Saturday, November 28, 2015

History of the G.A.R Monument

One of the most iconic fixtures of Junction City is the Grand Army of the Republic arch in Heritage Park. It shows pride in our community and pride in our soldiers.  But how many of you know how it came to be?
The story is rather heartwarming as you realize how our pioneer community pulled together to build a monument to the “soldiers and sailors killed in the War of the Rebellion” 1861-1865 more commonly known as the Civil War. It all started in the summer of 1897 when it was announced that 5th District G.A.R. reunion would be held in Junction City in September of 1898.  
By September of 1897 it was announced that F.A. Gardner, army architect at Ft. Riley, had drawn up a plan for the monument that was accepted by G.R.A post #132. “The monument is to be an arched design…built of native stone crowning the substructure with a copper-bronze statue of a volunteer solider, 8 feet high” the total height of the monument would be approximately 35 feet. A sketch of the memorial was reproduced in the 1900 Junction City High School yearbook. It depicts cannon on the right side of the solider and stacked arms on the left.
 It is interesting to note that when the memorial was erected rifles were originally displayed in stack arms, rifles standing on their stock in a tipi shape on either side of the solider. However these proved dangerous during windy days and were soon taken down.  
The cost of the memorial was expected to be between $1,600 and $1,800. The community quickly banded together to raise the funds. John Davidson, who had served as a Major during the Civil War, was in charge of fund raising. Community leaders and businessmen pledged between $10 and $25 for the memorial. Churches and lodges sold “monument buttons” with the proceeds going towards the monument. The largest donation came from the local school children who raised $116 in coins.           
The stone was quarried right here in Geary County. Resident stone workers constructed and shaped each stone under the direction of local contractors Ziegler and Dalton. The entire project was funded and carried out by residents of Geary County.
By the summer of 1898 residents efforts had paid in dividends. The cornerstone was laid during the 4th of July celebration. Inside was placed a box with items to inform the future of the events of 1898 such as a copy of the Daily Union, letters, mementoes of the construction of the monument and a dispatch announcing the destruction of Cervera’s fleet as well as the capture of Santiago.   
Workmen hurried to finish the memorial for the dedication and unveiling scheduled for September 9, 1898. The town was a frenzy of activity preparing for the G.A.R. reunion and the unveiling of the monument. A large tent was erected in the center of the park for the soldiers programs. Merchants up and down Washington Street decorated their windows with patriotic scenes. The local Women’s Relief Corps organized meals for the veterans.  Rooms were secured free of charge to the soldiers at the Bartell House across the street from the park.
On the day of the unveiling school was dismissed so the students could attend the ceremony. They had worked so hard to raise funding for the monument that it would have been a shame for them to miss the unveiling.  1200 students, dressed in their Sunday best, waving American flags led the parade down Washington Street to the Park.  
Major Davidson opened the ceremony and presented the Memorial Arch to the G.A.R. post #132. Dr. J.K. Miller of the Methodist Episcopal church gave a dedication prayer and the school children, accompanied by the city band sang “America” and the” Battle hymn of the Republic”. As the program wound to a close Cora Davidson pulled the cord to unveil the silent solider that stood guard over the memorial.
Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate for the remainder of the reunion and rained out many of the scheduled activities.  However, the community rallied for the veterans by securing the Methodist and Presbyterian churches for the remainder of the activities.

Next time you are walking in Heritage Park take a minute to admire the memorial and remember those that came before us.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thanksgiving in Geary

Thanksgiving in Geary
Thanksgiving can sometimes be forgotten as the Christmas season seems to start earlier and earlier each year.  To many, this holiday is still their favorite holiday to celebrate. It signifies food, family, football and fun. The first Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, but even before the official declaration by the President, many families had longstanding traditions about gathering around the table and give thanks for their loved ones and their fall harvest.  Thanksgiving had been an early tradition in Geary County, and the Daily Union recollects some of the earliest stories of Thanksgiving day in Geary County and how those stories had an impact on the community and in the surrounding areas.

In 1871 a few days after Thanksgiving, George W. Martin, founder of the Junction City Daily Union, wrote “Thanksgiving day in town was as quiet as the Sabbath. There was a general suspension of business, but a very limited attendance at church. Folks were too busily engaged in the kitchens getting up Thanksgiving dinners. If we were to get into the Thanksgiving Proclamation business, we would set an hour for worship so that turkey need not interfere to such an extent as at present. Everybody now enjoys turkey, but more ought to attend religious services than do. It ought not to become wholly a day of feasting!” It’s safe to assume that Mr Martin had an opposing view on how the people of Junction City should be celebrating their Thanksgiving, but believed in the core value of Thanksgiving, to give thanks.

A few years later in 1883, the Opera House held one of the first Thanksgiving Balls, where the community and surrounding areas would get together to celebrate Thanksgiving and dance off what they had just eaten. Perhaps not what Mr. Martin would have liked, but it showed that there was a growing interest in celebrating Thanksgiving as a community. The Daily Union stated, “Professor Tappan’s Thanksgiving Ball promises to be the most extensive entertainment of this kind ever known in Central Kansas. From fifteen to twenty couples at Abilene have signified their intention to come, several from Solomon, four from Minneapolis, a number from Manhattan and ten or twelve couples from Lawrence are coming too.” Unfortunately however, the ball that year was upstaged by a fire that broke out near the Highland Cemetery, and that took most the attention away from the Thanksgiving ball and Professor Tappan’s professional dancing.

After George W. Martin moved on from the Daily Union and into the state capital, George Clark the new editor the Daily Union, had a much less condescending view on Thanksgiving than Martin did just a few years earlier, “The Seventh Cavalry never sat down to a more substantial dinner in their lives that they did on Thanksgiving Day. The dinner was one of the best the market could afford. It was cooked and served well, and at the conclusion of the meal, each trooper offered up (in his mind) thanks to the Giver of all good for the bountiful supply of a substantial concealed under his blue shirt.”

In 1893, Clark reported on a Thanksgiving feast that was consumed in a very public way. It seems Fred Durland, the owner of Durland Sawtell Furniture store, attempted an unusual advertising gimmick when he arranged in one of his store’s largest front windows, with a stylish new dining room suite and all the accessories. On Thanksgiving Day, he decorated the table with his own beautiful spread, which included turkey, oysters, celery, oranges, apples grapes and other fruits and trimmings that might be associated with Thanksgiving. The intent of the display was to lure prospective customers into the store to see the other fine furniture that was on sale. This could be thought of as the first Black Friday advertisement in Geary County!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, when Mr. Durland was asked how he was going to dispose of his display by a very impoverished Frank Trott, Durland said if he could find a group of 6 people that would sit down for a Thanksgiving dinner; Durland would feed them a thanksgiving meal. Trott stated that he knew of his “6 eager men” who could eat that display. Sticking to his word, Frank Durland offered Mr. Trott and his 5 companions the Thanksgiving display to these hungry men.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, make sure to enjoy it with loved ones and to not overlook it while waiting for Christmas. Eat some food, enjoy some football and make some memories with your family.

This is a look at the Durland Furniture store which hosted that famous Thanksgiving Diner. Although this is not a picture of that display, this does give a good look at how enticing that spread would have been to the people of Junction City 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Willis Duncan was born in 1919. By the time of his death in 2010, Willis had served in WWII, worked for the postal service in South Dakota and farmed in the Humboldt Creek community. In 1939, Duncan married his first wife, Helen Roether. They were both 20 years old and for them, the next six years would be filled with war. While Willis moved with the army, often taking Helen with him, Helen journaled their experiences into a scrapbook. This scrapbook was found by a local Junction City couple and brought to the museum, where we are happy to care for this look at the local war experience.
            In honor of Veterans’ Day, and men like Willis Duncan who served, we would like to share some of Helen’s memories from WWII.

            “Willis entered the Army on April 6, 1942 at Ft. Riley, Kansas. He was accepted as an aviation cadet and given an indefinite furlough.
            While waiting for his call to active duty he continued working as a clerk for Bolman’s wholesale grocery. He resigned from this job the first f July. He then went to work as a carpenter at Ft. Riley helping to build barracks.
            He received his call to active duty on August 31, 1942. He reported at Ft Riley on this day, and at 2:00 P.M. boarded the train for Nashville Tennessee.
            At Nashville he was given more mental and physical tests. Upon failure to pass the eye accommodation test he was made a Private in the ground force of the Army Air Corps.
            I went to visit him the first of October and spent three weeks there before coming home. While I was there I stayed with Mrs. Mary Williams and her daughter Mary Ruth at 2014 Belmont. Bill [Willis] had met them at the Cadet Club and they were good to us. In fact, we wouldn’t have known what to do without them. 
            In November Bill became ill with pneumonia and spent two weeks in the hospital. He had as his nurse a refugee from Norway.
            He was granted two weeks sick leave upon leaving the hospital and came home for his first visit since joining the Army.
            He returned to Nashville after his two weeks were up with the expectation of being home for Xmas. But Willie was having a run of hard luck and spent Xmas in quarantine for the Measles, German Measles, During this time he made the remark that “Anyone who gets Measles ought to be tied to his mother’s apron strings.” The words were no more than out of his mouth than he was taken to the hospital with of all things the “Measles.”
            In February he came home on 10 days furlough…after his furlough he sent home the following pictures for me to keep. He also sent back the card I sent him for Xmas, and asked that it be saved too. Willie is now the proud Corporal.”
Helen documented Willis’ war experience throughout the remainder of the war and beyond. Following WWII, Willis was transferred to Alaska then Rapid City, South Dakota. Helen’s stories included the purchase of their first car:

 “On April 5, 1947 I bought our first new car. It was a 4-door, green Kaiser and really some boat. Richard said he bet Uncle Bill would come home for sure when he found out we had a new car, well he wasn’t wrong because on April 20th Bill came home from Alaska. He had a 15-day furlough so we didn’t leave for our new station until May 1st and we arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota, May 3rd. We didn’t have a place to live except one room…but we had each other…so who cares!”

The Geary County Historical Society loves receiving personal memoires like Willis and Helen Duncan’s. If you have a story you would like to share about your time in the military, or any other significant moment in your life, please contact the museum 785-238-1666.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The history of the First Baptist Church of Junction City

This past Thursday marked the Sesquicentennial, 150th anniversary, of the first meeting of the First Baptist church of Junction City. One of the first churches in Junction City, the church has had a tremendous impact on the citizens of Junction City.  The growth and challenges of the church almost mirror the ones that faced the town of Junction City throughout the time of its establishment in 1865.

In January of 1894, a reader who identified himself only as “Old Settler” remembered a time where different church denominations would worship together during at time of uncertainty and worry in the days during the Civil War. “The newcomer [to Junction City] will scarcely believe that all the church-going people in town met together for worship In the upper room of the building knowns as the old jail, just north of the Central Hotel on Jefferson street (this building is now part of the municipal building.) This did change after the war when families started to come home and the population, and perhaps animosity between the religions, grew.

With the demand on the rise for their own place of worship, eleven local Baptist took it upon themselves to organize and start their own location for worship. So on November 5th, 1865, the first organized Baptist sermon took place at the Streeter-Strickler building, which was located on the corner of Seventh and Washington. The Streeter-Strickler was converted to a makeshift church. It was originally donated by James Streeter, who also happened to be one of the charter members of the church. The establishment of the Baptist church at the Streeter-Strickler building is said to have been the first regular place of worship established in Junction City.

The first assembly of the Baptist church was big news in town, as it made the Junction City Republican newspaper. “The first meeting preparatory to the organization of the First Baptist church of Junction City, Kansas was held November 5, 1865 and at a subsequent meeting held February 25, 1866.” The first leader of the church was Elder Blood and was assisted by Reverend Jacobus and Reverend McClure.

After a few years at the Streeter-Strickler building, James Streeter donated money again to have a permanent church built for those of the Baptist faith. This new church was located between Sixth and Seventh Streets and was on the west side of Jefferson Street and was dedicated on January 27, 1867. A year later, the church received its official charter and it was awarded to them on February 29, 1868.

An interesting account of the church’s early history is that for three years, 1867-1870, the church did not have a rooftop. It was blown away in the middle of a storm. Because of this “Reverend Balcom, who was a Baptist Evangelist, was called upon to help “pray the roof back on.” Only a year after the help from Rev. Balcom, and the Junction City community, the roof was back on the church and the sermons were back to normal. After the roof was back on the church, there was a strong growth in the church and by 1872 the church membership had grown to 97. By 1882, the church had grown to 150. Because of the exponential growth of the church, in 1917 the second reincarnation of the church was constructed right down the street, and the first regular place or worship was sold to a Durland-Sawtell Undertaking company. 

During WWII, the First Baptist Church of Junction City helped the war effort by purchasing $4,000 worth of war bonds. $4000 in 1941 is estimated to be $64,746 with today’s inflation. The church donated something much more valuable than money to the war. 106 members of the church joined the war effort and fought for their country during WWII.

After the war, the Baptist church saw a growth in members and the church itself. In order to get to as many people as possible, the Baptist church started to broadcast their morning worship services over the then-new local radio station, KJCK.  During continued growth after WWII, the church suffered a major setback as the building caught fire on the night of December 15, 1955. The fire caused approximately $40,000 worth of damages. Among some of the repairs were a new roof and sheathing, repair of roof trusses, a new ceiling and hardwood floor in the sanctuary Friendship hall had some of the worse damage as it needed a new ceiling in Friendship hall and redecorating in the sanctuary and Friendship hall. The pews were completely refinished and the organ was rebuilt. This did not stop the church as it continued to grow and become one of the major institutions in Junction City.

Join the church this weekend in celebrating its Sesquicentennial by perhaps visiting and taking a look at one of the oldest churches in the area. 

This picture of the 1st Baptist church was taken circa 1880s-1890s and was located at 6th and Washington.