Tag Archives: George P. Washburn

Appanoose Museum in Franklin County

JIm and I first noticed this charming school building on one of our weekend wanderings not long after moving to Franklin County a couple of years ago. It was only recently, though, that we discovered the building is still in use as a museum and community center.

Appanoose School continues to serve as a community center and museum.

Appanoose School continues to serve as a community center and museum.

The first thing we learned: this is not the original school building. The first school, designed by Ottawa’s own George P. Washburn, was built in 1919 and burned down in 1934. The current building is the second building, which was used as a high school until 1963, when the high school consolidated with Pomona. In its history, the building has also served as an elementary school and, at one point, the school taught kids from first through twelfth grade.

The original Appanoose High School, which burned down in 1934.

The original Appanoose High School, which burned down in 1934.

Today, the building serves as a community gathering place, a small free lending library, and a storage space for the new elementary school. The gymnasium floor is maintained and often used for practice. But Jim and I were there to see the museum, which is open on Sunday afternoons from Memorial Day through Labor Day. This is truly a grassroots museum, a collection pulled together by a group of local history enthusiasts who wanted to preserve the story of Appanoose.

Appanoose was never a town, but rather a rural community. The museum shares the story of those who were brought together by Appanoose School, as well as the small surrounding communities, some of which only exist today in a church or cemetery name, like Richter and Greenwood. Displays also showcase rural life in the early 1900s.

A model of the Richter General Store.

A model of the Richter General Store.

Though not high-tech by any means, the displays are thoughtfully and cheerfully laid out, and despite having lived in Franklin County for more than two years now, I realized I still had a lot to learn about some of the smaller communities in the county’s history.

I was particularly charmed by a room filled with technological odds and ends, including a wonderful set of old typewriters and a telephone operator switchboard.

A telephone switchboard that was once in use in Franklin County.

A telephone switchboard that was once in use in Franklin County.

The museum also honors area veterans, and there are several displays about the local men and women from the Appanoose community who have served. There is also detailed display about James O. Baxter, a Pomona man who was shot down over Germany during the Battle of the Bulge, but whose remains were not recovered until 1999.

Admission to the museum is free, though donations are appreciated. The volunteers are truly interested in local history and are happy to answer questions. The museum is worth a look, and it’s a lovely introduction to the history of the northwest corner of Franklin County.

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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.

Sunday Snapshot: Franklin County Courthouse Courtroom

The historic courtroom inside the Franklin County Courthouse, shot from the mezzanine. The courthouse was designed by hometown architect George P. Washburn and built in 1893.

Sunday Snapshot: Street corner flowers on Main Street

The street corners of Ottawa’s historic downtown are planted with flowers bursting with color. Because of the hot, dry summer, the flowers are getting in one last big hurrah before the first frost of autumn.

Marigolds and salvias at the corner of Fourth and Main. In the background is the steeple to the First Baptist Church, which was designed by Ottawa architect George P. Washburn. The oldest parts of the church date back to 1886.

A collection of sunflowers are in full bloom at the corner of Fifth and Main. Washburn Towers, formerly the old Ottawa High School building, can be seen in the background. The building is another George P. Washburn design.

Ghost trains on the low plains: a Kansas railroad story

The first time I noticed it, I was curled up with a book on our old sofa in our new house. The lulling and soothing sound of a train in the distance had kept us company many, many nights during our years in Emporia.

My husband, Jim, noticed the sound, too.

Our little old house, built in 1925, is one of thousands of homes within a stone’s throw of the Santa Fe tracks in Kansas. But unlike Emporia, where the trains still rumble down the tracks, Ottawa’s trains were long gone.

“Ghost train,” I said.

Ottawa didn’t start out as a railroad town.

Franklin County — with Ottawa at its heart — grew around the various Native American settlements and a religious university.  In its earliest years, settlers passed through it along the Santa Fe Trail in the northern part of the county. The little town’s future was not secure until 1868, when the ambitious Leavenworth, Lawrence & Fort Gibson Railroad Company, whose plan it was to lay tracks from Lawrence, Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico, laid tracks to Ottawa.

LL&G Railroad roundhouse sign, on display at the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas.

With the railroad came prosperity. This little flood-prone town on the Marais Des Cynges River suddenly had the resources to build a public school and buy a steam fire engine. The Ludington House hotel had rooms to rent and the Ottawa Mills & Elevator opened for business on Main Street. By 1872, the LL&G had built a roundhouse and car and machine shops, bringing hundreds of jobs to the little town, whose population had climbed to 6,250 — nearly half of its present-day population.

LL&G RR Car Works, Ottawa, Kansas.

But the LL&G was in financial peril, and in 1878, it was sold to a new group, who renamed it the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad Company. Yet the push to interconnect Kansas towns did not lose momentum. Operations in Ottawa continued to grow as the LL&G became the Kansas City, Lawrence and Southern.

In 1880, the Santa Fe Railroad gained control of the KCL&S stock.

Ottawa became one of the hubs of Kansas.

A new depot, designed by the great Kansan architect George Washburn, was built in 1881 and remained in use until 1962. The Depot became the the heart of all of the comings and goings, welcome hellos and tearful goodbyes, of generations of Kansans.

I think about where my house is located,  within walking distance of the Depot, and wonder what it would be like to be able to walk down the street and purchase a train ticket to almost anywhere in North America during a period in time when most people where traveling by horse or wagon. Even today, with so many modes of travel at my disposal, I am limited by how far I can drive first. To catch a train, I must drive to Topeka or Kansas City; to catch a flight, I must first make my way to Kansas City or Wichita for a commercial airplane.

An example of a 1903 train schedule shows how easily Ottawans could move from city to city. On display at the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas.

The last train rumbled past our little old house more than 30 years ago. For twenty years, the little towns were disconnected. Some old depots, like Ottawa’s were saved and repurposed into restaurants and museums. Other depots were not so fortunate.

Author Michael Perry once wrote, “Maybe that’s all you need to know about this town–the train doesn’t stop here anymore.” And many of those little towns, whose hotels and diners depended on railway traffic, shuttered their windows and locked their doors. The story of these little towns was approaching a sad ending as the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe (ATSF) Railroad sold the line to the Kansas City Terminal Railway Company, who promptly filed for abandonment.

Built in 1881, the former Santa Fe Depot in Ottawa, Kansas, now serves as the Old Depot Museum. This grand building was lucky enough to find new life as a museum and trail head for the Prairie Spirit Trail.

But it’s not the end of the line. Thanks to the vision of the  Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and countless volunteers,  the old rail lines that once carried passengers from town to town are being reconnected through a rail-trail park called the Prairie Spirit Trail. Ottawa, Princeton, Richmond, Garnett, Welda, Colony, Carlyle and Iola can all be reached by foot or bike. The rail line, the connection, the web that strings together communities, is growing stronger as other rail-trail parks repurpose old railroad lines across the state.

The Prairie Spirit Trail as it runs past the beautiful courthouse in Garnett. There’s something magical in knowing that I could follow this all the way home.

I peek through the blinds of our living room window as the sound of the ghost train dies down and the air grows unnaturally still, far more quiet than the air ever was in Emporia.

It is drizzling and dark, but the well-lit Prairie Spirit Trail is still in use. A bicyclist rides north; a man and his dog walk south.

When the next ghost train passes by, I settle in to the comforting sound.

The Prairie Spirit Trail in Ottawa, Kansas. If you listen closely, you can hear the echoes of ghost trains passing through on still nights.

Special thanks to the Old Depot Museum for their excellent displays and information on the history of the Santa Fe Depot.