By Josephine Grammer Munson
Geary County Historical Society
EDITORIAL NOTE: Today’s article is the first in a series of four on two of this area’s most colorful characters, the flamboyant real estate developer C.P. Dewey and his notorious son, Chauncey, both of whom, in the years surrounding the turn of the century, put this part of Kansas “on the map”-- in more ways than one. Written and researched by former GCHS board member Josephine Munson, these articles represent a long-held ambition for the author, who had personal encounters and vivid recollections of the Dewey family from her youth.
* * * * *
Traveling east from Junction City on Interstate Highway 70 one sees the tall grass of the Flint Hills where cattle are grazing. As one approaches Highway 177, on the north side of the road, the area called the “Konza Prairie,” which has been leased by the Nature Conservancy to Kansas State University for research, come into view. This Konza Prairie is part of the large ranch known as the Dewey Ranch. The three-story ranch house built of native limestone along the McDowell Creek Road serves as the headquarters for the Konza Prairie Research Center.
Just who were the Deweys? A research paper published in the K-Stater Magazine of March 1977, and written by Roy D. Bird, gives some answers. Much of the information in this column comes from Bird’s article titled, “C.P. Dewey Had A Ranch.”
Charles P. Dewey was a Chicago industrialist who made a fortune with his brother in real estate after the Chicago Fire of 1871. In the late 1880s he came to Kansas in invest in real estate mortgages. Times were hard in Kansas then, and he saw the opportunity to acquire land when owners could not pay taxes or pay off mortgages.
The first Dewey Ranch was in northeastern Geary County near Manhattan and included 10,000 acres in Riley, Geary, and Wabaunsee Counties. He also leased some land from the Government for a total of 80,000 acres. When Dewey decided to fence the land, he often included some that he did not own, which caused considerable distrust among the people in the area. The second Dewey Ranch was in Cheyenne and Rawlins Counties in Northwest Kansas. Through foreclosures and buying of additional land at tax sales, he accumulated 60,000 acres in a checkerboard pattern for 53 miles, and was from three to 14 miles wide. He named it “Oak Ranch.”
1900 stocked C.P. Dewey’s ranch near Manhattan with 3,500 cattle, 300 horses and mules, and 2,000 hogs. He built huge corncribs to supply feed for the Dewey Cattle Company of Kansas. The ranch employed 60 men. The northwestern Kansas ranch could accommodate an additional 10,000 cattle.
C.P. Dewey was an entrepreneur at heart, and he became involved in many enterprises. The Topeka Capital of March 21, 1902 had this to say about Mr. Dewey: “Beyond the fact that he is a genial gentleman, and that he spends money with a lavish hand, little is known of Dewey’s personality. He comes to Manhattan, spends a few days, or weeks, makes arrangements to spend some more money, and is away to his West Virginia iron mines, his Chicago ice and rental business, or his Rawlins County ranch. The only thing Manhattan knows for sure about Dewey is that his check is good for any sum of money he chooses to spend, and that when he decides to build a new house, summer resort, or buy more land, enough money is always placed in local banks to cover the expense.”
In Manhattan Dewey operated a livery stable, started the first livestock sales pavilion in the state, co-founded the First National Bank in Manhattan, operated an ice delivery service, and along with Harry P. Wareham developed a privately-owned sewerage system, and the Dewey-Wareham Telephone Company. His feedyards fed 2,000 head of cattle ready for the market each year. “In addition to cattle, Dewey buys every stable horse and mule that are brought to him, and his shipments run into the thousands of animals every year.”
Another Dewey enterprise which staggers one is his livery and transfer business in Manhattan, the Topeka Capital article stated. “There is nothing in the livery line west of Chicago to equal his horses and vehicles. He keeps more than a hundred head of horses and every conceivable sort of vehicle is available to serve the public. He introduced the brougham, the stanhope, and the tally-ho to Kansas.”
The service afforded by the electric light plant in Manhattan didn’t satisfy Dewey, so he bought it and equipped the powerhouse with the best machinery money could buy. He put in a new plant to go with his machinery. As a result, Manhattan had a lighting system not excelled anywhere in Kansas, according to the Topeka Capital article.
Dewey found many houses in Manhattan that were very poor, so he bought them, had them razed, and then built fifteen or twenty new homes with blue grass lawns and brick side walks. In them he introduced sanitary plumbing, light and heat and porcelain bathtubs. He also built two dormitories for students at the Kansas State Agricultural College.
One of Dewey’s most interesting projects was at Eureka Lake, west of Manhattan. The “lake” was apparently caused by changes in the Kansas River over the years, and was a narrow, hook-shaped, two-and-a- half-mile body of water north of the present K-18 Highway. Eureka Lake varied in width from 200 to 400 feet and was about 40 feet deep in places. Trees bordered the shores and a heavily wooded area filled with shrubs covered about 27 acres at the east end of the lake.
Dewey planned and constructed a fashionable resort at the lake in 1899, mainly as a place to entertain his wealthy friends from Chicago; however, local people were welcome to go there too. He built a luxurious hotel at the water’s edge, with attractive rooms for guests, a large dining room, and spacious parlors for entertaining, receptions and weddings. The grounds were beautifully landscaped; a boat dock and diving tower were built at the on the lake where row boats were kept for rental, and a launch was available for hour-long trips. Paths were built along the lake for guests to walk and enjoy the country air. A barn and stable had space for 20 or 25 horses available for riding and driving. Slaughter houses and poultry houses provided beef, pork, and eggs for the hotel, and vegetables were purchased from surrounding farms.
With the grand opening in 1900, people came from near and far to see the resort and to enjoy horseback riding, swimming, and boating. A tally-ho coach with a four-horse team and coachman provided transportation from Manhattan. The Union Pacific Railroad created a “flag-stop” depot with a narrow country road across the fields to connect the depot and the hotel.
Business boomed at the Eureka Lake resort until the Flood of 1903 destroyed the lake and grounds, filling the lake with mud and debris. Soon after this disaster C. P. Dewey died unexpectedly. Attempts to renovate the area failed, and the resort was sold in February of 1906 to the Odd Fellows and Rebecca State Assembly of Kansas to become a home for the aged and orphans. A fire in 1916 destroyed the original hotel, but new buildings were constructed for the home. In more recent years, the Job Corps has taken possession of the property, and the additional structures have been added. These buildings can be seen east of the old Manhattan Airport.
For some time in the 1920s and 30s the Free Methodist Church conducted a camp at the Eureka Lake area with cabins for summer campers and visitors. By this time the lake had dried up. Today there is no sign of the beautiful Eureka Lake or Dewey’s dream resort, which he called “Manhattan Beach.”
Charles P. Dewey died on June 7, 1904, while visiting a niece in Wheeling, West Virginia. He was 61 years of age. His death was thought to be caused from blood poisoning, the result of a carbuncle on his face. He was buried at his native home in Cadiz, Ohio.
The Dewey Ranch in Riley County passed from Dewey ownership in 1930 after a foreclosure suit. It was held briefly by a partnership, then in 1933 it was purchased by the Davis Group of Kansas City. From 1941 to 1956 the Dewey Ranch was operated by Orville Burtis, a prominent Kansas cattleman and breeder of quarterhorses. George Davis owned the ranch from 1954 until he died, and it was sold in 1956. Frank McDermand was the next to possess the ranch. He later sold it to Dr. David McKnight, a Manhattan radiologist, who stocked it with Hereford cattle. In 1977 the Nature Conservancy acquired the ranch and at present time the land is leased to Kansas State University.
In leasing the former Dewey Ranch, the university has been able to study the best way to preserve the original prairie ecosystem and the tall prairie grasses growing there. From observation areas located on the east side of the Konza Prairie range along highway 177, one can see the beauty of the native grassland on the ranch that Dewey built.
COMING NEXT WEEK: Enjoying the “good life” with C.P. Dewey at Eureka Lake.
At the turn of the century, the owner of the vast Geary /Riley county ranch that is today the Konza Prairie reserve, Charles P. Dewey, constructed the Manhattan Beach Hotel on the shores of Eureka Lake, once located where the Manhattan Airport is today. The colorful developer, photographed here on the veranda of the hotel about 1901, first planned this fabulous facility as a private resort where he could entertain his visiting friends and business associates. However, he soon open it up to the public and for the first five years of the century this fabled spot was a favorite recreation area for both the Manhattan and Junction City communities.
Editorial Postscript: As C.P. Dewey came to Kansas alone about twenty years before his death, not much was known about his background. With the exception of his son Chauncey whose involvement in a gun fight at the Rawlins County ranch a year earlier garnered headlines all over the country, little was known about C.P. Dewey’s family either. It was not until terms of his Last Will and Testament were made known that much was revealed about his personal life or other family members. As three of these colorful people would later live in Junction City, we’ve pieced together the following information.
Dewey’s first wife and the mother of his children was Emma Scott, “a daughter of the Confederacy” from Kentucky. Though she lived abroad after her divorce from Dewey, her last years were spent in Junction City where she died in 1920. According to the memorial markers placed in Highland Cemetery, three children were born of this union. An infant son Charles Edward, born in December of 1875, died when he was seven months old. The second son Chauncey, of whom we shall learn more in articles to come, was born in Austin, Texas, in May of 1877. The couple’s daughter Emma Scott Dewey was born in May of 1880, also in Austin. At the time of her father’s death she was living with her mother in Paris, where she had been educated. However, she later lived for a good share of her adult years in Junction City. Apparently, Emma Scott Dewey Lockwood-Roberts, was an eccentric but memorable member of the community here from the 1930s through the 1950s. She died in 1980 and is the only member of the immediate Dewey family that is actually buried in Highland Cemetery.
At the time that C.P. Dewey died, he was still married to his second wife, Gertrude M. Dewey. However, a newspaper article in the files of the Kansas State Historical Society published the day after C.P. Dewey’s death reveals some interesting facts about the relationship: “Two years ago Mrs. C.P. Dewey arrived in Manhattan. She was quiet, reserved and unassuming. She took up her residence in one of the dwellings Mr. Dewey had erected for Manhattan tenants. Mrs. Dewey did not become well acquainted here. She was too reserved. Mrs. Dewey filed a suit of separate maintenance last December. In her petition she alleged that C.P. Dewey’s property holdings were valued at two million dollars.”
On June 7, 1904, just three days prior to his death, Mr. Dewey made a new will which superseded all previous documents. This will gave $37,000 to his nieces, one million dollars to his widow, $5,000 to his daughter and divided the remainder of the estate equally between his son Chauncey and his private secretary Charles Killen of Chicago, who was with him at the time the new will was drawn up.
In July of 1904, it was reported that Dewey’s son, daughter, and former wife planned to file suit contesting the will on the grounds that C.P. Dewey was in no condition to make a new will at that time. The estate was reported to have been in the millions of dollars.