This past May, Waters True Value Hardware celebrated their 110th anniversary of having a store located in Junction City. Along with having a store in Junction City, Waters Hardware has expanded to six other cities and have stores located across the state in Dodge City, Great Bend, Salina, Emporia, Manhattan, and Wamego. Before there were seven stores there was just one. The first store had some very humble beginnings in Manchester, Kansas and during the turn of the century, the original founder, G.E. Waters, made the transition from Manchester to Junction City. Since the original Waters owner, the store has now seen six generations of Waters running the store and this tradition doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The Waters Hardware store is a Junction City tradition, and it is one of the staples of this community.
The original founder of the first Waters store was George Edwards Waters, also known as G.E. Waters, who was born in Northfield, Minnesota in 1860. As a child, G.E. and his carpenter father moved to Knoxville, Tennessee to try and capitalize on the rebuilding effort in the south after the Civil War. During his time in Knoxville, G.E. attended Eastern Tennessee University where he played baseball. It is interesting to note that while at Eastern Tennessee University, G.E. waters played against the hall of fame baseball player, Ty Cobb. After college, G.E. Waters was able to get into the hardware business due to a family favor. G.E. Waters was a manufacturer’s representative and was called to Burlington, Kansas around 1887 to help an aunt operate a family hardware store until her son, Frank Haight, was old enough to take over the helm. Waters ran that store until 1889. A few years later, Waters left Burlington and opened up the original Waters Hardware store in Manchester, Kansas in 1902.
G.E. Waters was pulled away from Manchester for one reason: better education for his children. In 1903, a new high school was built in Junction City (where the Geary County Historical Society is currently located today), and Mr. Waters wanted to send his children there to get a better education. Both of his sons, Clarence and David, enrolled as freshmen at the high school. This decision moved the Waters family from Manchester, Kansas to Junction City. But not only did G.E. decide to move his family to Junction, he also decided to move the family business to Junction City. The first original location of the Waters Hardware store was at the old Masonic building at 722 North Washington. The building use to belong to the Gretner family who owned their own Hardware store, but sold it to G.E. when the Waters family moved into town. In 1917, after a few years in its first location G.E decided to move the family business to the corner of eight and Washington, where the old Cole’s department store was located.
In February of 1918, G.E. Waters passed away in California. Since both of his sons, Clarence and David, grew up working at their father’s store, it made sense for them to take over the family store, so they both worked together to keep the store open. After David and Clarence, their sons, Bob and Wayne took over the business. Wayne left the business to start his own furniture store, which left Bob as the sole Waters in charge. After Bob, his son, Jim Waters, officially entered the family business upon graduating from KU in 1972. The Waters hardware store has truly been a family affair.
During the latter half of the 20th century, the Waters store saw a growth to their business. Bob and Jim opened a hardware store in Salina on August 1973 with Jim as the Manager. These stores, as well a store in Manhattan were helping spread the Waters hardware store around Kansa. Along with the opening of new stores, the Waters Store in Junction City finally decided to make the move from the old building on eight and Washington moved to its current location in 1991 and expanded to include a full lumber yard in 2002. And the last major expansion to the store happened last year when the store saw an expansion of about 37 percent more space.
What does the future hold for this vital hometown company? It looks as though the tradition of family owned will continue. Jim’s son Scott was elected Vice President in 2010 and it looks like he might be the next in line. The Waters Hardware store has been a historical stable in this community for over 100 years, and we can’t wait and see what they have in store for the next 100 years. The Waters family has always been a great supporter of the Geary County Historical Society. They have donated an incredible amount of great artifacts to the museum, specifically the Native American artifacts we have on display in our Native American exhibit. If you want to come check it out, or any of our exhibits, feel free to stop by Tuesday through Sunday between 1 and 4 PM.