Bi-Centennial Historical Marker Project
In October 1977 one of the first actions taken by the Abilene Bicentennial Commission when it was appointed by the city of Abilene in 1975 was a decision to erect an undetermined number of historical site makers. With no funds, the first decision was not to go to the taxpayers. Henry Jameson, as chairman, delegated it to a sub-committee. The committee took the assignment seriously and the site markers were installed at 11 locations around the city. The theme is a cross-section of Abilene history in the overall, more than individually labeled specifics. The committee started with 11 markers, which were fairly costly, but of lasting design and construction, and the eleven exhausted the committee’s budget. Six are mounted on posts, five on buildings.
Their locations and information are as follows:
1. Buckeye Street Neighborhood - 1302 N. Buckeye
By the mid-1880’s all the land along the street had been deeded and in most cases, lot lines had been drawn and a few homes built. The Kuney and Hodges Addition, extending from the Union Pacific tracks to Fourteenth Street and from Buckeye street east nearly to Campbell, was systematically divided into regular lots and spacious streets. This addition bordered the east side of Buckeye and formed the pattern visible today. The west side of the street was owned by as many as eleven different individuals or firms, each dividing his property to different dimensions with little regard for roadways.
Home building increased during the early years of the twentieth century inspired by the rising popularity of the automobile, the building of the Golden Belt Road, and increasing local prosperity. Among these homes was the magnificent Seelye Mansion, completed in 1905 and situated on an entire block between Eleventh and Twelfth. By the 1920’s the park planned for the 1300 block on the west side was abandoned and the land sold for building lots. It was not until the post World War II years, however, that the final homes were built on the west side to complete the neighborhood.
2. C. L. Brown - 717 N. Buckeye
In addition to his varied business interests, he lived the philosophy of wanting to see people enjoy his wealth. This was the basis for the building of the Brown Memorial Home for the Aged, Brown Memorial Park, a children’s home, and a residence club for working girls. The Home for the Aged and the park have been sustained through the years by the Brown Memorial Foundation.
Part of Brown’s plan to see people enjoy his wealth is this area of distinctive Spanish style homes built by Brown in the late 1920’s for members of his family and several employees and their families. These homes surround the C. L. Brown home where Brown and his family lived modestly by Brown’s personal creed: To furnish assistance to the worthy, to make possible for everyone’s added enjoyment in life, and to help others to help themselves.
3. Brown Building - 300 N. Cedar
Completed in 1903, this building once was owned by T. El Dewey and was known as the Brady Building. I 1904, following a disastrous flood, the building was sold to Cleyson L. Brown, Abilene entrepreneur whose many enterprises provided employment for one-fourth of the community’s breadwinners.
The building was known as the Brown Building until 1911 when the Brown Telephone Company, which maintained its switching center at this location, absorbed its local competitor, the Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company, and became the United Telephone Company. Thereafter, the building was called the United Building until its sale in 1966 to the J. B. Ehrsam and Sons Manufacturing Company.
Meanwhile, the financial empire of C. L. Brown toppled with his death in 1935, and Southwestern Bell Telephone Company became the sole vendor of telephone services in Abilene. A part of Brown’s confederation survived, however, and emerged from receivership in 1939 as United Utilities, Incorporated. Subsequently headquartered in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, the company grew to become the nation’s third-largest telephone system under a new name, United Telecommunications, Inc.
4. J. E. Johntz Home - 214 N. Walnut
John E. and Hattie Johntz were married in 1870 and built their first home in that year on this site. By 1880, as the Johntz businesses prospered, plans were under way to remove the original building and replace it with this beautiful, stately home. With his interest in the lumber company, only the finest materials were used in the construction and the walls of brick were made over one foot thick. The home was always open to friends and the Johntz hospitality played a major part in lifting the social life in Abilene. Johntz’s sons built two more of Abilene’s outstanding homes. Christian built the home on the northwest corner of this intersection and J. Edward built the home at 307 North Vine.
5. Eisenhower Park- North Pine (on the stadium)
Construction of the swimming pool, later labeled by experts as “the finest pool in the state of Kansas,” began in December of 1936 with sixty men working four days a week. These men used shovels and wheelbarrows to dig out the pool area and horses to haul the dirt away. A second and third stone quarry had to be located on area farms as they ran out of natural stone putting up the park buildings.
As construction of the swimming pool neared completion, the stadium was started. Due to changes in plans being made after appropriations and bonds were secured, money was unavailable to complete the stadium with a roof, as had been planned. The pool and stadium were completed in 1937 and 1938 respectively.
In June of 1944, this 40-acre park was dedicated to Dwight D. Eisenhower and since been known as Eisenhower Park. It was from the park stadium on June 6, 1952, that General Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his candidacy for President.
6. Lebold Mansion - 1st and Vine
Lebold’s financial empire suffered during the depression in the 1880’s, and in 1889 he was forced to turn the house over to creditors. George Sterl bought the mansion at a sheriff’s sale and occupied it until 1918. Hard times soon befell the stately structure, and it was used at various times for an orphanage, a home for single telephone operators, and an apartment building with nine units.
In 1974 the house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Vahsholtz who have restored it and recaptured the splendor of the bygone era.
7. Bonebrake-Seelye Theater - 400 Block NW 2nd (The plaque is now in Homer Strowig’s granddaughter's possession)
In 1900 Dr. A. B. Seelye purchased the building and remodeled the theater. The theater, finely furnished and modernized, was the setting for many home talent and famous roadshow productions. Housed in the same building on the first floor was the A. B. Seelye Medicine Company Laboratory. At its peak production, this patent medicine company boasted a line of 84 different items including Wasatusa, Fro-“Zona, and AbilenA Water. In 1960, the company merged with a St. Louis firm but the history stays with the name inscribed on the building.
In 1930 Homer Strowig purchased the property and created a movie theater on the first floor, known as the Plaza Theater with its full-sized movie screen and featuring beautiful 1930’s décor, complete with tapestries on the walls and art-deco ceilings. It was in June 1952 that Five Star General Dwight D. Eisenhower held his first press conference as a candidate for President of the United States. The Plaza featured first-run movies until 2000 when part of the structure ‘fell down” and the building had to be demolished.
8. Abilene 1867 – Buckeye and Texas Street (across from the Dickinson County courthouse).
9. Belle Spring Creamery - on Court Street (behind County Courthouse – will be re-installed when the courthouse renovations are completed.)
The job of plant foreman brought David Eisenhower and his family, including infant son Dwight D., from Denison, Texas, to settle in Abilene in 1892. As they grew up, each Eisenhower son worked at the creamery; Edgar and Dwight working there more than the others.
At its height, the Belle Springs Creamery was the largest business and employer in Abilene. It produced butter, ice, ice cream, and processed eggs and poultry. The company had over 200 collecting point and their products were bought and used all over the United States. In 1958, after seventy-two years, the creamery narrowed its operations to the ice and refrigeration locker business. By this time, most farmers were too busy farming wheat and milo to continue in the dairy business.
10. Duckwall Stores Inc. - 401 Cottage
During the next 60 years, the Duckwall Stores became an important factor in the economy of Abilene. By 1968 the business had expanded into 6 states and developed a full-time discount store system with over 1,250,000 square feet of sales area. In 1976 stores throughout the midwest are serviced by Duckwall’s General Offices and warehouse located in Abilene.
11. C. W. Parker - SE 2nd Street between Kuney & Campbell (MISSING)
On several acres of land south of S. E. Second Street between Kuney and Campbell Streets, C. W. Parker owned and operated a “manufactory” of amusement devices from the mid 1890’s to 1910 when he moved his business to Leavenworth.
His company made organs, tents, circus wagons, show fronts, other carnival and circus equipment, and the railroad cars on which to transport them. He was best known for the patented Parker Mechanical Shooting Gallery and for his portable jumping horse carousels, which he called “Carry-Us-Alls.”
Charles W. Parker was the only one of the manufacturers of carnival equipment who also owned and operated traveling carnivals. In the summer of 1905 he had four complete carnivals traveling the Mid-West, South and West. Each carnival had a staff of around 200 and was carried on at least 12 train cars.