Dodge City Then and Now: Part IV

It’s really hard to post a side-by-side of an old postcard and a recent photo and just move on to the next one. I end up going down a rabbit hole on each one and want to know everything about everything and then my dog wants to know why he hasn’t eaten yet.

It’s also depressing to look at all the interesting architecture that has been lost so I’m making a point of including buildings we’ve treated well and can still enjoy.

Carnegie Library Building

701 N Second Avenue

No disrespect to the Lora Locke, which I also love, but this is the prettiest building in Dodge. My grandmother, Irene Beeson, took me there several times when I was anywhere from four to nine years old and I remember thinking it was so small. Like, it’s a super cool building but it definitely isn’t large. I remember walking through when it was being renovated prior to opening as the Carnegie Center for the Arts and it just really looked like a lot of work.

That was nothing compared to the work that went into making a public library in Dodge City a thing.

The ladies of Dodge City started working on this *at least* as early as 1905. I would bet the idea was bounced around for quite a while before it became an organized effort.

The Globe-Republican, January 12, 1905

It wasn’t as simple as getting Andrew Carnegie to foot the bill for the building. Municipalities were also required to have a maintenance fund amounting to at least ten percent of the construction cost. That meant winning taxpayer support for a permanent levy. Nothing in the history of the world has changed. People were outraged that the library would be free to use for those who didn’t own property. The letters to the editor were just as intense as the crap you see today and the issue went before voters in 1905.

The Globe-Republican, March 23, 1905

Voters approved the levy and Carnegie agreed to provide $7,500 for construction of the new library, meaning Dodge City had to raise at least $750 for the maintenance fund. Between all the private fundraisers and tax receipts, they were able to raise $850 and Carnegie approved a total gift of $8,500.

The Library Board selected the site of the old “Public School” at the northwest corner of Second Avenue and Spruce Street. Here’s the 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the school.

Architect CW Squires delivered plans and the Library Board requested bids in August of 1905. My great-great grandfather, Chalk Beeson, was a Kansas Representative at the time and he was never shy about talking up the big things happening in Dodge.

The Journal-Democrat, September 29, 1905

Unfortunately, supply chains happen and construction was delayed several times due to long lead times for materials. The building was scheduled for completion in August of 1906 and then this happened.

The Globe-Republican, August 30, 1906

Even with all of the headaches, construction of the building was completed in September of 1906.

The Globe-Republican, September 27, 1906

That may have been a tiny bit premature. The building was finally turned over to the Library Board in October before electric fixtures were even installed. There was also some interior finishing that needed to be done and the whole thing had to be furnished. They hadn’t even selected a librarian at that time. By the end of November, they were still waiting for the bookshelves to be delivered.

The public was “expected” to attend the grand opening in February of 1907 and they were still waiting for the actual books to be delivered. People had donated hundreds of books but that wasn’t going to cut it.

The Journal-Democrat, January 25, 1907

The first librarian was Iva Nelson and her salary of $30 per month included janitorial services. Library hours were 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.

Here is the 1911 Sanborn map showing the library building. Information about Carnegie Center for the Arts can be found here.

Dodge City Milling and Elevator Company

300 Second Avenue

You’ll note in the photo I took a couple weeks ago, the most recent retaining wall and ramp are still there. Yes, I’m old enough to remember when things were happening there and being a passenger in a truck driving up that ramp seemed like the scariest thing in the world. I’m not sure if I was even in kindergarten yet and it just seemed really narrow and steep. Looking at it now makes me laugh.

Construction began in 1907 on a facility that expanded and contracted operations many times over the decades.

The Journal-Democrat, March 8, 1907
The Globe-Republican, March 12, 1908
The Journal-Democrat, August 14, 1908

Here’s the 1911 Sanborn map showing the mill with its rail siding, forge, oil tank, engine, scales, dust collector, etc.

The 1918 Sanborn map is very colorful! Dodge City Flour Mills had expanded quite a bit and was pretty damn high tech.

It’s strange to me that they had a phone number listed in their 1908 advertisement but not in the county or city directories. Even into the 1960s, I never saw a phone number for them listed in a directory.

Etrick’s 1924 Ford County Directory

By 1926, the layout hadn’t changed much but the Sanborn map shows more detail.

It should be no surprise that fire was an ongoing concern due to the dust generated by handling grain and milling flour.

The Hutchinson News-Herald, April 4, 1949

The Wichita Eagle, April 5, 1949
The Northwestern Miller, April 5, 1949

So that last one pretty much said it. They had no plans to rebuild the mill. One thing I found interesting was a report that firefighters were delayed by a freight train. So I guess that means the fire station south of the bridge either wasn’t open yet or wasn’t enough due to the size of the blaze.

I don’t remember why we went there when I was a kid. The door at the top of the ramp was open and people were there doing things. I guess the undamaged buildings were used for warehousing? Not sure if the elevators were used after the fire. It was always just a big behemoth sitting there along the tracks…until it wasn’t.

First Presbyterian Church

803 Central Avenue

My great-great grandmother, Ida Beeson, taught Sunday School here and was instrumental in the building’s construction in 1924. I believe Chalk even taught a class or two at the previous site, which must have been interesting. After Chalk died, Ida bought a house at 705 Central Avenue, which is now part of the Landmark National Bank parking lot. Super convenient for Sundays!

Post Office 

700 Central Avenue

This is another example of a slow process. It’s obvious by looking at the design that this building is relatively new. Construction was completed in 1931 and I still roll my eyes every time I see the name of a Treasury Secretary etched onto a cornerstone. Like, come ON.

But the process began all the way back in 1926, which was a completely different world. At least financially.

The Southwest News, December 30, 1926

In addition to run-on sentences of epic proportions, that last paragraph is a sight to behold. Anyhoo, this gem from 1930 is extremely confusing.

The Dodge City Journal, December 18, 1930

Rather than try to determine how the sausage was made, here are a couple postcards showing the old Weather Bureau building, which was demolished to build the new Post Office.

If you look at the 1926 Sanborn map for the site, you’ll have a better understanding of what all was in play. The jail was next to the Weather Bureau and the new building wouldn’t fit without tearing down the jail as well.

Also, here’s the 1926 Sanborn map showing the Post Office building at 612 Second Avenue which was in use while this debate was taking place.

Prior to that location, the 1911 Sanborn map shows a “PO” at Second Avenue and Walnut (Gunsmoke) Street. I believe that would be the building below.

They finally got the show on the road in March of 1931.

The Morning Chronicle (Manhattan, Kansas), March 7, 1931

I would say this stylish beauty was worth the wait.

Speaking of wait…a minute…please don’t tell me this “modernization” project had anything to do with the soul-crushing paneling that was hung in the box alcove and behind the counter. Gross.

The Salina Journal, May 26, 1964

Next time, I’ll take a look at a couple Dodge City schools. Until then, you can check out Parts I through III below:

Part I – First National Bank Building

Part II – First Baptist Church, Walnut Street, Masonic Temple, First Avenue, and O’Neal Hotel

Part III – Merritt Beeson House

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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.

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.

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