November 11, 2014

Downtown fires in the 1890s were stayed by water works and firemen

Compiled by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

A simple news item in the Valley Falls New Era, Jan. 31, 1891, stated:
"There are more horses and mules bought and sold at Fon Cook's Stable in Valley Falls than any other place in the county."

Ironically, the same news source, Saturday, Oct. 8, 1892, reported:
"Last Tuesday night, about 8 o'clock, the alarm of fire was sounded. Cook's Livery Stable was burning. Before the alarm was given, the fire had advanced so far that nothing could be done to save the barn, nor contents.

"The loft was full of hay and everything was so dry that the flames licked up the building as if it were shavings. The fire company worked manfully on adjoining buildings and saved the Hillyer House block. Had it not been for our water works and fire company, the business part of this town would have been a heap of smoldering ashes.

"Mr. Cook's loss is considerable, having 19 horses burned. Origin of the fire is unknown."

Nov. 24, 1894, from the New Era:
"Swallow's Drug Store and Nutting's Building's Ruined.

"Last Saturday morning about 2 o'clock, our city was again visited by a disastrous fire that for a time threatened the complete destruction of all the business houses on the north side of Broadway, west of Sycamore, and it was only by the hardest kind of work and efficiency of our excellent water works system that the Masonic Building was saved and the fire confined to Legler's and Nutting's brick building. No reason can be assigned the fire's origin. It was supposed to be spontaneous combustion.

"It started near the prescription case. The entire stock of drugs, recently invoiced over $3,700, is a complete ruin. The Dr. was on a deal to sell the store and would have had it sold in 10 more days. The stock was insured for $2,700."

Another fire — Valley Falls New Era, Jan. 5, 1895:
"Our city has again been visited by a disastrous conflagration, and inside of two hours our business houses completely gutted by fire and water. About 10:15 Wednesday night, a dense volume of smoke was seen coming out of the stairway between Paxton and Paxton's Store and Mrs. A. Murray's Millinery Store. Joe Ireland and Ed Burkert room upstairs and were nearly suffocated by the smoke. Mrs. Murray has a dressmaking room upstairs and lives there. Dr. Gillman's Dental Office is upstairs over Mrs. Murray's store and R.K. McCarney has his real estate and insurance over the Paxton's Store.

"There are various rumors how the fire started. Night watchman Gray gave the alarm and the city hall fire gong was rung but was not loud enough to awaken many. The hose cart was quickly pulled to the fire scene and some hands were found to man the hose. Two streams of water were turned on the burning stock of goods.

"The building is brick and the fire was confined inside. Mrs. A. Murray had a $3,400 stock of millinery goods, which were a total loss, no insurance; Dr. Gillman's dental tools and office fixtures ruined, no insurance; Mr. McCarney's office was ruined, he had insurance.

"Praise to those who fought the flames and kept them from spreading and for the best water works system in the state."

Valley Falls New Era, Saturday, Nov. 9, 1895:
"Burned out. A disastrous blaze. Our city was again visited by a disastrous fire, the third to occur within the space of less than one year, and had it not been for our excellent water services and gallant fire department, the north side of Broadway would now be in ruins. Nine o'clock Sunday night, George Winfield, who worked in 'Dad' Harmon's Livery Stable, discovered fire in one of the empty stalls in the stable. There was a strong smell of coal oil, and there is no doubt that the stable was set on fire.

"He (Winfield) gave the alarm and started to get the horses out. He succeeded in cutting a number of the animals loose and leading them to the door, but they would break loose from him and run back in. He saved a mare belonging to him and two head belonging to Mr. Harmon. Eighteen head, six Mr. Harmon's, perished in the flames. Dr. Marks lost his driving team, buggy, and grip full of instruments. Dr. England lost his team and phaeton (light, four-wheeled carriage), John Beeson lost a team and the organman had a team of horses and mules burn.

"The fire spread rapidly owing to high winds from the south. The skating rink, belonging to David Nutting, was a complete loss and he lost two pool and one billiard table and about 50 pair of roller skates. A building between the livery stable and Swiler's Drug Store, occupied by John Beeson for a poultry house, contained about a ton of poultry destroyed by the fire.

"Praise to the fire department boys under the leadership of Capt. DeLorm for the work they did fighting the flames."

October 28, 2014

Ice, bricks, beer drinking, a drowning and more

Compiled by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

Thumbing through the files of the Valley Falls Historical Society reveals a sundry of items through early years, including daily events, seasonal activities, tragedies, and celebrations.

According to local news items, The Kansas New Era, May 7, 1874:
"Our streets are daily lined with the white-sheeted wagons of the immigrants seeking a home in Kansas.

"The first installment of ice was delivered last week among our businessmen gratuitously by Sam Sawyer of the firm of Sawyer and Mitchell. These gentlemen have a large amount of ice for summer's use, and they will expect and should receive a large share of the patronage of the city."

The Valley Falls New Era, June 10, 1886:
"They have about 100,000 bricks in the kiln at Patrick's Brickyard. They will 'touch it off' as soon as they get 50,000 more in. They now give promise of being a very excellent quality of brick.

"There is said to be gambling and beer drinking going on somewhere in the upper part of the building on the northeast corner of Broadway and Maple streets. It is expected that the marshal will ferret the 'hole' out and plug it."

The Valley Falls New Era, Dec. 13, 1890:
"Drowned. Last Wednesday evening about 5:30 o'clock, the terrible news was on everyone's lips that three little boys had broken through the ice on the Delaware River at the foot of Oak Street and were drowned. Little Fred and Leslie Case and their little stepbrother, Floyd Archer, were the victims of the sad accident.

"Their ages, respectively, were 16, 11, and 8 years. After school they had wandered down to the river and ventured to slide on the ice. Fred and Floyd went through the ice but 11-year-old Leslie tried to hold on to the edge of the ice until help had arrived, but slid into the cold water and drowned with the other two before help could be extended to him."

The Valley Falls New Era, July 2, 1892:
"The steamer 'Delaware' will carry passengers to and from the company's grounds on the Fourth of July, and thus give all a chance to enjoy a day free from all the bustle and heat in the city. Amusements of all descriptions. Round trip 25 cents."

New Era, July 9, 1892:
"The Fourth of July was as pleasant a day here as ever Italy enjoyed and though there was no general celebration, a tip top time was realized by our people in picnicking in the various handsome groves adjacent to the city. About 450 people availed themselves of a steamboat ride up the Delaware to a picnic ground prepared by the 'Delaware Navigating Co.' "

The Valley Falls Historical Society will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 1.

October 21, 2014

All Hallows' Eve depicted in museum windows

by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

Purple owls with black wings and black owls with purple wings sporting twinkling orange-lighted eyes hanging from a black spider web against an orange curtain provide the background for the Hallowe'en display at the seasonal window of the Valley Falls Historical Society Museum. Black cats from a one-eyed, single on-looker to a trio of happy felines, jack-o'-lanterns, and noisemakers complete the festive scene. A proud, wise old owl guards the All Hallows' Eve scene.

The Veterans' window features the following tribute to all veterans, past and present, "For every moment of peace, liberty and greatness our country enjoys, we have someone who has worn a uniform to thank."

Military service uniform caps surround the tribute with a Liberty portrait overlooking the scene.

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 25.

October 14, 2014

Notes from the 47th annual meeting

by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

The 47th annual meeting of the Valley Falls Historical Society was held Oct. 5 at the Barn Bed and Breakfast Inn.

After the 1 p.m. buffet luncheon and prior to the program, an election of officers and directors was held with the following selected to serve in the 2014-2015 year: Betty Jane Wilson, president; Rosalind Jackson, vice president; Lesa Brose, secretary; Gary Coleman, treasurer; and Joan Reichart (term 2015) and Anita Stutesman (term 2016), directors. Frank Shrimplin continues as historian and Clarke Davis as advisor.

Guest speaker Jane Rhoads was provided courtesy of the Kansas Humanities Council. The council conducts and supports community- based programs, such as the historical society, through an active grant program that pays her expenses, gratuities, and travel expenses.

Her presentation, "Bronco Bustin' Showmen and Their Spectacular Wild West Shows," resulted from her research, love of entertainment, and Kansas history.

With the assist of digital screen and projector, she presented an enviable selection of photos of the performers in various stages of their lives prior to and during their careers. Still scenes were shown from "Buffalo Bill Cody's Spectacular Show" with added tales of association with notables as famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley and Cody's influence on later known western screen star Tom Mix. Cody's fame as wagon master, buffalo hunter, and child messenger for his father, Isaac Cody, and their relation to Valley Falls were included. Pawnee Bill, Lucille Mulhall, and Will Rogers and their entertainment careers all enjoyed their claim to fame in her specialty.

Jane Rhoads is also the author and winner of a Kansas Notable Book Award in 2009. Born of her love for prairie entertainment and her visit to over 400 Kansas communities she authored "Kansas Opera Houses — Actors and Community Events 1855-1925." Composed of countless photos, stories included performers whose careers began on small Kansas stages. The outstanding feature of her book is an alphabetical listing of 479 Kansas communities with information about their entertainment centers. Among our neighbors listed are McLouth, Oskaloosa, and Meriden with Nortonville having the 1884 McCarthy's Opera House and an 1908 City Hall-Roxie House still standing. The Valley Falls 1884 Turner Opera House (Turner Hall), Valley Falls is on record with a stage 16 feet by 40 feet with seating for 600. The facility was heated by stoves and illumined by lamps.

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 18.

October 02, 2014

Harman-Stockwell part 2: "Community rid of a bad character"

Compiled by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

The New Era, Saturday, May 12, 1894, reported a preliminary trial for city marshal Allen Stockwell was set for Monday, May 14, before Justice Beland.

The New Era, May 14:
"Monday, the case was called before Justice Beland and Mr. Stockwell's attorney, Messrs. W.F. Gilluly, G.W. McCammon and P.J. Hamble waived preliminary examination and asked that the defendent be bound over to the District Court for trial. Acting County Attorney M. Gephart, at the request of the prosecuting witness, Colfax Harman, dismissed the case and paid the costs. No further action has been taken, and whether the Harmans will have Mr. Stockwell re-arrested is not known. Perhaps they have found how the public sentiment is and have wisely decided to drop the matter.

"The coroner's jury was composed of our best citizens and men who treated both sides fairly. Their verdict was in accordance with the evidence and our people are well satisfied."

"Thursday afternoon (May 17) we received a call from N.H. Harman, father of Fora Harman, to the editor of the New Era. He took exception to the article we published last week in regard to his son's death. The New Era aims to publish the truth and will not knowingly publish any false statements. We wrote the article as we thought the facts warranted and did not try to publish a prejudiced account of the unfortunate affair. We aimed to give all parties justice in our article and certainly did not intend to make any false or misleading statements.

"Mr. Harman said our statement that his son was a 'dangerous character' was false, and instead of saying 'a bad career ended,' we should have said an 'indiscreet,' not bad career ended. He said that the statement that Fora had threatened the marshal's life a number of times was false, and that the evidence did not show that Harman had threatened to kill Stockwell. He said the time Stockwell shot at two other parties, giving an excuse that he thought he was shooting at Harman, Fora did say that he had better go prepared for Stockwell, that was all he ever threatened, and that was after he heard Stockwell had done the shooting, thinking he was the man. He also said that the statement that Harman made towards the marshal after he had been ordered to leave the jail window was false, because Harman had no time but to run away and was shot in the back side. He also said that 'Durham and wife saw Stockwell sneak up to Harman and giving him no warning, fired. Harman did not start toward Stockwell.'

"It is but natural that Mr. Harman should take the part of his dead son, and no doubt objects to the way in which the death was caused, but now that it is all over, he should not try to stir up any more strife in the community. We publish his side of the case because we want to be fair and not prejudiced. We believe, however, that the verdict of the coroner's jury was a just one and that the community is now rid of a bad character."

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 4.

September 18, 2014

1894: Shooting death of C. F. Harman by Marshall Stockwell, part 1

(From the New Era files of 1894)
by Betty Jane Wilson

A series of conflagrations, tragedies, shootings, denominational destruction enhanced by denominational joys and miracles dominated by the early 1890s news items reported by the Valley Falls New Era, predecessor of the Valley Falls Vindicator.

The May 5, 1894, headlines:


"The quiet of our city was broken Thursday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. by the loud report of four pistol shots fired in rapid succession. The shooting occurred at the city hall and jail. At the crossing to the alley back of Gephart's Bank lay Fora Harman and over him stood city Marshal Stockwell. The long feud was over and death had ended it. The body was carried to city hall to await the coroner who had been telegraphed at city hall.

"Sheriff Weatherford happened to be in the city at the time and the Marshal surrendered to him at once. The wife, mother, and brothers were notified of the victim's death. The father, somewhere in the southern part of the county, could not be found.

"Fora has been the black sheep of the flock and has caused the family untold agony and thousands of dollars by his wayward ways. He was to have a new trial at the next term of court for grand larceny. Marshal Stockwell was the principal witness and unless he could get him out of the way, he was sure to be convicted. He had, on a number of occasions, threatened the marshal's life. The two were bitter enemies.

"The immediate cause that led to the shooting as far as we can learn was that Harman was at the window talking to Frank Wright in the city jail. Wright was in the jail on a disorderly conduct charge. Stockwell had warned Harman to stay away from the jail. As he went down the alley, he saw Harman at the window and ordered him to leave. Harman made some remark and started toward the marshal. The marshal opened fire. He fired four shots.

"A post mortem examination revealed that only one bullet going through the pulmonary artery caused death.

"The coroner and acting county attorney swore in the jurymen and the following day the coroner conducted the inquest. A number of witnesses were examined. Testimony showed that Harman had repeatedly threatened to kill Marshal Stockwell. But the marshal had never threatened Harman. No one saw Harman and Stockwell before the shooting, but several saw it after the first shot was fired. Harman was then running west and fell on the sidewalk leading south past the Gephart's Bank. The sentiment seems to be all in Stockwell's favor and it is thought he was justified in defending himself.

"Of course the coroner's jury will decide according to the evidence given."

May 12, 1894, the Valley Falls New Era reported:

"The coroner's jury examined about 30 witnesses out of whom only four testified they had not heard Fora Harman make threats against Marshal Stockwell. No one testified they had seen Stockwell and Harman at the city jail. Just before the shooting occurred, Mr and Mrs. Durham saw Mr. Harman in the window and saw him run after the first shot was fired.

"The jury rendered the following verdict: 'We, the jury, find that C.F. Harman came to his death on the third day of May 1894, on or about 10 o'clock p.m. in the City of Valley Falls, Kansas, by a pistol shot fired by the hand of Allen Stockwell, city marshal, and that the killing was justifiable and lawful. — E.M. Hutchins, foreman, H.M. Doolittle, D.P. Paxton, H.D. Butts, J. A. Evans, and G.W. Elson, jurymen.'

"Immediately after the verdict, Mr. Stockwell was arrested upon complaint of Colfax Harman, brother of the deceased, and his preliminary trial was set for the following Monday before Justice Beland. His bond was set at $1,000 and was signed by all three of our bankers."

Next, The Case and the Other Side.

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 20.

September 02, 2014

September displays in the museum windows

by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

The Valley Falls Historical Society museum window scene for September features sports equipment indicative of past years and obvious usage.

Basketball, football, softball, baseball, etc., all borrowed from the society museum showcases, dominate the display with a variety of trophies — for reminders of Valley Falls' sports winnings and academic accomplishments.

A gold background curtain, centered, with a mega black mesh wreath, embellished with tiny basketballs and footballs and large gold V and F letters identify the school — all designed to welcome all Valley Falls students to the 2014-15 school year.

The veterans window for August honored the memory of the World War II defeat of the Japanese with newspapers dated Aug. 14, 1945, with blazing headlines declaring VJ Day.

The September window display also includes memories of 9/11/2001 when the nation and the world were shocked when the New York World Trade Center and the nation's Capitol and surrounding areas were attacked by terrorists and the resulting death and destruction.

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 6.