Historical Essays


Historical Essays written by local historian, Dorothy Hoobler, are reprinted from the St. Marys Star. Thanks to Dorothy for taking the time and interest to write these essays that give us a glimpse into the life and times of St. Marys, Kansas.

In Post War 1920
Opening of Pessemier Hall
It Was A Regular Hummer
Midway Through the Roaring Twenties
Why Did They Vote That Way??
What If There Wasn’t TV?

In Post War 1920
By Dorothy Hoobler – Reprinted from St. Marys Star 1978

The “war to end all wars” had taken its toll on St. Marys as well as the rest of the world. Many young men from the town, as well as from St. Mary’s College and the surrounding communities had gone off to war. Some became the casualties of influenza as well as bullets. On Memorial Day, 1919, 2,000 people turned out in a rousing “Welcome Home Day” to honor the returned soldiers and sailors. A grand parade composed of veterans, the men of the ROTC companies and the College band, Gold Star mothers, and school children formed at the College and marched to the Union Pacific park for speeches.

That May in 1920, everyone seemed ready for fun and festivity, and graduates of both schools were entertained by rounds of parties. The Bolands even hosted a five-course banquet for local boys who were college classmates of their sons Philip, Tom and Jack and Carroll invited friends from the campus high school class. The “Star” carried long columns of school news, including detailed descriptions of party menus and alumni reunions reports. The public high school’s news, “The Comet,” was edited by Alfred Rezac. The May 27 column carried such diverse items as the number of students attending the box social supper at the fantastic 98% average scoring in a recent psychology test, and the class party in the home of Miss Rose Stewart. The menu included chicken sandwiches, pimento salad, pink ice cream in the shape of carnations, angel food cake and bon- bons, coffee and mints. Hand painted place cards with carnations in graduates Helen Hesse, Olive Lambert, Pearl Young, Ethel Allen, Alfred Rezac, and Harry Ulrich. Miss Ida Moriarty was a welcome guest.

A report from the County Superintendent of Schools in Westmoreland stated that 200 students in grades seven, eight and nine had taken the required exams, and 65 diplomas were awarded. St. Marys students Helen Marie Teed and Ethel Vilven ranked among the top ten eighth graders in the county. Others in the class were Cecelia Hesse, Gladys Yocum, Roy Perry, Madalyn Fell, Katherine Gebhard, and Rebecca Van Hole. There was hardly standing room for the graduation exercises for this outstanding class, the “Star” reported.

The Immaculate Conception Academy Class Day was also a memorable social event, beginning with Mass. Then followed a four-course breakfast at the Marie Koppes home. The menu was a bit more elaborate, and included grapefruit with cherries, fish croquettes with tomato sauce, french-fried potatoes, cheese daisies on wafers, ice cream with strawberries and mints. At another party, held in the Gassman home, the girls enjoyed music, dancing, and progressive Bunco. Presiding at the 11th Alumni Banquet was Miss Regina Byrnes.

The St. Marys Hall was the scene of the June 14 graduation exercises for Immaculate Conception students. Attendance had increased remarkably, with 36 receiving grade school diplomas and 13 young ladies finishing the Academy. The evening’s program was much shorter and more enjoyable since the customary plays had been presented to appreciative audiences in May, before the weather got so hot. The senior girls were Ella Pearl Sipes, Agnes McCaffrey, Teresa and Crescentia Seitz, Kathryn Otto, Lavina Kiting, Marie Verschelden, Marie Kopes, Gertrude Floersch, Marcella Reilly, Genevieve Gassman, Ruth True and Helen Halloran.

Undoubtedly, some of the graduates may have attended the one night only film showing at the Princess in June 1920. It was Harold Bell Wright’s “Shepard of the Hills,” ten wonderful reels of “absorbing interest and scenic grandeur.” Admission was 25 cents and 50 cents plus the still collectible war tax.

Readers of the “Star” were notified that St. Marys banks were collecting voluntary donations on June 5, for a fund to erect a duplicate of the Statute of Liberty on the banks of the Marne River in France. These small sums would show the spirit of America toward her sister republic, and our thanks for the gift of Liberty enlightening the world.” presented to the United States in 1884. If each bank in Kansas could collect $5.00, the state quota would be met.

There was also a brief history lesson in the “Star” that June of sixty years ago. The city of Manhattan had presented the Historical Society with a door rescued from the wrecked steamship, the “Hartford,” one of the ships which had traveled the Kaw in the 1850’s. The Hartford had brought a load of settlers from Cincinnati up the river, and on the return trip had caught fire and burned just a few miles from the Mission town, then only a few log cabins. The river’s shallow depth and shifting sands kept St. Marys from becoming an enterprising river port. Instead, the city’s fame would rest in the world-wide reputation of St. Mary’s College and D.J. Lane’s Asthma Remedy.

Opening of Pessemier Hall
By Dorothy Hoobler – Reprinted from St. Marys Star July 1978

St. Marys provided something for everyone that month of May, 1928. The young folks had their track meets, and the adults had the grand opening of the new Pessemier Hall on Sixth Street. Frank Miller described it so colorfully in the “Star.” “The old town never saw such a dancing crowd. Everybody from the Irish in the hills to the Dutch in the valley was tapping or turning a mighty tickled toe, and gawking around for the sheer sport of gawking. Admission was free, and you were asked to gawk. The old eyesore for years is now a show place. Merrymakers were there by the thousands, trying to look blasé as 22 sets swing hither and thither in a square dance. Pessemier has invested $11,000 and the work is not quite completed — there is a need for more ventilation. Electric suction fans will be installed. “It’s the largest dancing crowd in town history. Miller continued, “a crowd of 1,500.” The building was 50 feet by 90 feet, with an automatic spring floor of oak, built without nails. The hall and lobby measured 5,500 square feet, and the hall could seat 1,000 comfortably. “Fritz” counted the crowd: “300 seated along the wall, 500 dancing, 400 looking and the remainder clustered around … 500 bottles of pop and near beer sold at the refreshment stand, ” he added, ” and the supply of hot dogs failed to meet the demand. Jack Fish and his orchestra provided the best of music.

An advertisement placed by Paul Huycke Lumber Company, Frank Sipes, Manager, extolled the virtues of the new hall. ” It is an improvement greatly needed and replaced the eyesore that formerly stood at this site.” (The eyesore was a long abandoned, ramshackle building, I’ve been told.) The new hall could be used for a needed community hall, the ad continued. (In the lean years of the thirties, it served as the community “soup kitchen”) It had channel drain roofing, rock face stone on the outside walls, brick siding on the interior walls, metal ceiling, Dixie oak flooring over Dewey portland cement, and fire clay flue lining in chimneys, making it a modern, fire-proof building. Incidentally, Huycke Lumber just happened to be “privileged to furnish the material for this building, and we’ll be glad to serve you likewise.” In case, you’re wondering what happened to Pessemier Hall, take a good look at the Bayer Stone building some day.

It Was A Regular Hummer
By Dorothy Hoobler – Reprinted from St. Marys Star March 1978

That’s the way that John J. Graham, controversial editor of the “St. Marys Journal,” described the visit of noted orator and politician, William Jennings Bryan. In this once instance, however, nobody seemed to disagree with Graham, for the 24th day of August, 1899, still rates as one of the most exciting days in the history of this town. The occasion for Bryan’s visit was the annual log-rolling for the Pottawatomie-Wabaunsee County Modern Woodmen of America. That was always a cause for festivity, but this was very, very special event. Recently, Mr. Maurice Coleman shared and old “Star” clipping of an interview with Mrs. Ellen Leonhardt, as she reminisced about her memories of Bryan, the log-rolling, and Wirt’s Grove. Since we were then having one of our worst snowstorms in years, that hot time in this old town” seemed like an ideal subject for a story. Microfilmed issues of the “Journal” simplified the research, and Graham’s columns were colorfully descriptive and complete.

The “Journal’s” bally hoo began in early July with the announcement that extensive preparations had already been made; Bryan would probably speak, and “Writ’s beautiful grove, one of the finest in central Kansas, had already been secured for the activities.” Joe Wirt also owned the meat market located in what is now “Katie’s Korner,” and his oak grove was on the present Zemek property south of town. Before the 1903 flood (which caused a new channel to be formed), the oak grove stood on the banks of the Kansas River, and was a popular place for just such events. Graham referred to it once as “Riverside Park,” but that was years before the city officially owned and named our present Riverside Park.

Once the Woodmen’s executive committee (William H. True, chairman) formally announced that Bryan was indeed coming to deliver the main address, the town joined in elaborate preparations. Marshal McGovern filled the mud hole near the town’s windmill with gravel. The city council was asked to investigate complaints about the condition of the railroad’s sidewalks and crossings, so visitors wouldn’t trip on broken boards. Bert Grooms put his new 8 x 16 foot ferry boat into operation to accommodate visitors expected from across the river.

Midway Through the Roaring Twenties
By Dorothy Hoobler – Reprinted from St. Marys Star

Like the rest of the country, the St. Marys community was booming and having a good time in 1925. The College Crest Country Club held regular tournaments between the local business men and the men of St. Mary’s College. The names of winners of the May Bluing hole tournament and the pairings for the annual match before clases ended on campus read like a who’s who of the community. Even the ladies were organized and competed in events at the Topeka Country Club.

It was a sign of the good times, to, that the annual “special” train which carried the College boys back home after their year on the Kansas prairie had fewer passengers this year. Students were pooling their cash to buy “battered flivvers” instead of supporting the Union Pacific. As the “Star” reported it, “A local garage owner is doing a land office business to students who pooled their interest. Six young men bought one with an exceptionally good depreciation for $30, to drive to St. Louis. Then they’ll flip a coin to decide the owner — if it ever gets there.” That Flivver may have been made by one of the only fifteen auto manufacturers left which had been organized before 1900, including Pierce-Arrow, Maxwell, Locomobile, and Peerless, as well as the popular Ford, Olds, Buick and Cadillac cars. Over 1,000 companies had already failed. The students may even have entertained themselves singing one of the most popular songs of that year, “Thanks for the Buggy Ride.”

The alumni reunions were still being held, but one of the outstanding social events was the party given for I.C.A. seniors by the junior class. The honored girls were Julia Rezac, Clara Rezac, Vivian Sheffer, Agnes Schoemann, Clara Schuler, Bernadette Seitz, Nellie Van Hole, Emma Verschelden, Clara Hallock, Marie Hesse, Monica Koppes, Gertrude McCormick, Lucille McCoy, Edna McEnroe, Mary Meade, Winifred Orton, and Loretta Verschelden. New that year at the parochial school was an all male comedy presented in St. Marys Hall on June 1. ” A Street Boy’s Honor,” the cast included G. Zeller, H. Quigley, A. Miller, G. McEnroe, D. Hanna, E. Farrell, H. Bushey, J. Conlan, E. Meister, E. Collins, A. Keating and H. Quinlan. Despite a heavy rain shower and the threat of a violent windstorm, a large crowd filled the hall. “De Gang” kept the audience convulsed with laughter at the boyish pranks, according to the local paper. The graduation exercises for 24 students seemed almost anti-climactic.

At the Rural High School, the graduation address was given by Dr. H.T. Hill from the Kansas State Agricultural College. Musical numbers included Marie Folsom’s vocal solo which placed second in the county contest, and a beautiful violin solo by the talented St. Mary’s College professor Steigerwald. Reverend Fr. O’Connor and Reverend Garrettson of the Methodist Church offered the prayers. Diplomas were presented by director J.M. Conlan to Marie Folsom, Opal Levett, Marjorie Lambert, Lena McGuire, Dorothy Sloggett, Viola Rezac, Cosmos Fennell, and Clifton Lynn.

Excitement at the city fire department also drew a crowd when Chief Andrew Roark and his volunteers demonstrated a new Foamite Chemical Fire extinguisher on the Byrnes lot on Bertrand, west of the Pacific Hotel. Chief Roark threw a flaming match into a tub of gasoline, and when the flames quickly spurted skyward, the fire fighters immediately smothered the blaze with a stream of Foamite. All the people who’d rushed out to see a fire when the fire bell clanged and the power-house whistle blasted, went home satisfied by all the excitement — even if it was a false alarm.

Guests at the 56th commencement at St. Mary’s College on June 11, saw diplomas being presented to nine graduates, including Gerald McNeive, Maurice Coleman (future St. Marys City Manager), and Bernard Costello. High school diplomas were also awarded to 70 boarding or day scholars. Some of the out-of-state visitors may have stayed at the reopened and remodeled Commercial Hotel. All thirty rooms were now ready for guests, either the traveling public or permanent residents. The purchase of the Commercial on 5th and Bertrand by its new operator, William Wolf, steward of S.M.C. marked the end of the oldest business firm in St. Marys, Ferdinand Meister’s. When Meister came to town in 1869, he bought the interest of the Eagle House, a hostelry on the half block north of the Union Pacific Depot on 6th. According to the “Star,” the station then stood on stilts south of the track and directly opposite its present location. Meister moved his hotel interest to the Avenue in 1895. The 1925 remodeling cost totaled $2,000.

National news gave the older residents something else to remember. those who had listened to the stirring orations of the famed politician, William Jennings Bryan, in Riverside Park watched the papers for the latest news in the John T. Scopes “monkey trail.” Bryan, one of the prosecuting attorneys, was completely humiliated by Clarence Darrow’s questioning, and reportedly died as a direct result of the exhausting trail.

The twenties may have been roaring, but St. Marys folks hadn’t forgotten their veterans. patrons were asked to shop on Friday, since all businesses would be closed from 8 am until after the conclusion of the cemetery services on Memorial Day, 1925. The order of march for the huge parade included the color bearers, the firing squad, the American Legion, Civil and Spanish War veterans, the municipal band, Red Cross nurses, the National Guard, school children, the College band and students, civic organizations, and various distinguished citizens. The hundreds of cheering people who lined the streets never dreamed what changes the “dirty thirties” would bring to their little town — and especially to its educational facilities.

Why Did They Vote That Way??
Part 2

By Dorothy Hoobler – Reprinted from St. Marys Star January 1979

It must have been a difficult task to be a city official in those days (1871-1890) (and it isn’t all that easy now, either, I’m sure!) There were frequent notations of “No quorum present” during the first decade of St. Marys history. There was often intense rivalry for the position, so things were not always smooth sailing. After some officials refused to post the required bonds in the mid 1870’s, a special election was called. Investigative committees were assigned to examine the police judge’s reports and the city treasurer’s books. Several men resigned, and one was removed. The new city marshal was given “three days to vigilantly pursue the dog and hog ordinance,” the clerk noted, and city bills allowed were $2.00 to the election judges, $9.00 for three nights service as police guards, and $1.00 for returning the ballot box. Much of the trouble was due to the dram shop licensing process. “Friendly” councilmen sometimes remitted fines, reduced fees under a “relief to certain saloon keepers” provision, or otherwise showed some favoritism.

Running repeatedly through the minutes were references to “the Calaboose”; it was rarely called “the city jail.” Evidently much of the dram shop license money was needed to keep the place in repair, and especially to buy new locks. November 1873 minutes detail the $9.45 payment to a local hardware merchant. He supplied the calaboose with eight joints of stove pipe and elbows (an furnished the labor for putting them up), coal hods and coal shovels, buckets, nails a water pail and drinking cups, and one good lock. Blankets ($2.00 to A. Urbansky) and 25¢ a meal to M. Guyett for feeding prisoners were other allowable expenses. It must have been a “wild and woolly west” month–election day shenanigans??–for other expenses included “$7.00 repair to the calaboose” and wages to all the extra men hired to “guard the prisoners.”

In May 1876, B.H. Bertrand asked to be released from a verbal contract made in 1870 when he gave the city Lot #8 in block 23 as a site for a calaboose. A stone foundation was laid, and a stone wall built, but the work was discontinued. Since no further progress had been made, Bertrand felt the city had forfeited all claim to his lot. Evidently he sold the property with that big pile of rock to Mrs. Maria Hagan, for the commissioners discussed buying the stone. Instead, on January 1874, the city brought her lot for $120 “for the purpose of erecting a city jail.” Ordinance #55 authorized $400 to build it and issued $125 in scrip to Charles J. Bowman as partial payment. In May of 1877, Bowman received the final payment of $259.70 for furnishing the materials and building. Oh yes, and two months later for “repairing the lock on the calaboose!”

To be continued

What If There Wasn’t TV?
By Dorothy Hoobler – Reprinted from St. Marys Star July 1976

“But what did you do for entertainment, if there wasn’t any TV?” When such a question is asked, many of us feel an overwhelming nostalgia for “the good old days.” We have such pleasant memories of family and community activities like sled-riding or skating parties and taffy pulls; wiener roasts and sing-a-longs by bonfire; neighborhood barn dances, picnics, and family reunions; quilting parties and spelling bees; charivaris and box suppers; and ball games and swimming parties. (You learned to swim in the river or the nearest creek, unless you were a “city kid.”)

However, St. Marys never seemed to lack for cultural events, and there was a great variety of leisure time activity. As long as St. Marys College was in existence (1869-1931), there was always excellent lectures and debating, poetry, and oratoricalm contests, and superb musical concerts by the glee club, band and orchestra. Since so many local men were students there, it usually meant full-house attendance. The local churches also provided many outstanding musical experiences, with memorable performances like the beautiful “Seven Last Words” sung in Latin by the Immaculate Conception Church choir, and the Christmas and Easter cantatas by the choir members from the Protestant churches.

For many years there was a town ban. The “Kaw Valley Times” of 1879 described the Mission Cornet Band with instrumentalists W.H. True, Charley Ullerick, N.W. Peddick, E.G. Olsen, L. Jenner, J.F. Buell, Peter Bloom, G.W. Ulerick, Oscar Olson, and J.P. Duffy. Another “little German” cornet band was led by Paul Huycke in 1891. In 1910, Ira Whitehair was hired as director for the town band which played weekly Saturday night concerts in the Union Pacific Railroad Park bandstand. It was in June of that year, in an ad for the band boys’ fund raising picnic, that the Star editor proposed that our lovely little park south of town should appropriately be named “Riverside Park. ” That day’s events included three ball games, three band concerts, and evening dance, and a variety of afternoon events. These included a 50-yard dash for men over 45 (won by John Rezac); a ladies nail driving contest; a prize for the farmer who brought the largest crowd of people over a three mile distance. (It was won by L.H. Rovins of Belvue.)

Although there should always be some free time just for dreaming, we are pleased with the St. Marys recreation program and proud of all those volunteers who spend so much time coaching ball teams and teaching craft classes. In the years before the advent of Scout troops and 4-H clubs, however, there were few organized activities for local children, except through the churches and schools. In reading accounts of the frequent rnentertainment, it seems as if the children spent most of their time learning recitations and dialogues, practicing drills or musical instruments; or rehearsing the plays. The older youth not only found this great fund; they also contributed to church and school funds with a variety of activities. Young men’s and young ladies Sodalities joined in 1916 to present a rural comedy, “Home Ties,” with a cast which included Edward McGlinchy, Raymond and Harold Ryan, Carl and Anna Weisenbender, Mae Ronnau, Agnes McHall, Josephine DeMarais, and Rose Cunneen. Musical interludes were furnished by Zita Sipes, Regina and Jeanette Byrnes, and Eulalia Erbacker, and it was a financially successful evening for the school. That same week, Sam Shannon entertained his Sunday School class with a “corn social.” The church rooms were decorated with corn shocks, and the refreshments were mush and milk and popcorn!

If you were in a mood for stimulating, intellectual discussions, 1916 also offered these typical events – Lyceum with a debate “Resolved: that the auto is a greater convenience than a modern home.” (Mrs. Will Lytle and Fanny Reichard lost to the negative team of Mrs. Sam Whitlock and Melva Murphy.) Perhaps you preferred a lecture on “White Slavery” — the perils of the innocent young girls in the wicked city. There was even a Frances E. Willard Day program at Greenwood School, Kaw Valley when 27 students presented “27 Facts of Prohibition.”

A variety of fraternal organizations and clubs provided much of the social life of the townspeople. Masonry came to St. Marys in 1882, when Pottwatomie Lodge, #52 AF&AM was organized with men like Urbansky, Jenner, Pool Reddick and Ullerick as charter members. It is the oldest organization in St. Marys. Artha Chapter #238, Order of the Eastern Star, chartered in 1901 with 34 members, observed its 75th anniversary May 10, of this year. Council 657, Knights of Columbus, was organized in 1902, and by 1919, had grown to a membership of 275. One account of an initiation that February named the men in a class of 60, and described in detail the banquet for 300 Knights and their ladies, including the menu, program and patriotic table decorations. Other lodges prominent for many years were the Modern Woodmen and Royal Neighbors of America. One very exclusive, enthusiastic group was the Ancient Order of Hibernias in America, whose members were either born in Ireland or were of Irish descent. They celebrated on March 17, with parades and speeches, and in 1906, the program also included Irish songs by Mrs. William Sipes, Joseph Cunneen, and the Kansas City Glee Club. The Literary Club, Organized in 1914, sponsored the opening of the St. Marys Library in 1926 and like the Hoy-Heim American Legion Auxiliary continues to promote and support a variety of worthwhile projects.

There were also clubs for social purposes, like the lovely young ladies of the Battenbury Club; the rural women of the Sunflower, Kaw Social and Farmer’s Wife clubs; the February Birthday Club; and the Young Men’s Dancing Club, which sent 100 invitations to the 1906 Easter Ball. News accounts of one of the elaborate parties given by Ladies Card Club describe the floral decorations (American Beauty roses in the parlor, and carnations in the sitting room); the prizes (hand painted plates and gold hat pins); and the refreshments (food “served by two chefs from the city.”)

Traveling shows and troupes brought excitement to town. Colonel Fisher’s Big City Show had vaudeville and circus acts, with acrobats, contortionists, and later the Princess Theater, gave local theater buffs the opportunity to watch dramas like “The Frame-Up,” with Miss Floy Mann. One special show of 1919 featured Cal Stewart, known for his old-farmer-with-the-rube-stories records, “Uncle Josh.” Do you remember “Uncle Josh Puts Up the Kitchen Stove?” For much of the town, the St. Marys races were the biggest event ever, and they deserve a later story of their own.

And there were the ball games! In April 1916, the famous Chicago White Sox of the American League, managed by Charles Comisky (a former St. Marys College student ) appeared on campus to play the college team. It was such a big event that business houses closed during the game. Unfortunately, the local boys lost 17-5, but “they played as though on an even margin.” Since some of the boys also played on the town team, the “Roarks” (named after their coach, Barber Andy Roark) led the league that year. Some of the names in game line-ups included Kemp, Moss, Yocum (catcher), A. Stinger, O’Rourke, Herron, L. Stenger, Emert (pitcher), Lane, Sipes, F. Parr, and Baumchen.

Hunting was also a popular sport; there were always jack rabbits, and a season for doves, prairie chickens, plover, geese, and quail. Fees from Kansas 1906 licenses were used to by 2,000 English pheasants. There was a $25.00 fine if you hunted before they were legally declared sufficiently multiplied. Fishing was great, too, but not everyone had “fisherman’s luck” like Arch Johnson in 1902. The Kaw River was flooding, and people in Glasgowtown (a suburb of St. Marys to the southwest) had to moved to higher ground. Arch caught a 35 pound catfish in his backyard.

Even if there had been television in those years before the “Roaring Twenties,” few people would have had time for soap operas. They read the continued stories of heartbreak and intrigue in the weekly paper, listened to the phonograph or the player piano and, if things really got dull, there was always the telephone party line!


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