Eckles Empire Then and Now

I know what you’re thinking. ANOTHER Eckles post?! Yes. There were so many Eckles ventures in Dodge City that I could do a whole series on them alone. If you’re new to the site, I touched on the Eckles Department Store building here and here.

If you’re from Dodge, you probably already know the “Eckles Brothers” were Charles and George Eckles from Eskridge, Kansas. Charles came to Dodge in December of 1911 and managed the York-Key Mercantile Company.

I don’t know the whole story but in September of 1911, there was a huge fire at the store. D. J. Phillips was the manager and he had been out ill for several days. When he received the telephone call about the fire, he ran all the way from his house on Avenue A to the store at 207 West Chestnut Street and then he passed out. He was subsequently confined to his bed for a few more days. The fire took a couple hours to extinguish and the loss was estimated to be from two-thirds to three-fourths of the stock.

The store was remodeled and by December, Mr. Phillips and his family had moved to Houston. The newspaper article said it would be a “more gentle climate.” His replacement was Charles Eckles.

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, February 9, 1912

So they had just finished remodeling after a devastating fire and then it happened again! In March of 1912, there was an explosion that damaged nearly $80,000 worth of property among the affected structures. The opera house roof made liftoff and the York-Key and several other buildings were heavily damaged. The 1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the opera house at the northwest corner of First Avenue and (North) Front Street. The York-Key was only two walls over to the west.

That was enough for owner F. B. York of St. Louis. Brothers Charles and George bought the York-Key in April of 1912, with George’s position at the store being effective July 1. The Eckles Dry Goods Company was formed May 8, 1912. A son, Park, was born to George and his wife, Lora, 20 days later.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, June 26, 1912

The York-Key Company had retained ownership of the building when they sold the dry goods store. The Eckles brothers bought the building in March of 1916 with plans for an extensive modernization project. You guys…they wanted to put glass in the sidewalks! In Dodge City!

Dodge City Daily Globe, May 3, 1916
Dodge City Journal, November 6, 1919

Jack Eckles was born to Charles and Esther (Weyand) Eckles in May of 1921. After World War II, he would return home to work at the store. He also married the talented artist, Murry Stark.

Etrick’s 1924 Ford County Directory

Charles and George Eckles bought the Bargain Store building at the southwest corner of Second Avenue and Walnut Street as well as all of the stock and fixtures for $125,000 in February of 1926. Eckles Brothers Dry Goods became Eckles Brothers Department Store.

The Southwest News, February 4, 1926

The plan was to remodel the building after the sale was completed and have dry goods, shoes, and men’s clothing on the first floor. A new mezzanine level would be home to bookkeeping, cashiers, and owners’ offices, plus a beauty parlor. All of the ladieswear and accompanying goods were planned for the second floor and finally, they were continuing with their bargain basement.

W. H. Harpole bought the old Eckles Dry Goods building at 207 West Chestnut Street for about $30,000 in April of 1926. In 1928, that building housed the Piggly Wiggly and by 1937, it was home to Innes Furniture Exchange. It was probably best known as 20th Century Bowling, however, before ultimately becoming a victim to the Urban Renewal madness you’ve seen me complain about repeatedly.

In 1929, the Eckles brothers built the Vinehurst Apartments with retail spaces on the first floor and apartments above.

The Dodge City Journal, January 9, 1930

I’m not sure about the architect but the building was constructed by Jules N Parham, who was a prolific builder in Dodge. Here’s where I get severely confused. The 1942 Ford County Directory, which was retyped by volunteers, listed the Vinehurst Apartments (managed by Mrs. Lola Slater) at 205 West Vine Street. If you look at the 1926 Sanborn Map, this doesn’t make any sense. Same thing with the 1932 Sanborn. Here’s a screenshot:

The dwelling labeled “207” above existed prior to 1929. Here’s a current photo of the north end of 722 N Second Avenue showing the entrance labeled “207.”

Photo by Jan Shaw

The block was clearly renumbered but I have no idea when. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that’s the location. The retail spaces have been home to Busley Brothers Grocery #2, National Home & Auto Store, Peoples National Gas Company, Campbell Pharmacy, Krey & McCook Agency, and many more.

Word on the street at the beginning of 1930 was the Eckles brothers were building a hotel. It was to be a five-story, $250,000 “skyscraper” next to First National Bank. I have no idea what happened to those plans but they obviously never materialized.

The Dodge City Journal, February 13, 1930

I won’t delve any further into the family tree because this post would never end but just know that virtually every child and grandchild worked at the store and it honestly seemed like a requirement to be part of the family.

Eckles Department Store Company, Inc. was formed on January 25, 1946. I’m assuming this change marked the beginning of the second generation’s management of the store. In 1947, the department store carried musical instruments, sheet music, records, cameras, and hardware in addition to the standard items you might expect.

Farm Directory, Ford-Gray Counties, Kansas, 1948
The Hutchinson News-Herald, June 25, 1950
The Wichita Eagle, December 12, 1953
Garden City Telegram, December 7, 1955

For many years, all of the Eckles products were sold under one roof. At some point, the music department was relocated to a one-story building directly behind the department store with frontage on Walnut/Gunsmoke Street. The luggage and appliance departments were also moved to a separate space on West Chestnut Street.

Photo by Hoover Cott
Special Traveler’s Edition, Dodge City Daily Globe, 1960
Dodge City Daily Globe, July 1961

The Nevins Hardware Company at 305 West Chestnut Street/Wyatt Earp Boulevard was sold to the proprietors of the Eckles Department Store in February of 1963. In the photo below, you can see the Nevins Hardware store on the right, just past Fowler Furniture. On the left are the signs for Eckles Appliances and Luggage.

Photo by Hoover Cott

You may recall that Charles Eckles married Esther Weyand and the sign for Weyand Seeds is also visible in the photo above.

There was a fire at Fowler Furniture in 1964 and the photos below show the Eckles Hardware signs at both the Wyatt Earp Boulevard and Front Street entrances.

In 1967, the hardware store was managed by Roy Schonhoff. For a long time, cousins Jack and Park owned the stores. When Park retired, he sold his interest in the store to Jack. Not long after, it was time for the third generation to manage the operations.

I don’t remember 1 Door South but my mom said they had cute clothes. It was apparently for the younger generation because they were selling concert tickets there in the mid-1970s. I assume it closed around the time I started kindergarten but that’s literally just a guess.

Special Travelers’ Edition, Dodge City Daily Globe, 1970

I also don’t remember the luggage and appliance store. In the photo below, you can just barely make out the old Eckles logo three buildings down from the Golden Kue, next to Southwest Photo.

Photo by Troy Robinson

I briefly mentioned that Jack’s wife, Murry was a talented artist and that’s really a gross understatement. In addition to creating art, she taught and wrote books to help others with their artistic endeavors for many years. Murry Eckles, Inc. was formed on April 27, 1978.

The Daily News of Johnson County, Kansas, March 21, 1984

Murry had an arts and crafts shop where she held classes in the basement of the department store building called Happiness is…

I won’t rehash the closing of Eckles Department Store but I will reiterate that it sucked, and not just because I missed riding the elevator with my grandmother. In August of 1985, the new Eckles Main Street Centre had 19 shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Eckles Department Store Company, Inc. was dissolved in January of 1998.

Here are some photos I took of the Eckles Department Store building a while back:

This is the old Eckles Music building:

This is the site of the Vinehurst Apartments:

Here is the spot where 1 Door South was located:

This is where the Eckles Appliances and Luggage store was located, under the Iron Insurance Partners sign:

And of course, the Eckles Hardware building was demolished during the Urban Renewal craze.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact the Eckles family had on Dodge City. The family was deeply invested in the community for generations and should be recognized for their contributions. I’m sure I’ve missed some important details so feel free to add them in the comments.

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The Salton Sea of Dodge City

I asked my mom a while back if people in our social circle still have their campers down at the sand pit. Imagine my surprise when she told me the Watersports Campground no longer has water. When did this happen? *shrugs*

So I turned to Trip Advisor and holy hell, the reviews! Looks like things were not going great as far back as 2009. But I was there in 2009 and don’t recall the the pit being any trashier than normal. Totally get the Brit’s issue with drunks, though. I was probably one of them. Anyway, it appears the water pumps couldn’t get ahead of the drought in the Summer of 2012. I was in Arizona and cannot be expected to know all of the things.

The name has been changed to Riverside RV Park, which is actually pretty hilarious. For those of you who don’t get the joke, allow me to present the mighty Arkansas River:

Thanks a lot, State of Colorado and Army Corps of Engineers! Ya jerks.

Anyway, the response to this review from 2020 on Pitchup says the new owner is bringing the lake back.

Before I hit you with current photos, I dug out some pics from the 1990s that show all sorts of background images. See if you recognize the various spots.

If you don’t use the satellite layer on Google Maps, it looks totally normal. But when you click that little button, holy moly. This is another instance in which the Street View will allow you to cruise through in the 2007 wayback machine, when it looked like a nice place to have a beer on a pontoon boat. It was!

I went over to grab some photos the last time I was in town and they really have their work cut out for them. Someone was mowing on a tractor and I saw heavy equipment down in the pit north of the island so it’s obvious work is being done. There’s no punchline…saving that place is going to take an incredible amount of labor and capital. I wouldn’t be surprised if they fill in the lake and just make more flat RV spots. Or fill it in and subdivide the lots. So much work.

This doesn’t appear to be an active listing but I was able to snag a brochure from when the property was on the market.

When I think about how much fun I had at the pit from the time I was in grade school, it just makes me sad to see it looking this way. I sincerely hope they’re able to bring it back to life. With that, I don’t remember the water always being this gross but my lunatic Rottweiler didn’t seem to mind it back in 1997.

Then again, perhaps the mud was a chronic issue.

The Hays Daily News, February 11, 2008

Best of luck to the current owner. I hope to be flung off a tube into muddy water very soon!

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Davidson Grain Co. Then and Now

501 Sunnyside Avenue

Sunnyside kids should be very familiar with this one, even if you don’t recognize the name. I’ve been terrified of this place since about 1981. You know how kids are. There were stories about people being murdered in the abandoned elevator north of the school. So we would be out there on the playground looking at this dreary place (pre-colorful graffiti) with tattered plastic sheeting blowing out of the upper windows and telling tall tales of murder and mayhem. As kids do.

When Raymond C Davidson built a new elevator at what was then Fourth Street and a county road, it was really in the middle of nowhere.

Dodge City Daily Globe, June 3, 1915

I have to assume Mr. Davidson was instrumental in bringing electricity to South Dodge.

Dodge City Daily Globe, September 18, 1915

Bernard Askew of Macksville was the manager of the Dodge facility. This poor guy had no idea what he was getting himself into.

Dodge City Daily Globe, September 8, 1915
Dodge City Daily Globe, March 7, 1916

Here’s a plat map from 1916 showing where the CRI&P split off from the Santa Fe Railroad and Sunnyside was still a county road. Fourth Street was later renamed Sycamore Street. You can see the main line and the siding for the grain elevator.

Crop conditions were terrible in 1917 but for wheat prices to increase by more than a dollar in less than two months back then was still ca-razy.

Dodge City Daily Journal, March 28, 1917
Dodge City Daily Globe, May 12, 1917

We were at war and this was really bad timing for such high failure rates.

Dodge City Daily Globe, May 18, 1917

Speaking of war, Mr. Askew was a sergeant with the 110th Military Police and deployed to Europe in May of 1918. It is unclear who took over his duties at the elevator while he was in service of Uncle Sam. Although he briefly owned property in Dodge after returning from the war, he was living in Macksville again by 1922.

In 1920, the county directory simply listed Davidson Elevator in South Dodge, while in 1924 it was merely “S D.”

The American Elevator and Grain Trade, September 15, 1924

Although the facility was built in 1915, it didn’t appear on a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map until 1932. Page 17 begins with the railroad tracks and omits Sycamore Street so it’s kind of difficult to place the location if you haven’t spent a lot of time there. The elevator still stands along the old Rock Island Line at Sunnyside and Sycamore.

The two youths referenced in this story were Virgil Counterman (15) and Ralph Wright (12). Both were convicted and Counterman was committed to the boys’ industrial school in Topeka. Wright was paroled to the Salvation Army in Hutchinson. Counterman told police he had stolen eight cars. He had previously been a resident of Dodge and had been sent to the same school in Topeka while he lived here. I’ll refrain from sharing my opinions about kids learning to be criminals from our backwards system.

The Hutchinson News-Herald, February 6, 1949
The Hutchinson News-Herald, July 17, 1949

The grain elevator’s position on the Rock Island Line became a serious weakness as the railroad took a nosedive into nonexistence.

The Iola Register, January 1, 1960

Just for funzies, here’s a photo of the Rock Island Depot that sat between John Deere Plow Co. and the Guymon-Petro building before being moved to Avenue A for use as a residence.

Photographer Unknown

Anyway, Davidson Grain Company closed up shop in Dodge City sometime between 1962 and 1967. R. C. Davidson died June 17, 1983 and his son, R. C. “Bus” Davidson, Jr. followed on February 26, 1989 at the age of 70.

The Google Maps satellite view clearly shows where the office and scale were located.

Here’s how the facility looks now:

Here are some bonus images of the former US Army locomotive (RPCX 6601) painted for the DCF&B by Harold Reardon:

I remember seeing people in and out of the elevator during the early 1980s but I couldn’t tell you if there was an actual business operating there. It isn’t well secured at all and it’s obvious people have been inside recently but you couldn’t pay me enough to go in there. I don’t want to be the murderer’s next victim.

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Bee Hive Store Then and Now

I wish I could remember where I saw it but an article was published a while ago about the Bee Hive store and the author couldn’t determine who had owned it in the beginning. While researching other businesses, I’ve run across tons of advertising for this store so I thought it would be fun to see if I could figure it out.

The building across from the Wright House, which had previously housed the Ford County Globe, had been sold by Morris Collar to A. H. Snyder in August of 1882. Snyder was in construction and mining, though, so I don’t believe he ever operated a dry goods store. I think he was just investing in real estate.

It doesn’t seem like the storefront was occupied for a while because the Presbyterian Church hosted a Christmas dinner there in 1883. And if it was related to the Presbyterian Church, you could bet my great-great-grandmother was involved!

The Dodge City Times, December 20, 1883

1884 was a weird year for the Snyder building. In February, it was to house a saddlery and a furniture store. You’ll see the Dunn name at this location again later.

The Dodge City Democrat, February 23, 1884

Dunn had moved into the furniture store spot by March 1 but then consolidated with McVeigh and Kirkpatrick to form Dunn and Kirkpatrick later in 1884. But then there was suddenly a new dry goods store without a name. None of the ads I found mentioned a business name or proprietors. I only found a quick note about a “party from Denver” and their “stock of notions” going in there.

The Dodge City Democrat, August 16, 1884

There was a Roworth and Veatch in Pueblo, Colorado but I’m not sure if they had a presence in Denver. Henry Jabez Strange (from Colorado) and John James Summersby arrived in Dodge City in 1884 and in September, they bought the dry goods store of Roworth and Veatch.

The Dodge City Democrat, September 13, 1884

Here is the first ad I was able to find for the Bee Hive:

The Globe Live Stock Journal, September 23, 1884

The Bee Hive advertised everything from dress goods to dry goods to table linens to shoes. The 1884 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the Wright House at the northwest corner of Chestnut Street and Bridge/Second Avenue. That would place the Bee Hive across the street at what was then 723 Second Avenue.

The Dodge City Times, January 22, 1885

In March of 1885, the Bee Hive was “comfortably quartered one door below their old stand.” It would have been simpler to just say the new location was on the ground floor. Fires were a constant problem in those days and it appears the store got an assist from the locals that December.

The Dodge City Times, December 3, 1885

The Bee Hive moved to temporary quarters in the bank building while awaiting the completion of the brick Sitler Building on Bridge/Second Avenue. At this time, Bridge Avenue covered the area north to roughly Walnut Street and it was called Second Avenue further north. It really depended on the map, though. And people just called it whatever. The new home of the Bee Hive was on the east side of Bridge Avenue between Walnut (Gunsmoke) and Spruce Streets. On the 1887 Sanborn Map, the street number was 813 but today it would be the equivalent of 606 N Second Avenue.

The game of musical chairs continued and the Bee Hive moved again in August of 1886.

Wilburn Argus, August 20, 1886

This time, they moved back to their old corner of Second and Chestnut after a new brick building was constructed. This article references a queensware shop to the north of the Bee Hive and the 1887 Sanborn Map shows one next to a dry good and clothing store at that location.

The Dodge City Democrat, September 11, 1886

I also found an announcement about the O. K. Barbershop opening in the basement of the Bee Hive and the 1887 Sanborn Map shows a barbershop in the basement of that building, which had been renumbered 805 Second Avenue. There was also a bath house in the basement.

In March of 1887, the Bee Hive added dressmaking to their repertoire with Minnie Horn in charge of designing and cutting.

The Globe Live Stock Journal, July 26, 1887

In August of 1887, Dr. O. H. Simpson moved his dental office into the front rooms above the Bee Hive.

The Dodge City Times, September 20, 1887
The Dodge City Times, February 9, 1888
The Globe-Republican, October 29, 1890

In November of 1890, the Bee Hive was so busy Strange and Summersby were forced to hire additional staff to properly greet all of their customers. In February of 1891, the store was expanded into the north end of the building. The 1892 Sanborn Map shows dry goods and clothing in the south room and clothing in the north room as well as the businesses on the second floor.

The Globe-Republican, October 28, 1892

In May of 1893, Strange and Summersby expanded again. A hole was cut in the ceiling to provide indoor stairway access to the upstairs room where the Phenix Industrial Club had previously been located.

My great-great-grandfather arrested two ill-mannered individuals who stole merchandise from the Bee Hive in April of 1894.

The Globe-Republican, April 20, 1894.
The Globe-Republican, November 30, 1894
The Ford County Leader, November 15, 1895

In October of 1896, Strange and Summersby announced their exit from the clothing business. It seems like they may have later reconsidered.

The Globe-Republican, October 1, 1896

The Bee Hive was awarded a six-month contract to provide dry goods to the State Soldiers’ Home at Fort Dodge in December of 1897.

Western Kansas Live Stock Journal, February 1, 1900

Is it just me or does a lighting system with *gasoline* running through it seem much more dangerous than electricity?

The Dodge City Democrat, January 25, 1901

In December of 1902, Summersby sold his interest in the Bee Hive to George T Martin, who had managed the store for some time. Originally from Kentucky, Mr. Martin arrived in Dodge City in 1881 and worked for Wright and Beverly, then York, Parker, and Draper. The new firm’s name was Strange and Martin. George’s brother, John, moved with his family from Great Bend to work at the Bee Hive.

The Globe-Republican, December 25, 1902
The Globe-Republican, March 12, 1903
The Journal-Democrat, May 18, 1906

George Martin obtained full ownership of the Bee Hive in May of 1906. H. J. Strange had been in poor health for several years and he moved with his family to Denver, hoping the climate would aid in his recovery.

The Globe-Republican, June 28, 1906
The Globe-Republican, May 6, 1909
The Dodge City Globe, December 29, 1910

The 1911 Sanborn Map shows Second Avenue was renumbered and the Bee Hive went from 805-806 to 500-502 Second Avenue, which are the current numbers for that building.

In 1912, the Bee Hive had a telephone line installed and the store was assigned lucky number 13.

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, July 26, 1912

George Cochran bought the Bee Hive building in February of 1913 and announced plans to move the Mosher and Cochran Drug Store to that location once the Bee Hive’s lease expired…in four and a half years. He also planned to install a new front on the building to make it look more modern. When the reporter asked George Martin whether he had considered buying the building, he said he expected the Bee Hive to outgrow the space before the end of the lease term. By February of 1914, his prediction seemed pretty accurate.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, February 10, 1914

Now this is fascinating. In July of 1914, the Bee Hive offered $1.10 for each silver dollar received. The Federal Reserve was created on December 23, 1913. Coincidence? I think not.

The Dodge City Globe, July 2, 1914

You may recall from previous posts that there are several buildings listed with incorrect dates of construction on the county website. This building is no exception; The county says it was built in 1915 but the Bee Hive had clearly occupied it since 1886 and was still there in 1916.

Dodge City Daily Globe, February 18, 1916

George Martin sold the Bee Hive to Frank Dunn of Garden City in December of 1916 with Dunn taking over the store January 1, 1917. Remember the Dunn furniture store back in 1884? Mr. Dunn immediately began remodeling the north room of the building. An automatic elevator was installed! The basement was finished and the storefront was modernized with plate glass. The most notable change, however, was the name. After more than 30 years, this was the end of the Bee Hive.

Dodge City Daily Globe, January 2, 1917

George Cochran made plans to move the Mosher and Cochran Drug Store into the south room of the building as soon as the Dunn’s space could be remodeled. I believe that was the last time the two sides of the building were occupied by one business. In addition, I have read that George Cochran tore down the Bee Hive building and put up a new one but it was only an assumption on the part of the author. The building was heavily remodeled with a new brick veneer but it appears to be the same structure. On the 1918 Sanborn Map, you can see the drug store on the corner of Second and Chestnut with the dry goods store just to the north.

In this post card, you can see the WWI memorial that was on Second Avenue as well as the Mosher and Cochran Drug Store on the northeast corner.

Photographer Unknown

By 1928, Dunn’s Dry Goods had moved to 308 W Chestnut and the space at 502 Second Avenue became home to Levinson’s Ladies Ready-to-Wear.

Photographer Unknown

By 1947, Burke’s Shoes was listed at 502 Second Avenue and they were there for-EVER. Literally! Or at least until 1994-ish. In this postcard, you can just barely make out the Burke’s sign on the right.

Photographer Unknown

502 N Second Avenue is now home to Dulceria La Chiquita.

Mosher & Cochran stayed on that corner until about 1965, although Charles Ashley Mosher died in November of 1949 and George Daniel Cochran in October of 1960. Brown’s Shoe Fit opened in 1965 at the corner of Second Avenue and Wyatt Earp Boulevard and stayed there until 1997, when the business moved to Comanche Plaza. Since then, the corner has housed Trails West, Flowers by Irene, and now Yogi’s Vape Shop.

Here are some photos I took around Christmas last year:

I had never heard of the Bee Hive until I started looking through old newspapers for completely unrelated stories. It’s fun to see how journalism and advertising have evolved over the past 130-plus years. We tend to assume the sales and reporting techniques we’re so familiar with now are much more modern than they actually are.

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South Dodge Entertainment Then and Now

My grandmother loved to dance and roller skate. There wasn’t much going on in the area around the Beeson House while Irene was growing up but she could enjoy two of her favorite activities right across the street.

“Jim McDowell opened a dance hall in a vacant garage (large) across the street from our house. 10 cents a dance with live bands, open Wednesday and Saturday nights. Some Saturdays, it would last ’til dawn…known as a Sunrise Dance. The parking lot would be covered with whiskey bottles. Some of the bottles were fancy. I met my first girl friend there. Girls came with their parents. One eve a good-looking young man asked me to dance but I was too shy. Wished later I had.”

Irene Beeson

Jim McDowell was the former Ford County Weed Supervisor who died in 1980. In 1930, he rented a room from my great-grandparents at the Beeson House. Jim’s occupation was listed on the 1930 Federal Census as manager of a public dance hall, working on his own account.

The vacant garage in question was Percy Orval Riley’s Sunnyside Garage, which may have previously occupied a location on South Second Avenue but I’m not completely sure about that. Irene’s best friend while she was in grade school was Florene Riley, who was Percy’s much-younger sister. Incidentally, Florene married Cecil Metcalf and was Barry’s mother, for those of you who are Dodge locals.

The Southwest News, October 29, 1925
The Southwest News, November 5, 1925

The first Sanborn Fire Insurance Map to include the northeast corner of what is now Beeson Road and Sunnyside Avenue was published in 1932. It’s a black and white PDF so I’ve included screenshots of Pages 1 and17 here.

This image from Page 17 is great until you start wondering what the heck Highway 45 was.

The map below kind of made me think it was actually showing McArtor Road (formerly Hwy 56) but it’s definitely what is now Beeson Road. All you have to do is look on a current map at where the railroad tracks cross 14th Street and it’s obvious. Plus, the 1930 Federal Census lists the Beeson House on “Township Highway.” Now we’ve all learned something.

In 1928, Riley Garage was listed on “Beeson Highway” but it moved to a new spot at 613 Sunnyside Avenue, which is where Poor Boy Kustomz is currently located. That building was dark green with white doors for many years, if I remember correctly. Percy and his wife, Alice, lived next door at 615 Sunnyside. The house which occupied that lot has been gone for several decades. His mother, Flora, lived on the other side of the building at 611 Sunnyside. Cecil and Florene (Riley) Metcalf lived a few houses south at 707 Sunnyside. At one point, the Riley family owned all of those lots.

Anyway, the dance hall became a roller skating rink while Irene was in high school (Class of 1940.) I’m not sure if it was ever opened as a public rink or if Irene and her friends just found a way inside and skated on the maple floor. I do remember her saying holes in the roof eventually allowed rain to ruin the floor and their fun. Here she is posing out front along Sunnyside and facing south.

Photographer Unknown

In the background, you can see the porch roof of the house that is still located at 708 Sunnyside Avenue. When I was a kid, I skated at the rink up on the bypass and it had concrete floors so I was amazed when she told me she skated on wood floors. It seemed so sketchy to me for some reason.

There was no business listing there by 1947 and it seems like it was torn down in the 1950s. The lot was really junky for a long time and then someone came in and cleaned it up maybe in the late 1980s or early ’90s. The satellite view on Google Maps still shows a clear outline of the foundation.

Here are a few photos I took recently:

Speaking of skates, I rolled around on these white ones throughout my childhood. Then I carried them around with me from state to state for decades until finally surrendering them to my cousin in their original box. Roller skates are serious business.

Photographer Unknown

Here’s some bonus content. I labeled this photo “skating rink” while Irene was still alive but I was studying the sign a couple days ago and thought I must have been mistaken. It looks like it’s a cafe so why would I think it was a skating rink? Well, if you look between the “CA” and “FOUNTAIN,” you will notice “PUNCH BROWN” in faded letters.

(L to R): Mary Jane Heft, Eleanor Sage, Irene Beeson – Photographer Unknown

That seems kind of weird unless you know that Punch Brown ran a skating rink! He had been undersheriff of Finney County circa 1917 and then relocated to Dodge City. In 1925, he opened a skating rink in the Merchants Pavilion on the west side of Second Avenue at Water Street.

The Southwest News, October 22, 1925

Not to be confused with the Hoover Pavilion, which was built in 1919, the Merchants Pavilion was constructed by the City of Dodge City in 1925 initially to house exhibitors’ booths at the Great Southwest Fair. When Punch Brown converted the building to a skating rink, he also added a separate dance floor. The idea was for the building to be used for dancing and skating during the winter and then booths could be brought back in for the fair each year. The 1926 Sanborn Map shows both pavilions as well as the surrounding structures.

The facility ended up hosting all sorts of events.

The Southwest News, March 25, 1926
The Hutchinson News, May 28, 1927

The City decided to sell the pavilion in 1929 to fund improvements at Wright Park and the fairgrounds. It’s unclear how exactly that transpired but Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co. was located there in 1937. Mayrath Machinery Company was in this building in 1945.

Dodge City Daily Globe, October 20, 1945

I think Mayrath may have been there a touch earlier because Dodge flooded in 1942 and the Minneapolis Moline sign can be seen in this photo. Someone else will have to decide if that year jives with the cars. That is not my department!

Photo by Red Miller

The building appears to have been vacant by at least 1947. By 1957, the building was home to Nufer-Stremel Used Cars. Now this is how you sell cars!

Great Bend Daily Tribune, August 5, 1958

That business morphed into Nufer-Hutton Used Cars by 1961. I can’t remember ever seeing a building in that spot. It makes me wonder if it was a victim of the 1965 flood.

The Google Maps satellite view makes it easy to see where the building was situated just south of Overhead Door.

Unfortunately, I didn’t grab any photos of this location while I was in Dodge this last time because I had no idea where this post would take me. If anyone knows for sure how the Merchants Pavilion story ended, please leave a comment!

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Rumor Check: Errol Flynn Drunk on City Hall Steps

A reader recently asked, “Is the story true: When Errol Flynn was making the movie, Dodge City, that he was found drunk on the steps of City Hall one morning next to local, Robert Lee Christopher?”

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy questions like this! Okay, so I think my reader meant while Flynn was in Dodge for the premiere of Dodge City since the movie wasn’t made here. And I have definitely heard rumors about Flynn’s behavior while he was in town but I started out with zero verifiable facts.

You’re probably already aware that the movie premiere didn’t just fall into our laps. This was a really big ask and really, a genius move. The Kansas contingent reportedly went to Hollywood with a scroll signed by 10,000 Dodge City residents, which honestly seems impossible, but who am I to say.

The Wichita Eagle, February 15, 1939

No, wait…FIFTEEN thousand signatures! This is a tall tale, if I’ve ever seen one. But it worked!

The Wichita Eagle, February 21, 1939

Errol Flynn’s drinking habits were very well-known and it would have been super awkward if Warner Brothers couldn’t locate him for the big show.

The Wichita Eagle (Evening), March 10, 1939

What in the world? “She won him in a raffle.” Can you even imagine?

The Hutchinson News, March 23, 1939

Luckily for Miss Butterfield, Warner Brothers had a plan to ensure Flynn didn’t break their date.

San Francisco Examiner, March 23, 1939

After an unsuccessful search for a yearbook photo, I found this shot of the lucky winner.

Daily News, (Los Angeles) March 30, 1939

With a $2 million budget, this film was kind of a big deal, though I’ve seen estimates anywhere from $1 to $2 million and all points in between.

Hollywood Citizen-News, March 31, 1939
Hollywood Citizen-News, March 31, 1939

And then the worst happened. Miss Butterfield’s date was ruined by her stupid brother and his stupid measles.

The Fresno Bee, April 1, 1939
Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1939

The premiere was shown simultaneously at the Dodge, Crown, and Cozy theaters and even then, there was no way for everyone to get a seat. The movie was shown on repeat all through the night.

Dodge Theatre, Photographer Unknown
The Wichita Sunday Eagle, April 2, 1939
The Wichita Sunday Eagle, April 2, 1939

The turnout was absolutely massive. Crowd estimates ranged from 20,000 to 100,000 and I really don’t think anyone had a good grasp of just how many people flooded the streets. The Santa Fe Railroad set up a kind of pop-up city at the railyard for the cast, crew, and reporters to stay. But we know Errol Flynn stayed at the Lora-Locke Hotel so these accommodations didn’t appear to be for the headliners.

Photo by Frank Locke

There was a police force (probably Santa Fe Railroad Police) assigned to the railyard keep out the riff-raff. In addition to area police and sheriff departments helping out around town, Dodge even had National Guard assistance for crowd control.

The Wichita Eagle, April 3, 1939
The Wichita Eagle, April 3, 1939
Wilmington Press, (Wilmington, Calif.) April 15, 1939

Walter Winchell reported that the journalists who went on the junket consumed 114 cases of Scotch so the rumor about Flynn seemed totally plausible. I asked around and there are people in Dodge who have heard the story many times but it’s become sort of an urban legend. No one knows where the story originated. I haven’t read one article or gossip column that even hinted at Flynn partying outside of the Lora-Locke. One newspaper estimated 78 sets of press credentials were issued so I would think *someone* would have taken notice of Flynn’s whereabouts. All of the papers I’ve located reported most of the stars turned in around midnight because their train was leaving early the following morning. Now Dodge City definitely didn’t do that! The town didn’t sleep at all that night. Most everyone partied until dawn and then saw the special train off at the depot!

Having struck out thus far, I decided to search from another angle. Who was Robert Lee Christopher? The 1930 Federal Census had a Robert L Christopher at 805 Avenue H in Dodge City.

Initially, I had no idea if this was the same person but this is the only newspaper item I’ve been able to find. The age of this child doesn’t jive with the census record above so I had my doubts about whether they later lived in Haskell County.

The Hutchinson News, February 27, 1940

But then I found this 1940 Federal Census with Arlie and children in Satanta (also located in Haskell County) so it is the same family. Census takers made mistakes all the time with names, ages, places of birth, etc. Also, people lie.

I contacted the Dodge City Police Department and was told they do have records for Robert Lee Christopher but nothing during the time of the premiere. They also don’t have any records related to Errol Flynn and yes, that was the name his parents gave him at birth. The Ford County Sheriff Department didn’t have any records. Based on what I’ve learned so far, I’m calling this one busted. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, definitely let me know!

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Beeson Station? Never Heard of It!

Do you ever wonder about those obscure dots on the maps that meteorologists point toward during their forecasts? You know, the dots on roads you’ve been using your entire life and you are absolutely certain that there is no “there” there? For Kansas people, Sears and Buttermilk are good examples. I really thought Merril Teller was crazy.

Ever since I received a 1936 world atlas as a gift, I’ve meant to look up the dot on the Kansas map that says, “Beeson.” Like you, I’d never heard of it. I would definitely remember if my grandmother had mentioned a train station named after the family!

The Popular Atlas of the World, 1936

It seemed like AT&SF archives would be a good place to start but that isn’t as easy as it sounds. I found a time table from 1873 that was for employee use only and there was nothing listed between Spearville and Dodge City at that time. This 1883 Santa Fe map is insanely cool but only lists Dodge, Wright, and Spearville. But here it is on this 1920 Kansas railroad map.

The announcement of its closing was the first mention I was able to find in the local newspapers.

The Globe-Republican, April 22, 1909

I had only a vague idea of where it was located and since the town boundaries have stretched dramatically over the years, learning it was six miles east of Dodge didn’t help much. Isn’t Wright considered six miles east of Dodge now? But it was still used as a landmark and I was able to use the legal description from this adjacent lot to narrow it down somewhat.

The Stafford County Republican, March 24, 1910

Terrific…let’s check out the maps.

Standard Atlas of Ford County Kansas, 1905-6

I zoomed in on those 11.36 acres, which helped, but still left five possibilities. But Lot 17 doesn’t make any sense on the old plat maps or the current parcel map.

So I looked at a later map that included irrigation ditches. It makes sense to have this near a jerkwater station but did it actually go under the tracks? I have no idea what the well situation was like out there.

Atlas and Plat Book of Ford County Kansas, 1916

This really doesn’t help. I went though the big book at the Ford County Register of Deeds office and found T. F. Garner had Lots 1 & 2 in Section 22. So the ad in the paper showing Lot 17 could have been the product of sloppy handwriting or lack of proofreading. In the current context, it wouldn’t make sense for Lots 1 & 2 to be near the middle of the section but if you scroll back up to the 1905 map, you’ll see the bottom row of lots was still part of the Fort Dodge Military Reservation.

But this article does help…maybe. Most winter storms come with a north wind and if the blocks ended up on the tracks, then I guess it had to be a parcel on the north side of the tracks.

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, January 6, 1911

So this article about a derailment at Beeson mentions a (water?) tower still in existence in 1911.

The Dodge City Globe, February 23, 1911

Here we have mention of a side track going north from Beeson up to the new ballast field.

Evening Kansan-Republican (Newton, Kansas), November 1, 1913

The current GIS survey map shows a side track going north to the Koch plant.

And the road referenced below is 116 Road.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, February 24, 1915

This article is confusing. Not because my idea of a drunken orgy is somewhat different from Mr. Mercado’s but because it seems like the station was again in use.

The Dodge City Journal, January 5, 1922

And that’s it…the last mention of the Beeson station. Having nothing else to go on, it was time to take a walk down the rails. So just understand, I like riding on trains but I know nothing about them. I used to ship plywood to Mexico, you guys. That’s the extent of my knowledge. But I’m pretty sure the rail bed has moved a bit over the past 100 years. So I just started walking and taking photos on both sides of the existing tracks to see if there were any markers or debris that looked interesting.

There were a couple spots directly behind the Koch plant that looked promising. Lots of broken up concrete, some blocks, a well, and wide spots along the rail siding that goes to Hi Plains Feed. One of my questions is whether the old AT&SF line was converted to private sidings once the old tracks were replaced. Anyone?

There has been so much construction in this area that I just don’t know what is old and what isn’t. But I did find this cool lock. And yes, I put it back exactly where I found it.

I was able to confirm the information I had found with the Kansas Heritage Center in Dodge. The Register of Deeds office was extremely helpful in my search. After looking through the giant book listing property transfers in Section 22, I was taken downstairs to the GIS/Survey Department. Ben and Jessica enjoy solving mysteries and Jessica found a railroad map from 1985 that still had Beeson listed between mile markers 347 and 348.

This map seems to confirm that T. F. Garner used the word “adjacent” a bit loosely in his 1910 auction advertisement. Ben took another look at the GIS map and pointed out these little notches along the tracks.

He said those notches had to come from work done by a woman named Theresa, who worked at the Ford County Appraiser’s Office for a million years. She made ridiculously detailed notes, especially whenever something interesting crossed her desk. Those notes often found themselves attached to files in the records closet. He suggested I go to the Appraiser’s Office and beg for access to those files. HA!

So I made my second hike of the day up the Lora-Locke stairs and am pretty sure those ladies thought I came from Mars. I left my contact information and do not expect to hear from them…like…ever. Not that I can blame them. But honestly, I would be happy to sit in the file room and look for myself. It’s not like this is top secret information.

Anyway, Ben also gave me contact information for a Survey Coordinator with the State of Kansas, who probably also decided I’m insane when my email landed in his inbox. I also emailed the Kansas Historical Society to see what they have in their collection that isn’t available online. They have so many AT&SF records but they aren’t necessarily named so that you have a good idea of their relevance. Finding aid? Pish posh!

Barring any additional evidence to the contrary, here’s where I think the Beeson station was located. We know the station was just west of mile marker 347.

If you compare the 1985 railroad map to the current GIS map, it appears to basically straddle the southwest and southeast quarters of Section 22…right near the switch for the Koch rail siding that goes to the north. And the 1913 article mentioned a line being installed that led to the ballast field 4 miles north of Beeson.

So there you have it. I’ll post updates if I receive any additional information but as of right now, I’m calling this mystery solved.

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Dodge City Grocers 1960s and Now

A while back, I researched bakeries and grocery stores from 1920 in Dodge City to see whatever happened to the businesses and the buildings. Now I’m going to spend some time on stores many of you will remember. In 1962, there were listings for two bakeries and 20 (twenty!!!!) grocery stores. I can’t cover them all but they’re listed below for your reference:

Polk’s Dodge City (Ford County, Kansas) Directory 1962
Polk’s Dodge City (Ford County, Kansas) Directory 1962

Central Grocery & Market – 108 E Oak Street – It’s still there! The location is directly north of the Central School playground.

The latest available in-color Sanborn Fire Insurance Map is from 1926 and it shows an empty lot. There is a 1932 Sanborn Map posted on the City of Dodge City’s website but it’s a black and white PDF. It also shows an empty lot. This building was referenced in my last post about Brundage and Brundage, which moved to 108 E Oak Street by 1942. By 1947, it was called Peterson’s Cash Market.

The county website says this structure was built in 1950. I guess it’s possible but it looks a tiny bit older. Just a smidge, though. In 1949, the store was Elliott Grocery & Market and they were hiring for a butcher but the store was available for lease to a “proven man.” In one of the ads, they actually said they preferred a man 50 to 60 years old. For whatever reason, those ads ran for a FULL YEAR.

The Advance Register, September 7, 1951

J. E. Collier operated Collier’s Grocery Mart in that spot from at least 1953 to 1957 and the address was listed as 106-108 E Oak. By 1959, it was called Central Grocery & Market.

The Advance Register, April 1, 1960

I’m not sure when our friend, Roland (Rollie) L May from the 1000 Sixth Avenue store bought the store but he owned it in 1967. For as long as I can remember, it’s been apartments and I’ve always been a fan of the curved wall.

I snapped a couple quick pics the other day:

J. S. Dillon & Sons – 313 S Second Avenue – Also still there! and 312 W Spruce Street – Demolished – Location is now the parking lot between Birds of a Feather Quilt Shop (old Centel building) and Carnegie Center for the Arts.

J. S. Dillon & Sons first came to Dodge in November of 1926 when they purchased the (Roy) Burnett Grocery at 206 Walnut Street, which was right next door to the Crown Theatre. If you look at the 1926 Sanborn Map, you’ll see the store was located basically smack dab in the middle of where the AT&T building is now on the Gunsmoke side.

The Southwest News, November 11, 1926

In May of 1928, there was a new store at 312 W Spruce Street. The Dodge City Journal moved to a new location at 314 W Spruce and the Dillon store was right next door in the same building. The 1926 Sanborn Map linked above also shows the corner of Third and Spruce, where there were previously only wood dwellings. Page 10 of the 1932 Sanborn Map shows the Spruce store but the image quality isn’t great.

The Dodge City Journal, February 13, 1930

The county website says the new store at 313 S Second Avenue was built in 1930 and that seems to be pretty close. They had definitely moved in and opened up sometime after February of 1931.

The Montezuma Press, December 31, 1931

Page 16 of the 1932 Sanborn Map shows there was a tile planing mill attached to the south end of the South Dillons. Crazy! But I guess that explains why there was originally an entrance on the north end of the building.

Tasker’s Book & Stationery Shop later moved into the old Dillons at 206 Walnut.

This is such a garbage photo but it appears to be South Dillons.

The Hutchinson News-Herald, March 31, 1949

Dillons remained at 312 W Spruce Street until at least 1962. Here’s what that spot looks like now:

By 1967, the north store had relocated to 2205 Central Avenue. I barely remember this store but it *seemed* huge compared to South Dillons.

Photo by Troy Robinson
Photo by Troy Robinson

I believe the new (current) North Dillons at 1700 N 14th Avenue was built in 1982. The old spot on Central was occupied by The Prescription Center for a long time but Anytime Fitness has now been in that location so long it’s hard to remember anything else being there.

I believe the South Dillons was closed by June of 2002 but really can’t remember exactly because I refused to believe it when I heard. I remember hearing over the years all the crap that’s been going on there and it’s…whatever.

This is how it looks now:

If you find that as depressing as I do, here’s a happy photo of the still-operational Dillons on Main Street in Great Bend. It’s almost exactly the same. It even smells the same! The only thing it’s really missing is that weird higher elevation in the rear bakery section. Otherwise, the layout is exactly as I remember it. In addition to the slightly different metal façade, the brick, tile, and stone patterns are also slightly varied. The stacked rock on the northeast end of the Dodge store was not original. There was previously another entrance there, along with a children’s entertainment area…according to my mom. I don’t remember that so it must have been remodeled before my time. The selection at the Main Street store is obviously limited by the available space but the produce selection was pretty damned good when I was there and the ice cream was fully stocked. 10/10 highly recommend!

Moving right along…

Oak Street Grocery – 205 W Oak Street – It’s still there! The location is on the south side of Oak Street between First and Second Avenues.

The 1924 county directory has the Oak Street Grocery (J. H. Clark, proprietor) listed at 206 W Oak Street but it appears that was a typo. The county website indicates the structure was built in 1910 but, as we have seen repeatedly, that is at least a decade early. The 1918 Sanborn Map has empty lots on both sides of the street and the 1926 Sanborn shows a small wood frame store with an address of 203 W Oak Street. That’s obviously the place since it’s tucked right against the alley and we have seen in previous posts how common it was for blocks to be renumbered over time.

The Dodger, December 7, 1926

Page 14 of the 1932 Sanborn Map shows what looks like the same structure with the 203 W Oak Street address.

I really haven’t found much on this store but Albert Vogel owned it from at least 1951 through 1967.

The Advance Register, September 7, 1951

It isn’t completely clear when the store closed and was converted to apartments but there was a building permit issued for a concrete porch in 1978.

Here’s how it looks now:

 

Pay Day Market – 201 S Second Avenue – The “new” building is still there. Location is currently Mi Rumba.

The first map to show a commercial building on this corner (that I’ve found) is the 1932 Sanborn Map. You will notice Willow Street was then called Maze Avenue. The street numbers in this area were a dumpster fire for decades and I’m not sure exactly when they were standardized. That building at Bridge and Maze was not on the 1926 map and since this is only B&W, I can’t tell if it was constructed from brick or wood. So I’m not sure if this is the same structure where Pay Day Market was initially located.

I don’t have the exact date when Pay Day Market opened but I know it was at 201 S Second Avenue in 1942. It seems weird to put in a grocery just a couple doors down from Sid’s Market (see Stotler’s below) that had been there for so many years. And then Dillons was just a couple doors down from that. By 1943, the address was shown as 203 S. Second. I’m amazed that Dodge had a 24-hour store in the 1940s.

The Advance Register, December 17, 1943

Anyway, the county website says the current structure was built in 1950 and that’s as good a guess as any. I think it’s interesting that their hours were actually cut back in the 1950s…but they were still open pretty late.

The Advance Register, December 25, 1953

Polk’s Dodge City (Ford County, Kansas) Directory 1960

Clyde Alvin Smith owned it at one time but I’m not exactly sure when that was. At some point, the store became Pay Day IGA and then by 1976 it was called Bob’s Pay Day IGA (Bob Pfannenstiel was the owner.) By 1977, Russ Clowdis was a co-owner of the store. Somewhere along the way, it became “Payday.”

Dodge City Daily Globe 13th Special Travelers Edition, Date Unknown

There was a second Dodge location at Comanche Plaza (Payday Plaza IGA) and Bob also owned the Payday IGA in Great Bend.

Great Bend Tribune, December 27, 1976

Remember what I said before about this store being too close to Dillons???? So it wasn’t just the south store…the north store was right across the street from the North Dillons! Was he *trying* to fail?

The Wichita Eagle, September 30, 1992
The Wichita Eagle, October 3, 1992
The Wichita Eagle, October 4, 1992

Personally, I blame those weird fold-down carts. Here’s how the store looks now:

Stotlers IGA Foodliner – 213 South Second Avenue – Demolished – Location is a couple doors south of Mi Rumba.

Page 16 of the 1932 Sanborn Map shows a dwelling at this address.

Like a lot of the buildings in that area, it appeared to have been built in the mid-1930s. I don’t know when it became a grocery store but in 1942, it was Sid’s Stop & Shop Market. By 1947, it was just Sid’s Market.

Dodge City’s Diamond Jubilee Souvenir, 1947, Published by the Dodge City Chamber of Commerce

Sid’s also had a Cafe but I believe both closed around 1954.

Stotler’s Grocery, Inc. was formed in April of 1955 and set up shop in the former Sid’s Market. As I mentioned above, this was a very busy area for grocery stores with Pay Day Market just a couple doors to the north, South Dillons a block south, and the old Moseley’s basically across the street where the liquor store is now. Stotler’s also had a location for a while at 1011 W Chestnut Street, which was the old West Side Market.

This is the old Sid’s/Stotler’s spot:

If you look at the Google Maps Street View, you can use the glitches to see the old building. This is one of my favorite things about Google. Here’s the Street View from 2007:

The later Stotler’s building was located at 905 S Second Avenue and the county shows it was constructed in 1965. One of my uncles worked in the meat department when he was in high school. There were a couple gas pumps out front and a liquor store at the south end of the building. It seems like the whole store was carpeted (red and black?) and I think it only had two checkout lanes. But I can’t recall a time when they were both open. I remember how it smelled but there’s no way I can describe it other than to say it was different from Dillons…but not in a bad way. Just different.

There was another Stotler’s store in Lewis but other than a robbery in the 1970s, I don’t know anything about it. It seems like the Dodge store also closed in the early 1990s but I really can’t remember for sure.

Here’s how the final Stotler’s location looks now:

If you look at the Street View, you can still see where the pumps were out in front.

Stramel Grocery – 610 Sunnyside Avenue – It’s still there! Location is on the east side of the street just south of the curve between Market Street and Beeson Road.

The only reason I know about this one is because my grandmother told me when I was very young that it had once been a grocery store. I just couldn’t imagine it. But this was circa 1980 and it was bright white with that railing that seemed very fancy at the time. I mean, I was five!

The county website shows the structure was built in 1955 but I’m calling that myth busted. That may have been when the garage in back was built! In addition to the store, Andrew Stramel also had a trailer court at that address. That may have come later, though…I’m just not sure. It was at the east end of the long driveway, if I am remembering the story correctly.

The Advance Register September 7, 1951

I don’t know when they closed but my mom doesn’t remember the home ever being a grocery so it must have been shortly after 1962. It looks like Andrew Stramel transferred his membership from the Dodge City Council (possibly to Wright) in 1963 so that fits. There was no listing for Stramel Grocery in 1967.

By 1968, Mrs. H. Moore lived there. The county doesn’t list dates on building permits that would say when it was rearranged into a duplex.

Here’s how it looks now:

The railing that I thought was so neat has been all but dismantled. It actually went up on the roof like a real balcony back in the day.

That’s it! That’s the story. It’s kind of amazing that Dodge once had a Piggly Wiggly, Jack and Jill, and Safeway. I once spent some time learning about small-town grocers and franchise issues…hoo boy. It’s a protectionist racket! Maybe another day…

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Chalk Beeson Theater Then and Now

This is another building that makes me queasy to even consider. But I will tell you that every time someone wins hundreds of millions of dollars playing the lottery, like nearly everyone else, I think about what I would do if I were in their shoes. Some people waste it all on hookers and blow. I, on the other hand, would spend every last penny turning the Chalk Beeson Theater back into a theater. So basically, I would light all of the dollars on fire and have my heart ripped from my chest with a dull, rusty chisel. Same, same.

Photographer Unknown

First of all, it was “Theater,” not “Theatre.” Zoom in on the sign above. Check out the letterhead below. Merritt wasn’t known for being fancy. And it didn’t take long for the “The” to be eliminated.

“Ida was very worried about [Ote’s] lifestyle [as a professional musician] and convinced Merritt to help him settle down by building a theater and putting Ote in as manager.

Irene Beeson

The newspapers of the day gushed about the brothers’ desire to honor their legendary father but really, it was about trying to keep Uncle Ote in Dodge. I assume this story was Ida’s doing and can only imagine Ote’s face when he saw what they had planned for him.

I laugh every time I see this. Like, you think the Paige is a big deal? Wait til that brand-new Stutz Bulldog Special arrives on the rail in September!

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, February 25, 1915

I’m unsure if it was an assumption on the part of the reporter or a promise made to Merritt and Ida but there was no way Ote was staying in Dodge during construction! He was hired as manager of Thurlow Lieurance’s orchestra, which was engaged in a Santa Fe tour all the way to California in April of 1915 and he was gone for nearly a month. There was a motorcycle promotion tour in June, a trip to Denver, and several orchestra engagements in Kansas City, including an 11-day contract at Electric Park. In mid-October, he was joyriding around Kansas City in his new Stutz with Al Jolson.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, October 23, 1915

Managing the theater construction was all on Merritt. You may remember that Merritt had a sand pit and he made his own concrete blocks to build his house south of town. By April of 1915, 3,000 of the 17,000 blocks needed to construct the theater had been made. The building permit was issued in May and the wood frame structure (built by Henry Sturm) that had been on the site for about 30 years was torn down on May 28. The 1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows how the site looked prior to demolition.

Excavation began immediately. By July, the walls were going up and a gasoline engine was attached to a mechanism used to haul the concrete blocks up to the masons.

The concrete balcony was poured in August. I have no idea what happened to them but I remember looking at portrait-size photos of the balcony while it was under construction and it was incredible. The steel-reinforced beams were absolutely massive. Merritt built things to last. He and Ote (haha) hoped to have the theater opened by October and employed two shifts of workers but it was just too much work in such a tight timeframe. The concrete roof was completed on September 9, 1915. Work began on interior finishes in October. Sidewalks were poured by mid-November. Here’s how the building appeared on the 1918 Sanborn Map.

According to the newspapers, C. E. Smith was hired to be the first manager since Ote obviously wasn’t going to do it. This could be the same C. E. Smith who managed The Dodge City Abstract Co. and he pulled double duty for a while. But I was looking at box office receipts and I swear they say “E. E. Smith” so I’m not sure. “The Only Girl” was chosen for the theater’s opening and it was headlined by Dodge City’s own Elsie Baird. Elsie credited much of her success to encouragement she received from Chalk as a youngster.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, November 23, 1915

Ote was remarkably skilled at rounding up outstanding musicians to play at events and in military bands. He played with Arthur Pryor’s Band and was able to persuade another Pryor veteran, clarinetist Fred Joste (last name is misspelled in the article below) to play at the opening along with his friends from the Shubert Theater and Colorado Midland Band.

The turnout was excellent despite the crappy weather.

Dodge City Daily Globe, December 17, 1915

My family seriously scrapbooked everything.

Here’s an undated shot of the stage and I can only hope this was for a special production.

Photographer Unknown

In addition to traditional performances, the theater was used for parties, graduation ceremonies, and large meetings. Irene’s older sister, Betty, had her ninth birthday party there in May of 1916.

It’s my understanding that the Chalk Beeson Theater was the first in Kansas to have Pantages Vaudeville.

Dodge City Daily Globe, October 17, 1916

“The first thing I can remember was sitting on the marble ticket slab where Mama [Beth Beeson] sold tickets.”

Irene Beeson
Ida Beeson holding granddaughter Irene Beeson outside the theater in 1923

“That left Merritt with the theater to manage. He [Ote] never took an interest except to play in the orchestra pit now and then. Merritt came out a big loser. So much for trying to help others.”

Irene Beeson

I doubt the arrangement with C. E. (or E. E.) Smith to manage the theater was ever meant to be long-term so Merritt managed it until his retirement in 1923. Wolf Goldstein leased the theater and was one of my grandmother’s favorite people. I’m sure that was completely unrelated to him supplying her with Hershey’s Kisses.

The Dodge City Journal, August 30, 1923

You’ll note there is no mention of Uncle Ote! He transferred his musicians union membership to Los Angeles for more than six months and Ida accompanied him for the winter.

The Dodge City Journal, September 13, 1923

Thanksgiving 1923 (L-R) Knight Hallock, Irene Beeson, Wolf Goldstein, Merritt Beeson, Frank Locke

“Daddy had brought out a Jew from Kansas City to help manage the theater. His name was Wolf Goldstein. The citizens ran him out of town for being a Jew. He bought me my first candy. It was a sack of Hershey’s Kisses from a confectionery across the street from the theater.”

Irene Beeson

By “citizens,” my grandmother meant The Klan.

The Dodge City Journal, April 3, 1924

You think? The shit that was going on in and around Dodge at that time? He was smart not to tell “anyone” but I’m certain Frank and Merritt knew. And what exactly is this next headline referencing with “Among Missing?” Who else disappeared?

The Southwest News, April 4, 1924

What do I mean when I blame The Klan? This…is what I mean. How the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks did a real-live newspaper accept money for and print this threatening garbage? If you pay attention to the tone of their reporting, it appears they were sympathetic at a minimum.

The Southwest News, June 5, 1924 – emphasis mine

A search through the archives of The Ford Progress also turned up numerous examples of favorable Klan coverage.

Anyway, Frank Locke managed the theater until it was leased to W. H. Harpole in August of 1924. I would say Locke’s management style was legit.

The Southwest News, June 5, 1924

At that point, the Crown, Cozy, and Beeson were all managed by Harpole. It was to be a long-term lease from August of 1924 until November of 1933.

“When I was about three years old, a road show came to town and during one of the performances I was in the back row with my mother listening to the orchestra. As they started to play a very catchy tune, I climbed down and danced down the aisle to the orchestra pit and back. I could not resist. I could hear the people snicker (at least the ones who could see my small body.) This was during intermission of the performance.”

Irene Beeson

Australian May Robson appeared at the Beeson a few times before she hit it big as a movie actress. I remember seeing an autographed photo she had given to Irene.

I believe it was Harpole who booked the 1923 Broadway play “White Cargo” in January of 1926 and it was apparently “not exactly suited to tastes.” That’s because this was one of the first (if not the first) Broadway plays to portray a white man married to a black woman. *Such scandal* The play was based on Ida Vera Simonton’s book, “Hell’s Playground” about an African rubber plantation.

The Southwest News, January 7, 1926

The Southwest News, January 14, 1926

Since Merritt wasn’t managing the theater at this time, I don’t have the box office receipts to see how it did but I found this next piece wildly amusing. Like, burlesque is TOTALLY FINE but an interracial relationship is DISGUSTING? Calm your tits, Ethel. You too, Leroy.

The Southwest News, January 21, 1926

So that’s that.

The theater hosted a ton of boxing matches from about 1924 into the early 1930s. A boxer actually hit his head on the ring construction and tragically died a few days after a match there in 1928.

The Wichita Eagle and The Wichita Beacon Sunday Magazine, April 23, 1967

I’ve mentioned before that E. M. (Ole) Olson was a close friend of Ote’s. In July of 1930, Ole led a concert at the Beeson Theater that was broadcast on the brand-spanking-new KGNO.

The Wichita Evening Eagle, July 1, 1930

But by this time, the building was showing its age. It had only been 15 years but movie technology had advanced rapidly and sound systems were expensive to install…especially after the market crashed in 1929. The Beeson had competition from the new Dodge Theater in the Million Dollar Block just across the street. The Dust Bowl also began in 1930 so things were on a downhill slide.

Since talkies were impossible to show at the Beeson, only live events were held for the next few years. The Little Theater Players of Dodge City presented the play, “Sick Abed” at the Beeson Theater on January 31, 1933 and I think it closed after that show. I believe it reopened under the management of George T. Goodwin in March of 1933 but I’ve seen conflicting dates.

An RCA sound system was installed and the theater reopened in February of 1934 with Goodwin still in as manager. Finally, the Beeson began showing first-run talking pictures. That arrangement was short-lived, though. I’m still unclear about exactly how events transpired but the theater closed again in April of 1934 and foreclosure proceedings were pending. I think Fox Theatres in Kansas City was involved with the lease and there was talk that they were responsible for things going sideways. Either way, Merritt sold the theater in February 1935 and Elmer C Rhoden of Fox Theatres began making plans to remodel the building for storefronts on the main floor with a ballroom on the balcony level.

The Ritz Ballroom opened in December of 1935. I have in my notes the first band was “The Oregonians” and 150 couples attended. The Ritz was also used for sound recording and radio broadcasting.

The Wichita Eagle (Evening), May 17, 1941

During WWII, the Ritz Ballroom was the Dodge City USO Club. Here are some undated photos taken by our friend, Frank Locke:

May Drug Company, Inc. was formed May 1, 1944. Clever! The drug store, which had a very unfortunate phone number, was in the corner spot on the main floor and the sporting goods store was right next door to the east.

Dodge City’s Diamond Jubilee Souvenir, 1947, published by the Dodge City Chamber of Commerce

In 1953, May Drug Co. and May Sporting Goods Co. were the only businesses listed at the old theater.

By 1960, the sporting goods store was vacant. That spot was later filled by Kansas Abstract & Investment Co along with Myers Agency (insurance and real estate) and then Harms Music Co. (owned by Lily E Harms) in 1967. In 1967, the ballroom was mainly used for recordings, and occasionally for local dramatics and musical offerings.

The ballroom was vacant off and on for several years. For a while, it housed the Demon’s Den. It was later turned into a nightclub and I assure you it takes more than a bit of arson to bring down a Merritt Beeson building. Although tampering with the hydrants was a nice touch.

The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, May 6, 1983

I’m not sure when the main floor was reconfigured to house three businesses but I do remember The Trophy Shop, George Voss, and Studio De Lari being there for a long time. As far as I know, no one tried to deal with the balcony after the arson fiasco.

The last time I was in the building was probably 20 years ago and I was so excited to arrange a tour with the former owner. But man, when I walked inside it was so insanely depressing that I couldn’t wait to leave. Shit brown carpeting and shit brown paneling and shit brown stucco. It was too much. Like, it was bad when I had my senior photos taken at Studio De Lari back in the…never mind when. But the building was neglected and then neglected some more. I didn’t even ask about the balcony area or the basement. I would have liked to see if it was obvious how the floor was installed to be a level surface. I’m not sure if the basement dressing rooms were removed. I assume so.

The good news is the building has a new owner who had it reroofed back in 2020 and it has also gotten a fresh coat of paint. Somewhere along the way, that rickety old fire escape was removed. You know the one that looked like it could fall and kill someone at any moment? Right. Anyway, here’s how it looks now:

If you haven’t already noticed, Google Maps often has glitches in the Street View which allow you to see before and after shots. Click here to see images from 2007 to 2012 mixed in with more recent shots. On the desktop version, you can actually click on the little slider to choose your view. And if you follow the Street View over to the First Avenue side, you can see the fire escape of death and remnants of the Ritz sign as well as the old lighted awning over the door next to the Osage Building.

That was a lot. I may put together a post containing advertisements, contracts, and other promotional items from the theater but there’s just so much! I also have some questions from readers that I need to research. Thanks again to everyone who has donated. I hope you find all of this as interesting as I do!

If you like what you see, be sure to subscribe (way at the bottom of the post on mobile devices) to receive an email each time a new post is published and share on social media. You can also buy me a cup of coffee using the donation form. Thanks for reading!

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Who Killed Walter Locke?

The quick answer is, “No one. He died of a stroke.” But there’s just so much more to the story and if you could go back in time to 1922, I bet anyone you asked would tell you Ivan Stultz killed Walter.

I promised a more detailed post on the Bargain Store/Eckles Department Store and this one was definitely worth the work. It’s no secret that people with an entrepreneurial spirit tend to experience highs and lows, some of which can be quite dramatic. Walter N Locke was no exception and he saw more than his fair share of boom and bust cycles.

He came to Dodge City from Pennsylvania by way of St. Joseph, Missouri around 1884 and found himself Deputy Sheriff under Pat Sughrue by 1885. Walter and O. A. Bond were granted “franchise and exclusive right to maintain, operate, and carry on the telephone business for and within the limits of Dodge City, Kansas…” in October of 1886. He was also one of the proprietors of the St. James Hotel. Walter married Josephine Tilghman on November 17, 1886 and you’ll remember that their daughter, Hattie, married Otto Theis and was half of the inspiration for naming the Lora-Locke Hotel.

Walter was involved in everything. Fraternal organizations, business organizations, real estate, insurance, groceries, you name it. He reopened the Cox livery stables in September of 1891 but these were some rough years. There were failures and foreclosures. He became an auctioneer.

Walter was a junior partner in Fitzgerald & Locke and in the spring of 1894, he was traveling all over the eastern US ordering stock for the new store.

The Dodge City Democrat, July 14, 1894

Walter really understood marketing and throughout the lifespan of the store he would rely heavily on half to full-page ads…sometimes on the front page, above the fold. I wanted to include them all but he advertised ALL THE TIME. It appears to have worked because the store was expanded in April of 1895.

Somewhere along the way, the Bargain Store acquired a co-manager.

The Ford County Leader, July 12, 1895

The store moved to the R. M. Wright building in early 1898. I’m not sure when it opened but at some point, Fitzgerald & Locke had a store in Lakin. I believe that branch was sold in December of 1908.

Western Kansas Live Stock Journal, February 15, 1900

Walter’s son, Frank, was 16 years old in 1903 and I found a brief mention that he was “holding down the clothing department” at the store. I imagine he first began helping out there at a much younger age.

We know from my previous post that Walter wanted to build the new Bargain Store at Second and Walnut long before he was able to make it happen. Construction would require an enormous amount of capital so Fitzgerald & Locke, the Stubbs & Barkley grocery, and A. D. Smith & Son store were combined to create the Dodge City Mercantile Company.

Things were shaping up by the summer of 1908.

The Journal-Democrat, June 12, 1908

The Dodge City Mercantile Company was officially created on February 20, 1909. By March, the building had been accepted from the contractor and the fixtures were being installed. The store opened on April 19, 1909. This piece gives a ton of information about the layout of the building as well as the people working there.

The new store was completely wrecked by a massive fire on November 1, 1909. You may not be able to read the tiny type but I wanted to show what an enormous blow this was to Dodge City and everyone involved.

The Globe-Republican, November 4, 1909

The loss was calculated at $180,000 with only $76,000 in insurance. In addition to the working members of the Dodge City Mercantile Company, there were 45 employees who were jobless until operations could be resumed. Incredibly, there were no serious injuries.

After the fire, the town rallied to keep the Bargain Store in business.

Operations were spread out all over with space leased in three separate buildings.

The Globe-Republican, March 10, 1910

The new building was occupied by late September of 1910 and operations gradually ramped up throughout October. Walter formed the Locke Mercantile Company on October 3, 1910. I see that the Dodge City Mercantile Company was dissolved but the Secretary of State website doesn’t list a date.

Even though the Bargain Store was his baby, Walter still had all sorts of other business arrangements. In addition to apparently managing Gwinner’s new shoe store on Second Avenue, he was still involved in real estate.

The Dodge City Globe, August 22, 1912

The Dodge City Globe, November 7, 1912

Here’s a fun photo with a bunch of old-timers! Frank Locke and my great-grandfather, Merritt Beeson, were good friends. Frank did Merritt a huge solid by taking over management of the Chalk Beeson Theater after Wolf Goldstein was run out of town for being Jewish. More about that outrage later.

The Dodge City Globe, July 23, 1914

There’s no easy way to share this next one because of how the text was broken up but I think you get the idea…the place was both massive and magnificent.

The Dodge City Journal, October 9, 1914

Dodge City Daily Globe, January 1, 1917

So do you remember me telling you about how excited I was to ride the elevator at Eckles? The first modern elevator was installed at the Bargain Store in 1917.

Dodge City Daily Journal, March 1, 1917

Walter had a reputation for being a generous employer and often held Christmas dinners for his staff at the O’Neal House Hotel in addition to handing out monetary gifts.

Dodge City Daily Journal, December 26, 1917

So the Bargain Store made it through all kinds of turmoil including the shortages caused by WWI but the betrayal of Walter’s trust by Secretary and Treasurer, Ivan E Stultz proved to be too much.

The Dodge City Journal, December 8, 1921

Because it was an officer of the corporation who was accused of embezzlement, the creditors immediately took over operations of the store so everything could be analyzed.

The Hutchinson News, December 15, 1921

Stultz pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement totaling $1,100 but the company initially suspected he was responsible for more like $17,000. Regardless, each count carried a penalty of one to three years. The auditors kept digging and found irregularities plus his personal account at the store totaling more than $27,000 and then everyone started calling in their notes because it was obvious Stultz was going to prison.

The Dodge City Journal, February 9, 1922

Walter suffered a paralytic stroke at the store on April 22, 1922. By the 27th, he seemed to be showing some improvement but that was really just wishful thinking.

After Ivan was sentenced to prison, his wife filed for divorce.

The Dodge City Journal, May 18, 1922

And then Ivan died in jail only days later. With that issue resolved, the committee of creditors could move forward with normalizing operations.

The Dodge City Journal, June 15, 1922

The Dodge City Journal, June 22, 1922

In early July, Stultz’s widow signed over to Walter the deeds to three lots (one with their former residence and two vacant lots) in the Fairview Addition. Walter, in turn, signed them over to Prudential Trust Company. Meanwhile, Olavus A Donhowe of Clarinda, Iowa was hired to manage the Bargain Store the first week of July.

Walter unfortunately died on July 17, 1922 and it was noted at the time that people close to him believed it was the Stultz affair which caused his demise.

The Hutchinson News, July 18, 1922

As previously mentioned, the Bargain Store continued on for a time but it just wasn’t the same.

The Southwest News, May 9, 1924

The building was sold to the Eckles brothers, who opened the Eckles Brothers Department Store in May of 1926.

I haven’t forgotten about the follow-up grocery post! Archival materials were promised by a certain someone and I will get that wrapped up just as quickly as I can. In the meantime, that book isn’t going to research itself.

If you like what you see, be sure to subscribe (way at the bottom of the post on mobile devices) to receive an email each time a new post is published and share on social media. You can also buy me a cup of coffee using the donation form. Thanks for reading!

Donation

Your support keeps the caffeine flowing! Make a one-time donation. Your contribution is appreciated!

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