Saturday, January 30, 2016

Happy Kansas Day!

Happy Kansas Day everyone! Kansas turned 155 years old this past Friday and Geary County, or as it was known as back then as Davis County, played a big part in how the government of the territory shaped Kansas before and during the Civil War. To help commemorate the occasion we’re going to take a look at the history of how the short lived town of Pawnee came to be the capital and the subsequent history of the first territorial capital building.

In the summer of 1852, Colonel T.T. Fountleroy, former commander of Fort Leavenworth, recommended that there should be an establishment of a new post “at or near a point on the Kansas River where the Republican rivers unite,” this would later play a big part in the naming of “Junction City.”  Because of this request, soldiers would establish such a site later that fall. It would be called “Camp Center” since it was believed that this location was the geographical center of the United States. When it turned out that “Camp Center” was not actually in the “center” it was renamed to Fort Riley to honor the Mexican war hero, General Bennett C. Riley.

Soon after the settlement and building of Fort Riley the Pawnee Town Association wanted to establish a town that was adjacent to Fort Riley in the early months of 1854. The first of six territorial governors came along with the Pawnee Town association. It was Reeder intent to name the newly established town site as the capital of Kansas and to hold the first territorial legislature at Pawnee. Once word got out that Pawnee was to be the capital of the Kansas territory, people came to town in droves. Infrastructure was heavily invested in Pawnee as many believed this would become the booming metropolis of Kansas. The stone capital building was built almost as soon as it was announced that Pawnee would be the capital. Laborers were recruited from among those who were arriving in Pawnee for the first time.

During the creation of the Kansas territory, there was a fired up debate on whether or not states should be allowed to enter the union as a free state or a slave state. Kansas became the hottest debated state in US history. This is why when it was made public knowledge that the election for territorial delegates for the legislature were to take place on March 30th, 1855, groups of armed, Pro-Slavery Missourians, crossed the border to vote in the election. For this reason, the first legislature that met in Pawnee was called the “Bogus Legislature” by the free-state opponents.  Approximately 5,000 of these “Bushwhackers” voted to make Kansas a pro-slavery state, making it an invalid election. Evidence of fraud was blatantly obvious. When the elections started, Kansas only had 2,905 eligible voters. After all the votes were counted, there were a total of 6,307 ballots. With the events that unfolded, Governor Reeder was outraged and demanded a new election and deemed the recent election invalid. But with the result they wanted, the first legislature did not even bother to acknowledge, let alone participate in the second election.

With the drama unfolding, the “Bogus” legislature decided to convene in Pawnee, Kansas on July 1855. Those in the Pro-Slavery legislature were not too fond of the location of the Capital. They believed that it should be closer to the border to make travel easier for them as many had to commute from Missouri. The legislature only lasted a few days and left on July 6, 1855 with the intent of never returning again. The building which many had put such hard work into building would be abandoned and left behind. Perhaps more importantly, those who had established a life in what was supposed to be the capital city were disheartened and were looking at an uncertain future.

Just a few days after the legislature had left Pawnee and the building was cleared out and left empty. The bottom half was used as storage and the top half of the building was used as the living quarters for the Morris family of Pawnee.  The town site of Pawnee would soon be integrated into Fort Riley and all the previous buildings, except for the capital building, would eventually be razed. The capital building then had an erratic history following the departure of the legislature where it was turned into a warehouse and was even a location where many homeless people would occupy without permission.

One of the more devastating events happened in 1877, when the roof was torn off by a tornado and leaving the inside exposed to the harsh Kansas weather. The movement for the buildings preservation began around 1900, but it wasn’t until 1926 when Geary County Senator G.W. Schimdt was able to get a bill introduced into the Kansas Senate for a $1,000 grant to help fix up the site. August 1, 1928 marked the first time since 1855 that there was an official meeting place at the old building. It was estimated that 15,000 had shown up to help celebrate the occasion. Finally in May of 2001, there was a “grand reopening” celebrated with an exhibit opening which told the history of not only the capital building but the short lived capital of Pawnee.
With all of the great history that the building has, it’s a good thing to see the continued efforts to keep the building in good shape!

The First Territorial Capital Building has been through some rough patches and this picture shows it. This was taken at the turn of the century after a tornado ripped through the roof of the capital building. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Atomic Annie

The Geary County Convention and Visitors Bureau recently made a donation to the Historical Society of historic paperwork involving the creation of Freedom Park. The 202 acre park was built in the 1970s as a symbol of the peace keeping efforts of our military units at Fort Riley.
You never quite know what you are going to find when you start going through files.  These files held a real gem that shed some light on a unique military treasure that almost everyone in the area has seen at one point but very few know the history of: the atomic cannon.   
It was on October 14, 1975 in the dead of night that a railroad car pulled into Fort Riley. If anyone had seen the railroad car they would have been hard pressed to guess what was concealed underneath the tarp covering the load. The massive object hidden under the tarp was “Atomic Annie”, a M65 280mm Motorized Heavy Gun more commonly known as an “atomic cannon”.
Mystery surrounded the cannon due to antiwar sentiments of the time. Local officials were concerned that the cannon would be vandalized if word of its location got out.  In fact an article written by Bob Honeyman during the rehabilitation of the park states that Fort Riley “first denied the presence of the cannon on the military post after inquiries were made by The Daily Union.” Fort Riley eventually relented and allowed the press access to the area where the cannon was kept. It seems that their fears were founded as minor vandalism plagued the construction of the park and candle light vigils were staged by “Peacenick” students from Manhattan to show disapproval for the project.
It is interesting to note that the cannon overlooking Freedom Park was used as “a deterrent to conflict and was never fired in combat.”          
Atomic cannons were developed in 1950 for the U.S. Army in response to the Cold War. An online history of atomic cannons states that 20 of these guns were manufactured from 1951 to 1953 by the Dravo Corporation, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Atomic Annie” is the largest “roadable” cannon in the world. It measures 42 feet in length and weighs in at 42,500 pounds.  During transport, the cannon was suspended between two trucks which could travel at 35 miles an hour. Once the gun arrived at its destination, it could be set up for firing in approximately 12 minutes, and returned to the traveling mode in approximately 15 minutes. An informational write up on the cannon states that it can shoot a projectile 11 inches in diameter over 20 miles, hitting within 20 feet of the target. 
The cannon placed at the summit of Freedom Park was in service from November 17, 1952 to August 1963. Press releases of the time note that when the Smithsonian placed the cannon on permanent loan to the Spirit of ’76 Inc. for display at Freedom Park, the cannon was one of only three such artillery pieces. When the M65 280mm Motorized Heavy Guns were decommissioned in 1963 most were scrapped.
The cannon was brought up the back of the hill with a moving rig using two cranes.  If anyone has information or photos of this feat please bring them by the museum so we can make copies to include them in our archives.  
Writer Bob Honeyman relates an amusing story concerning the placement of the cannon in one of his “bits of honey” articles. It involved the selection of the atomic cannon’s target. Many good natured suggestions were thrown out at the time including Manhattan, Ogden and Abilene as suitable targets. After much laughing and joking it ended up being aimed at the home of Jack Lacy. Jack was an ardent supporter and was instrumental in accomplishing the project.

Due to restrictions, you can no longer visit Freedom Park. But next time you travel I70 near Marshall Field look to the top of the hill and smile because now you know the history of “Atomic Annie”. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Goldie Webster Part 4

Below follows part four of the Goldie Gorman Webster story. In 2015, we learned about Goldie’s experiences with local schools, local businesses and the general experience of growing up in early 1900s Junction City. To begin 2016, we will share her memories of the good times she had as a child in the area, and the ways she and other children her age were entertained.
“You may wonder what we did for pleasure in the early 1900s, when there was no radio or television. Well for one thing, families did things together. One that I shall never forget, is the day when the ladies went "greening". The children were taken along on those trips and we learned which greens were edible and which were poisonous. Sometimes my sister and I were asked to pick a pail full for a lady who could not go along. We were paid 15 cents for a water pail full. Our fame as greens pickers was published by word of mouth and we were in business! Billy Graham, "Billy Stix" (as he was called having one leg), cooked at the Depot Hotel. He engaged us to pick a tub full of greens now and then. They were served with corn bread to the trainmen who ate at the hotel. We were paid 25 cents for a tub full.
            Sometimes groups of soldiers who had passes to come to town, walked. When they came to our place they sometimes asked my sister or me for a drink, if we were in the front yard. We had a hydrant there and we were always glad to fetch a drinking cup. Sometimes a detachment of soldiers on a march came past our place. We loved to watch the horses, the waving flags and the rolling caissons.
            The railroaders had a ball team. We were sometimes taken to watch them practice or play a game. Then there was the circus. It set up on the railroad ground. Father because of his railroad connection received what we called "Comps." There was always plenty for us and our friends, who were invited to go with us, and for father’s workmen & their families. I thought the clowns were silly. I was scared to watch the trapeze performers. I was always sure they would fall and be smashed before my eyes. We must not forget to mention the parade. The sidewalks uptown would be lined with people. The parade was always an hour or so late. Little boys kept dodging out into the street watching for it to come. When the first sound of music was heard, the boys called out loudly, "Here, they come!"
            Once a week there was a band concert in the park. We always got a treat of popcorn when we went in. Lillie Nikirk Murphy operated a popcorn stand at the park entrance. Children played on the grass. There was not much noise then, so people could enjoy the music.
            There were socials and parties at our church, sometimes hay rack rides. When we came to Junction City, our church, the Christian, had no regular place of worship. The family who lived next to us, had a boy and a girl about our age. They went to the Universalist church and asked us to go with them. The Universalist church had once been Centennial Hall. It was at 5th and Adams. We children took part in the Sunday school Junior League. We made many friends there with whom we came in contact for many years. Mrs. Seymour, Mrs. Bradford and Captain Trott were the children groups sponsors. One summer day our Sunday School Class rode by hay rack out to McFarlands grove, west of town. We were to have a picnic dinner, play games and wade in the creek, which was said to be safe for children. When we arrived we took off our shoes and socks and went into the water. My little sister found a place where the water was fairly deep and she promptly fell in. She was rescued, looking like a drowned rat. Mrs. Seymore wrapped her in Capt. Trott’s lap robe, (they had come there in Capt. Trott’s buggy). We were hustled home at once. I was put out at having missed the fun. Mother was glad it was no worse than some wet clothes.
            I must mention our Senior class banquet. It was held at the Bartell Hotel and it created lots of excitement among the students. There was the concern about what we would wear, would we have a date, etc. The hotel was the one with an atmosphere in those days, so we green kids wondered if we would conduct ourselves becomingly, whether we would use the correct silver and for fun kidded each other about drinking of the finger bowl and how to properly use our napkin. It was fun and I will never forget it. Oh yes, you are wondering if I had a date. Definitely no, I was not allowed to date until I finished High School. Either my father or the father or brother of a friend saw to it that I got to the party and returned home the same way.”
            Do you have stories of growing up in Geary County? Stop in the museum to share them. Open Tuesday-Saturday; 1-4pm.  


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Snowfall in Geary County!

Depending on how you feel about snow (or your job), we were either blessed or cursed with some snow last week. It was estimated that about 2-3 inches fell on Geary County last week, welcoming the New Year. Although 2-3 inches might seem like quite a bit of snow for some, this pales in comparison to some of the bigger snow storms that have hit the Geary County area. Now that we are officially in winter, let’s take a look at some of the biggest snowstorms and temperature drops in Geary County history.

Perhaps the biggest snowstorm in the history of the county occurred on Saturday, April 3rd, 1920. The snow had been reported to have been falling for 24 hours straight before it stopped.  After a day full of snowing, an estimated 3 feet of snow had fallen on top of what had previously been 6 inches of melted snow and ice from the previous days. These records might be a bit exaggerated since there were not exact measurements, but the devastation was felt in Geary County.
  This made it impossible for cars or human feet to travel anywhere around town. Everyone in town was trapped in doors, which caused a mini-panic since April 4th happened to be Easter Sunday. It’s hard to tell whether or not many people who were left stranded attended church, but from the ads that were being run in the Saturday edition of the Daily Union, services in all churches were being held. This had been the worst storm recorded in the area since Junction City officially became incorporated in 1859.

There doesn’t have to be a large amount of snow for there to be freezing cold temperatures. The blizzard of January 1885 was an example with reports of temperatures hitting 25ยบ below zero. While there was quite a bit of snow that hit the entire western half of the state, Junction City received very little. The temperature in 1885 was enough to shut down the entire city, “Telegraph wires were all down and communication with the outside world has been entirely cut off since Thursday morning. Business has been almost entirely suspended and travel was [deemed] unsafe.”

The snowstorm of February 1926 seemed to leave the city as crippled as the snowstorm of 1920. In the February 25 edition of the Daily Union, the newspaper told of just how bad the streets in Junction City had gotten, “the big snow of Wednesday night drifted the roads so badly, that twenty-five cars were stuck Thursday between here and the county line on the ‘South Forty’ paving west of town….By late Thursday afternoon the caterpillar tractor and snow plow owned by the county had pushed though the seven foot drifts near Witts, and pulled six cars out of the drifts…”
Streets were so bad during the 1926 snowstorm that cars could not be used. The people of Junction City got smart and found a different form of transportation that helped them get around town after the blizzard, “ever since the big blizzard of Thursday, old Dobbin [the horse] has replaced the motor car for a great deal of Geary County’s transportation. Particularly as a means of conveying youngsters to school and the back of the horse has come in very handy.”
In the winter of 1983, Geary County witnessed 17 inches of snowfall. This single snowfall made it impossible for any vehicle to travel on I-70. This was made apparent when on February 3rd, 1983, the Daily Union reported that due to the impassible conditions on the interstate, many grocery stores in town were running out of the essential food items such as bread and milk. “Both Falley’s Market and Dillon’s have run out of bread, according to both store managers, with Dillon’s also running low on milk.”
Many people were unable to make it to work for several days and kids had been out of school for at least 3 days. But as always, the Junction City mail would not be hindered by the weather, “about 95% of the city received their mail service delivery on Wednesday, except for the ‘really bad areas’ such as Rockledge and Rockwell streets…”
For a bit of recent history, the snowiest month on record for Geary County was set just 7 years ago in Dec of 2009 when 17.2 inches of snow fell. Before that the record had been 14 total inches in February of 2004. In February of 2014, the single largest single snowfall event occurred in the county when 10.5 inches of snow fell on Geary County.  That single snowfall made it the third snowiest month. We might have had a quiet winter so far, but historically the biggest snowfalls come during the first few months of the year.
Of course we couldn’t tell the story of all the snowstorms in the area, so if you have any stories or pictures you would like to share with the Geary County Historical Society, please feel free to stop by and share them with us. We’re open Tuesday-Saturday, 1-4 PM!

This picture was taken at 7th and Washington on Easter Sunday April 4th 1920