Tag Archives: Architecture

And then we discovered a town called New Lancaster and the New Lancaster General Store

The past few months, Jim and I have spent every available weekend to get out of the house for a few hours, even crossing into Missouri–gasp!–to visit Civil War battlefields we discovered through the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area website. So I have pictures and stories dating back to January that I’m just getting around to telling, and one of those stories is about the town of New Lancaster.

But first, some history. If you’ve read Jeff Guinn’s wonderful book Go Down Together: The Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, you know that Guinn suggests that part of the infamous duo’s success had to do with two recent inventions: the Rand McNally highway map and the motor inn.

Yes, before the early 1920s, Americans apparently bumbled around the countryside, following vaguely pointed fingers and obscure directions like “turn left at the Smith’s barn,” only to find out hours later that they were supposed to turn where the barn was before it burned down 20 years earlier, and which, as people from out-of-town, they had no reason to know about. And after an exhausting search for the long-gone barn, their only option for rest would be to pitch a tent in the field next to the dirt track that passed for a road when they were too tired to go on.

You can imagine how maps and motor inns might have improved the traveling experience.

Anyway. Jim and I were wandering around Miami County and I was studying Google Maps on my phone when Jim reached behind the seat and pulled out the giant paper Delorme Kansas Road Atlas, circa 1997. Despite cellphones and GPS, we haven’t let go of our paper maps, but I was still surprised when Jim actually found where we were on the back cover page index and flipped open the atlas and said, “New Lancaster? Have we been there?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, so off to New Lancaster we went, using an 18-year-old map, whose road names did not necessarily coincide with anything in reality.

But then we found New Lancaster, a town so tiny that you can stand in one place and see the “Pavement Ends” signs on both sides of the community just by turning your head. The the really amazing find was the New Lancaster General Store.

New Lancaster General Store

The New Lancaster General Store.

The New Lancaster General Store’s roots date back to 1874. After the original building was destroyed by fire, the New Lancaster Grange, a prominent community organization, bought the land and built a new structure in 1903. During the next century, the building would be bought and sold a few times, serving as a general store, a co-op, and a distributor for cream separators and John Deere implements. At different times it housed a telephone switchboard and the post office and operated a creamery, an ice stable, a poultry house, and a livery on the property.

Stephen and Kristin Graue, the owners and operators of Middle Creek Winery, took over the property, and last fall, they reopened it as a general store that specializes in Kansas goods and honors its historic roots.

The New Lancaster General Store is an outlet for Middle Creek Wine, and Kristin is happy to pour you a sample to help you decide what to take home.

Kristin Graue pulls down a bottle of Middle Creek Wine.

So many of these types of false-front general stores have had their bones destroyed by constant repurposing. The New Lancaster General Store managed to survive the decades without too much carnage. The original floors, shelves, and tin ceiling are still in place, and I was especially charmed to see they still have a functioning rolling ladder that long-ago clerks would have used to reach the high shelves.

The rolling ladder at the New Lancaster General Store.

The rolling ladder at the New Lancaster General Store.

The Graues have also turned one of the back rooms into a country-chic meeting room that would be a lovely place for a getaway luncheon, bridal shower or baby shower.

The meeting room at the New Lancaster General Store.

The meeting room at the New Lancaster General Store.

Should you find yourself in Miami County, this little country store is worth a stop. And feel free to ask questions! The Graues love to talk about the products they sell and the process of restoring the store.

And the Graues’ next project? Restoring the town’s old church-turned-Grange Hall, which will some day be another great place for weddings and other events.

The old Grange Hall is a block away from the New Lancaster General Store.

The old Grange Hall is a block away from the New Lancaster General Store.

Read more:

New Lancaster General Store National Register of Historic Places Application

Sunday Snapshot: Hamblin Building in Ottawa, Kansas

The Hamblin Building is one of my favorite buildings in historic downtown Ottawa. I’m still exploring the history of this building, which once housed People’s National Bank and is rumored to have been one of the first buildings architect George P. Washburn was hired to work on after arriving in Ottawa (he did carpentry work). I love the lines and course stonework as it curves around the block.

Sunday Snapshot: Anderson County Courthouse

Because most Kansas towns were platted during or after the Civil War and were designed to be railroad-friendly, few of them have an honest-to-goodness town square.  (Think of the town square in the show Ghost Whisperer and you’ll know what I’m talking about.) However, Garnett, Kansas, really does have a town square, with four main streets surrounding it. In the center is the beautiful and historic Anderson County Courthouse.

The courthouse was designed by Kansas architect George Washburn, who designed many other courthouses, including the Franklin County Courthouse in Ottawa, Kansas. Completed in 1902, this fanciful Romanesque Revival building is still serving its original purpose and anchors both the square and the town.

Anderson County Courthouse in Garnett, Kansas.

Anderson County Courthouse in Garnett, Kansas.

A postcard, a burial vault, and the search for Belle: A Kansas building story

Not long after we moved to Ottawa, Jim and I were exploring an antique store that occupies a building that once belonged to the local Coca-Cola bottling facility. I picked up several old postcards featuring local places and then promptly forgot about them until my friend Patsy Terrell, who collects handwriting samples for her blog, Words by Hand, asked for submissions.

A postcard featuring a building at the corner of 1st and Main in Ottawa, Kansas.

A postcard featuring a building at the corner of 1st and Main in Ottawa, Kansas.

I pulled out my favorite new-to-me postcard–a card full of admonishments to the recipient for not writing–and scanned it for her. But then I really looked at what the sender wrote and realized I had something important.

Bella A.'s letter to Mrs. T. E. Kennedy on the back of the postcard.

Belle A.’s letter to Mrs. T. E. Kennedy on the back of the postcard.

This is my new store building how do you like it ask Mr. K. what he thinks of concrete for a building. Solid concrete except ceiling and roof.

And that’s when I realized I was holding a postcard from someone connected to the construction of one of the only buildings built with formed concrete blocks in historic downtown Ottawa.

What is now Franklin County had been settled by Native Americans for a very long time before the Ottawa Town Company plotted out what would become downtown Ottawa. The first official sale of the property that would become 101 North Main Street was sold to E.D. Hall in November of 1865. During the next forty-five years, the land would change hands at least ten times. According to the Sandborn Fire Insurance Maps of 1884, 1888, 1893, 1899, and 1905, the property would house a harness maker, a blacksmith, a few lunch diners, a barber or two, a secondhand store, a coal storage facility and even a hay and feed store.

Charles F. Lamb served as secretary and general manager of the Ottawa Vault & Construction Company.

In 1909, F. E. and Alta Sumstine bought the building from the estate of Curtis S. Glass and then sold it to a new buyer: the Ottawa Cement Burial Vault Company, which had incorporated the year before by J. M. McWharf, a local physician serving as president; C. F. Lamb, whose family was also connected to the undertaker business, served as the secretary and general manager; D. H. McCullough, served as vice president, and C. F. Crain, who was in real estate, served as treasurer. The company would change its name to the Ottawa Vault & Construction Company by 1910, when it was featured in the Ottawa, Kansas Souvenir, a publication that featured area businesses.

The Ottawa Vault and Construction Company, a large plant devoted exclusively to the manufacture of the Stevenson Burial Vault and concrete building material, is located at First and Main streets. They also manufacture concrete blocks, chimneys and porch columns, shingles, fancy hitching posts and they will make anything to order out of cement. This plant employs fifteen skillful mechanics and has a pay roll [sic] of $300.00 a week. This firm manufactured the first air-tight, indestructible burial vault, which has met with public favor and has received universal commendation from all.

Stevenson Burial Vault, patented in 1906.

Stevenson Burial Vault, patented in 1906.

It would make sense that a company specializing in the formation of cement into useful objects would choose to build its building out of the stuff. Unlike many modern buildings made of concrete blocks, the building at 101 North Main Street is constructed from blocks shaped like rough-hewn limestone, not unlike most of the building foundations being constructed at the time.  It is only their uniform roughness that gives them away.

Only the uniformity of the rough-hewn stone gives away the fact that the stones are formed concrete.

Only the uniformity of the rough-hewn stone gives away the fact that the stones are formed concrete.

What becomes of the Ottawa Vault & Construction Company is not clear. At the Franklin County Register of Deeds, I found that by 1911, the building became the property of William Berg, whose family was also in the undertaker/funeral director business. The building would be sold twice more until it belong to John Scott, who ran Ottawa Transfer & Storage Company out of it until the 1960s while renting out parts of the building to barbers, taxi services, eateries, a distributor of the Kansas City Star newspaper, and various shops. My personal favorite pair of businesses were run by Adelbert F. and Elizabeth Hay: they ran both Top Hat Taxi company and City Cab Co. and Wake-Up Service.

Ad from the 1936 Polk Directory for Ottawa, Kansas.

Ad from the 1936 Polk Directory for Ottawa, Kansas.

In 1966, the building sat vacant for the first time.

In 1975, Charles Underwood would purchase the building from the Scott family and the building would become the storefront for Underwood Plumbing. The Underwood family would own the building for the next three-and-a-half decades. Today, the building is owned by Timothy Harris and houses a branch of Edward Jones.

The structure has undergone modifications during the past 102 years, but the basic concrete stonework remains.

The structure has undergone modifications during the past 102 years, but the basic concrete stonework remains.

And now we return to the postcard.

Determining the identity of Mrs. T. E. Kennedy was the easy part. The 1903-1904 Polk Directory for Ottawa lists a Kennedy, Thomas E and Mrs. Roeina [sic] R. at 124 South Maple in Ottawa. Thomas Kennedy was an employee with the AT&SF railroad. According to Rowena Kennedy’s obituary (which ran in the Amarillo Daily News on October 30, 1950, Rowena Ross was born in 1865 along an old San Antonio Cattle Trail to parents from Tennessee and Louisiana. She made her way to Kansas, where she met Thomas E. Kennedy, whose Irish/English family settled in Wellsville. Sometime between 1905 and 1910, they made their way to Belton, Texas, where they show up in the 1910 U.S. Census. In 1912, they would move to Amarillo, where they would stay for the rest of their lives.

But who was Belle A.? That is a bigger mystery. The postcard was mailed in 1910. None of the men listed in the Ottawa, Kansas Souvenir had wives or daughters named Belle, Isabella, or anything similar who would have been of an age to be friends with Rowena Kennedy.

Connected to C. F. Crain are two possibilities. His own wife was named Nellie A., and could have gone by Belle. Another possibility is a woman who appears only in the 1907 in the Polk Directory–Belle Crain, a boarder at 623 West 5th who is employed by the Martin Post Card company, which was owned by William H. “Dad” Martin, who was famous for his exaggerated postcards. However, Belle Crain never appears in the directory again, and it is unclear if she moved, married, passed away, or was actually a typo in the directory..

Another interesting possibility comes from the original deed for the Ottawa Cement Burial Vault Company, which lists a man named F. C. Dobson as secretary. Dobson would go on to run Ottawa Milling, but at one point, he was married to a woman named Isabella, who is mysteriously named his widow (though I wonder if the Polk Directory didn’t actually mean his divorcee) in the 1903-1904 directory, and who is sometimes called Bella in newspaper articles. Isabella Sinclair Dobson Knowlton was a fascinating woman. The daughter of a Civil War hero who settled in Lawrence, she married Dobson in 1893, but would end up remarrying a newspaper man named Phil Knowlton, who ran a paper in Newton after the original editor lost it when a local judge sued him for libel. Phil Knowlton was full of scandal himself, having moved to Cripple Creek, Colorado, where he nearly died of mushroom poisoning and was sued by a woman for garnering her affections and then alienating her. Phil and Isabella were apparently meant to be; they lived out their lives together in the Denver area.

I was not able to find any other viable options for Belle A.’s identity, nor for the hardware store she ran out of the 101 North Main Street building. Maybe she married; maybe she moved away. But perhaps if Rowena Kennedy had written Belle A. back, we’d have a postcard addressed to Belle, as well.