Friday, August 7, 2015

East Central Kansas – Moving North (#2)

Before heading up US Hwy. 77 to Blue Rapids, we checked out 2 more buildings in Waterville Kansas.  Both are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Note: US Hwy. 77 is 1,305 miles long, stretching from Sioux City Iowa to Brownsville Texas.

This is the Waterville Kansas Opera House at 202 East Front Street.  Built in 1903, this classic revival Opera House is located just across the street from the National Register-listed Weaver Hotel. 

This two-story limestone building was constructed by area craftsmen with locally quarried limestone and has remained in the ownership of the city since its construction.  The bottom floor was originally built to house the city's government offices, library, banquet room, kitchen, restrooms, and dressing rooms.  An auditorium and raised stage has always occupied the second floor space.  The property was listed due to its association with local entertainment and government history, and for its significance as a unique architect-designed combination opera house and city hall. 

Community halls, (aka Opera Houses), served many functions in the 1800s and early 1900s.  These included theatrical and musical performances, town meetings, a meeting venue for social and fraternal organizations, commencement ceremonies, etc.  As the sign in front of the building indicates, there is an effort underway to raise money for renovations. 

This is the S.T. Powell House at 108 West Commercial in Waterville.  This 2-story Victorian home and adjoining carriage house was completed in 1895 for a prominent local business man and banker.  The exterior is virtually unaltered. 


·       The current population of Waterville is approximately 665.

·       Starting in 1867, the town really prospered.  Since it was the furthest west point on the railroad, cattle drives up the eastern branch of the Chisholm Trail fed a burgeoning stockyard business.  It was a short lived boom as the railroad progressed further west via other routes.

·       Another ‘boom’ of sorts occurred in the years following the cattle drive ‘bust’.  There was an annual “Turkey Drive” with as many as 5,000 turkeys being herded about 90 miles to Waterville’s rail head from Republic County Kansas.

This is the Blue Rapids Public Library.  This library, which was built in 1876, is the oldest continuously operating library west of the Mississippi River that is still located in its original building.  The structure cost $2,000 to build.  The library was originally located on the first floor and the second floor was used for various Blue Rapids business and fraternal organizations.  The library now occupies both floors and its collection now includes 5,575 volumes.

Laurie and I noted this old log cabin that is located right in the center of Blue Rapids… It was built by Swedish emigrants Frank and Augusta Sjoholm in the mid-1870s on their farm which was 8 miles southeast of town.  The cabin is 12 foot by 26 foot and it was built with oak logs.  The door and window frames are walnut.  Six of the couples 8 children were born in this house and their descendants still live in Marshall County.  The cabin isn’t listed in the National Register but it is a historical preservation project sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce.   

Blue Rapids was founded in 1869 when a colony of about 50 families from Genesee County New York moved in, purchased land and water power rights, and began establishing a community.  In the late 19th and early 20th century there were four gypsum mines in the area and Georgia-Pacific still has a major mine nearby.  The population of the town peaked ca. 1910 at 1,756.  Today there are fewer than 1,000 residents. 

I did manage to find this dilapidated Missouri Pacific Railroad depot in Blue Rapids.  I couldn't find any reference to its age... I’m guessing that it’s being used for storage.   The caboose in the previous photo sits to the left of the depot. 

·       Blue Rapids has the only ‘round town square’ in Kansas.  This oldest roundabout in Kansas was built in 1876.  A fountain was placed in the center and cottonwood trees planted around the edge of the circle.  Then, after 1888, sidewalks were laid, a bandstand built, hedges planted and a soldier's memorial and flag pole was installed.  There were a total of twelve dirt streets leading to the round town square…

As this little open air passenger ‘coach’ is has Central Branch Railroad printed on the front, I’m guessing that this rail unit is used in conjunction with the “Little Engine that Could” tourist train that we photographed in Waterville Kansas.  A visitor’s journey on that line  goes from Waterville to Blue Rapids.


·       Blue Rapids claims to be the smallest town in the United States to have ever hosted a National League Baseball Game.  On October 24, 1913, more than 3,000 fans watched the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants play a world tour exhibition game on the local ball field that’s still in use today.  Of course, the teams arrived in town via the Central Branch Railroad…and they walked the round town square!

That’s about if for now… The next posting will truly be off the beaten path!
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…  Thanks for stopping by!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. Hi Dave,

    This is such a fascinating and informative post! I love the buildings and history behind them. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I notice in your profile that you used to help retailers to prevent loss. I used to work in retail (for about 16 years), both as a clerk and as a manager, from 1987 to 2003. Today there is a lot of theft going on and I find it very sad. I frequent a grocery store in my area here in Montreal, Canada, and I often here the beeper go off. What some people are doing is instead of exiting through the doors that are designated for exiting, they are leaving through the entrance doors. They will wait until someone comes in through the entrance and exit there, sounding the alarm. What these thieves either don't realize (or don't care) is that we all pay for their theft with the rising costs. Take care of yourself and I hope your weekend will be a great one!

  2. Nice town and also some pretty buildings and houses. How wonderful that that pioneer log cabin is being historically preserved. It's a shame more have not been saved. Hope you and Laurie have a nice weekend.