. I remember seeing him behind the auditorium trying to clear a path. Honestly, even back then it was clear the building was too far gone. But then I think something happened to prevent the sale from going through. Probably a lot of things!

I went into the school in about 2007 and it wasn’t yet a total wreck. I remember walking in the main floor hallway, which was concrete and thinking it could be much worse. Then I nearly stepped off into the void. It hadn’t occurred to me that the classroom floors had been wood…at one point. They were GONE. I looked down all the way into the basement locker room and was glad I didn’t take that route to check it out.

The gym/auditorium was a shit show but it was intact enough that I could tell it was a really cool addition. The wood floor was a warped mess (due to the giant hole in the roof) but the bead board around the stage area was still there and I just thought it was a shame to see it ruined. The Google Street View images are from June of 2008 but they’re total garbage so you can’t see much. Please note that the addresses are all jacked on Prairie Street so you can’t even pay attention to them. The satellite image below is also out of date.

I’ve looked all over for the photos I took that day but they must have been stored on an old PC that died ages ago. It would have been really interesting to compare the photos from that day to these that I took in January of this year. The goats seemed to be enjoying themselves!

Note: I did not trespass to get these pics. All were taken from outside the fenced area.

Here’s a bonus gallery of the old grade school, which now houses the City of Ford offices, City Council meetings, etc. The City’s Facebook Page has a few interior photos as well. Residents were also able to reserve the cafeteria and gymnasium/auditorium for family reunions and other events but I’m not sure if that is still the case. When I lived there, the City Library was still open but it closed at least four years ago.

I’m not sure what it is about the Ford school buildings that I find so compelling. The grade school interior isn’t even attractive! But I don’t want either building to be destroyed. They represent a time when the community still looked forward to growth and prosperity. When I look at what we have in front of us now as a country…and western civilization in general, all I see is doom and decay. On that happy note, the digital nomad life continues!

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Help a Researcher Out: Identify These Musicians

My grandmother, Irene, was beyond surprised when she realized she had a granddaughter who was interested in her family’s history. Her parents had a museum that began in their home and later required construction of a larger building to house the exhibits. Most of the collection was sold to another local museum before I was able to get in on the action but she did retain several items of interest.

Some of my earliest memories involved playing with literal museum pieces from the pioneer days on the prairie. I learned how to do a lot of basic activities of daily life using those pieces. Irene had a set of irons in various sizes for pressing different sizes of fabric. So the one you would use to iron bedding would be different from the one for a child’s dress. I remember her showing me how to heat the iron over the fireplace. She gave me some linen handkerchiefs to practice with and despite being as careful as a grade schooler could be, I burned my hand. That led to a First Aid lesson on current burn remedies as well as the methods used by pioneers and how she saw things evolve throughout her life.

Irene was a practical person and she made notes when I expressed interest in a particular photo or piece of china. She made sure I took those items with me when I left for college and I’ve been dragging them around for nearly 30 years. One of those cherished items was a photo of Irene at four years of age with her sister, her grandmother, and her uncle’s girlfriend. I only knew the girlfriend’s first and last names and that she was from California. Her name was relatively common and I didn’t think I stood a snowball’s chance in Hell of ever learning anything more about her.

I began a newspaper search for the girlfriend and was overwhelmed by the number of results found. Then I saw one that listed the correct name with the middle initial V and thought if only I could be so lucky. So I looked into this person with the middle name Veronica and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t her.

Veronica’s father was a retired railroad official who took a job in Long Beach as Vice President for a startup brokerage. He was also an original trustee for the brand-new and totally badass all co-op Sovereign Apartments, where he owned a large flat. The family came from Kansas and lived in Kansas City for a while before moving to California. One of Veronica’s sisters married a well-known Kansas City musician and composer and I recently learned the sister was a musician herself. Now I know how Veronica met my grandmother’s uncle.

The late teens and early 1920s were huge for people in the Kansas City entertainment scene moving to the Los Angeles area. Dr. E M. Hiner was a dentist and celebrated bandleader who had a successful music school and was tight with John Philip Sousa. Dr. Hiner moved to LA in 1919 and ultimately founded the music department at what is now UCLA. His former home on Figueroa Street is included in a tour of historic properties and there is a bandshell dedicated to Hiner and Sousa in a park across the street.

Irene’s uncle moved to LA at the same time as Veronica and her family in 1920. Veronica’s brother-in-law had his own orchestra which was featured in “La Fiesta” at the Million Dollar Theatre. By 1932, he was playing in the RKO Hillstreet Theater Orchestra. As the Great Depression progressed, he found steady work as a WPA musician. His nephew was a Hollywood radio performer who later became an insurance adjuster and convicted jewel thief. I know Irene’s uncle played professionally in the LA area but that’s about all I know. Many of the American Federation of Musicians Local No. 47’s records were destroyed by fire around 1970 so I may never learn more about his career.

For now, I have this band photo taken by Hollywood photographer Albert Witzel.

Although I can make a couple guesses, the only person I can identify with certainty is the gentleman in the back row, third from left. Help me ID any of the others and I’ll buy you a beer…or twelve.

I’ll up the ante if you correctly identify this car.

I don’t think I ask for much but this is turning into the brickiest of brick walls. It really shouldn’t be such a problem. After all, it’s only been 100 years.

Help me out, people. I’ve reached out to nearly everyone I can think of and haven’t received many replies. I’m starting to run out of ideas.

Spouse Resides At: Unknown, But I Have Heard He Died

This was supposed to be a very straightforward project: A book about a ragtime-era trombonist who played with the best musicians of his time. An artist who lived in his famous father’s shadow and whose story has been forgotten. You know how things snowball when you have an old house and think you’re *just* going to change the showerhead? Here I am underneath the house, replacing the entire foundation.

My musician was engaged to a famous florist. The wedding was set and his mother had prepared a room for them at the family home. His mother and brother devised a scheme to pull him away from the fast lifestyle of a professional musician, which worried them both. The brothers would build a theater (dedicated to their father) and the musician would manage it. Instead, the musician learned the florist was cheating on him and called the whole thing off. He secured a letter of introduction from a local orchestra director and left for Los Angeles to play music, leaving his older brother responsible for the theater.

The florist raced to the train station in her night clothes, arriving just as his train was preparing to leave. She pleaded her case but his decision had been made. He left for California and continued his career until about 1940. His only involvement with the family theater was playing in the orchestra from time to time.

So about this florist…

I was hoping to document when and where they met as well as whether or not the other man was merely a fling or something more permanent. She was interviewed many times over the course of nearly five decades in the floral industry and appeared regularly in O. O. McIntyre’s columns. Details about her childhood and early career were published by numerous outlets and for the most part, I can’t verify any of them. What I can verify is a whole bunch of scandalous drama that sure didn’t make it into her New York Times obituary.

Her mother was charged in district court with conducting a house of prostitution. Three years later, the mother’s rooming house was raided by police who suspected she was selling liquor. That’s apparently not all she was selling. Statutory charges were brought against two men aged 50 and 27 in relation to the florist’s 14-year-old sister, who told police the 50-year-old married man had been making monthly visits to her for the past fourteen months. She said he “gave her money and bought her clothing.” The mother told police she thought the man had “a fatherly interest” in the girl. The mother also said her 14-year-old daughter was engaged to the 27-year-old divorced man, who lived in their home. Despite the girl telling police she had met this man only two months prior to his arrest, the judge was told the two “had been engaged for some time.” The same day, the mother signed off on a marriage license between her 14-year-old daughter and this 27-year-old clothing salesman, effectively ending the statutory case.

I looked into the 50-year-old with “fatherly interest” in teenage girls and hoo boy, what a story! He came from a *very* wealthy family and preferred the company of much younger females until the day he died. When he was in his seventies, he shot the husband of a 21-year-old woman he tried to coerce into stripping and dancing for him. This occurred at his home while his wife was in the hospital. He paid the man $8,000 to cover hospital bills but the criminal case was dropped after almost a year of delays. After his wife died, he married a 20-year-old waitress. He was 76 and the young woman divorced him less than five months later, claiming he started drinking at three o’clock in the morning and bragged about affairs with other women.

The florist lied about her marital status on a passport application and was caught by State Department employees who gave her “fatherly advice regarding making an admission of swearing falsely.” In those days, there was a space for female applicants to list the name, address, place of birth, and immigration status of either their father or husband because obviously women needed men to take responsibility for them. So she had declared she was single but was found to be a divorcee. On her corrected application, she listed her spouse’s stage name and wrote “unknown, but I have heard he died” on the address line. Notarized affidavits from people testifying to her identity and her husband’s US citizenship followed. She explained that “she has never seen a divorce decree for the fact that in some Southern State her husband divorced her, but that she never received an official notice from the court.” He remarried and she apparently then heard from friends that he died. Spoiler Alert: He didn’t die until 1954.

I haven’t been able to get my hands on divorce decrees from Husbands One and Two but she was subsequently twice widowed so she must have figured it out somehow. Speaking of figuring things out, the florist’s younger sister couldn’t decide on a husband or which name to use. I thought I would track down relatives to see if anyone has documents, photos, or correspondence tying the florist to the musician. Neither woman had children and both had four husbands. It was a tradition in their family to give children two middle names. The sister used a few variations of her first name on official documents and on her fourth marriage license, skipped her first name altogether in favor of her two middle names along with her maiden name. The state death index, however, shows her given name. Why so shady?

The florist stated in interviews the name of her hometown along with the year she graduated high school and a story about her mother buying her a car to distract her from her obsession with going to Los Angeles to become an actress. I can’t find one record substantiating any of it. She said she used money she unexpectedly inherited from an uncle in England to start her floral business. I’m not finding that either but I do have information about her articles of incorporation and all changes made to the corporate entity until it was dissolved after her death.

The mother’s probate documents and those from her much older second husband are wild. I can’t imagine what his seven children were thinking when they learned he officially made her an heiress and declared his intent to marry her only two months after their own mother died. 

For all the primary source documents I have been able to locate, there are still gaping holes in these women’s histories. I’ve spent hundreds of hours searching, reading, calling, and emailing but I am no closer to discovering a single shred of evidence proving the florist and the musician ever met. It makes me wonder if they ever did meet. Maybe he told his family a story to get them off his back and then it ran its course. Maybe it did happen and he destroyed all evidence in a fit of drunken rage. I really have no idea. What I do know is by the time I’m finally ready to write this thing, I will have enough material to fill five books.

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