Waterville Opera House, Davis County

Today on Around Kansas we’ll learn about a new “must read” book about Kansas; the Waterville Opera House which was built in 1904 and Kenny Starr, a 2015 inductee into the Kansas Music Hall of fame. Next we’ll meet this week’s From the Land of Kansas business and see how Davis County became Geary County. Then we’ll finish up with a poem about cowtowns.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. TheSoybean Checkoff Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas, I’m Deb Bisel. I couldn’t wait for our monthly feature on books and music to share this one with you. This is an absolute must have, what a Kansas treasure this book is. “Railroad Empire Across the Heartland-Rephotographing Alexander Gardner’s Westward Journey.” This is by Jim Sherow with the photographs by John Charlton. Now John Charlton has been my friend for years. He was with the Kansas Geological Survey. So John has covered virtually every square inch of Kansas. If you go to the Kansas Geological Survey’s website, you will find some of the most stunning images of our state you’ll ever see. So, John has just covered everything and he became aware of Alexander Gardner’s trip across Kansas in 1867 and he decided years ago, I think it was the 1990’s, that he wanted to go back and rephotograph some of those things. He started out with a grant to the National Endowment for the Humanities. And when that agency lost a lot of its funding, well then it became a hobby for several years. So, that hobby has come to an incredible fruition. Now Alexander Gardner, some of our viewers may recall was portrayed…. remember when we went and interviewed my good friend Doug McGovern at the Kansas Sampler Festival last year? Doug is a photographer from Hutchinson who has recreated Gardner himself and is really into the stereographic images. So, learned a little bit about Gardner on that episode. And feel free to go back in the archives and watch that again. But Gardner was hired by the Union Pacific Railroad to go through the…go along the railroad’s path basically and photograph the scenery, and the communities and the people. And that helped sell people on the railroad. It sold investors, it sold people who were going to buy tickets, who were going to move, who were going to settle along the railroad and build homes and businesses. So, it was all about promoting the path of the railroad. So these images are absolutely incredible and he went back and as best he could recreated some of those spots. There’s a great one in Hays for example- famous photograph of the stagecoach in Hays. Hays was just…Hays City was a few months old when Alexander Gardner was there. And of course now it’s a business district and there’s just a historical marker to show where that great image was taken. This is a “have to” book. I cannot say enough about what a beautiful work it is, how much you’re going to enjoy it. When he went through the photographs not everyone made the cut because you know you just had to stop somewhere. And you’re gonna recognize so many familiar places. There are gonna be some that you’ve never seen before, but you’re gonna love it. You’re gonna absolutely love this book.
You better go get it right now. We’ll be right back.

(Frank) Good morning I’m Frank Chaffin, this is Around Kansas. You may recall that we were going to visit opera houses all around this great state of Kansas. We started at the Jayhawk Theatre which is in restoration. Well, a lot of opera houses around the state have been restored. Some of them didn’t really have to be restored and one of those is in Waterville. Now Waterville itself was established back in 1868 and they established it because obviously it was a water stop for the railroad that went through there. And it was also named after a town in Maine, also called Waterville. Well of course, back in the 1860’s, ’70s, ’80s that’s when of course, there were many opera houses that sprung up across the state of Kansas. And that was the form of entertainment that there was at that time. Well, the Waterville Opera House was one of the more spectacular ones. And let me digress here a little bit. My wife Linda and I were part of the Dale Easton Players and we were invited to play at the Waterville Opera House a couple of times. We did the “Drunkard” once and then we took one of our musicals called “The Shaboom Boy” there. And let me tell you when we were in town, we were treated like visiting rock stars or something. And it was a fun place to play. Now, let me tell you, the opera house itself, you walk up seven and a half steps into this opera house, it’s all nice and white and when you walk in you see a wonderful ceiling in there. It’s a flocked ceiling and a huge chandelier right in the middle. And then of course, all the seating and then a big stage area. Well, the acoustics in there are wonderful because the people that built the opera house made the corners rounded in there. So, the acoustics just kind of roll all around in there. The Waterville Opera House is not one that was transformed into a movie house, it has remained an opera house for over 100 years. It was built in 1904. Yea, long time ago. Well, during the summer there are several groups that still visit there. There are a lot of traveling groups, almost like it was back between the 1860s and the 1920s. Now again, I had an aunt that traveled with the Ted North Players and played the opera house many, many years ago, long before I was born. But anyway, also in Waterville across the street from the opera house is a restored hotel, the Waterville Hotel. And it’s wonderful to walk around in there and look at the rooms the way they were and then there’s a restaurant there that has a fantastic menu. So, if you go to Waterville for a show, be sure to go over to the hotel and see it too. And then have dinner in the wonderful restaurant. You can find out more about the performance schedule. You can googled them- the Waterville Opera House. And make sure it’s Waterville, Kansas, cause other wise you’ll get Waterville, Maine, and I don’t think they have an opera house. So, anyway be sure to stop at the Waterville Opera House and again, like I say we’re going to be looking at other opera houses all around this great state of Kansas. So, for now, this is Frank Chaffin saying join me on wrenradio.net for the oldies every Saturday from 11 to 2, oldies of the ’50s and ’60s, wrenradio.net. And until then I’ll see you somewhere Around Kansas.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. You all know that music is my love second to history. And I want to talk with you a minute today about Kenny Starr and probably all of you know Kenny or remember when he was recording. Kenny grew up in Burlingame, Kansas, and he was born with a different name though, Kenny Trebbe. And then he later on became Kenny Starr. Now when Kenny was only 9 years old he was fronting his first band The Rocking Rebels. And as a teenager he played clubs as part of a pop act, Kenny and the Imperials. Now he switched to country music in 1969. And then he won a talent contest in Wichita. A promoter invited him to appear on a forth coming show with Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. He got a standing ovation. That’s when Loretta Lynn suggested that he move to Nashville and she gave him a job with her roadshow. With her support he recorded for MCA from 1973 to 1978 and had a U.S. Country Top Ten hit with “The Blind Man in the Bleachers.” I don’t know about you but I remember that song really well. Really poignant, touching song about a blind man whose kid was on the football team, like second string and he was just always in the bleachers waiting for his kid to get into the game. So, not only did that make the country charts, it made the Billboard Top 100 charts as well. He had further success with “Tonight I Face the Man Who
Made it Happen,” “Hold Tight,” “Slow Driving,” and “Me and the Elephant.” He has continued in the music business as a producer and a jingle writer to Nashville now. And he is one of the 2015 inductees into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. So we’re just so pleased with Kenny’s success. I talked to him on the phone the other day and he’s so proud, so humbled to be inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame along with people he admired and many of whom he’s played with as well over the years. So, in the midst of your busy day look up “Blind Man in the Bleachers” and give it one more spin. We’ll be right back.

From The Land of Kansas is a trademark program that helps Kansas businesses grow, produce, process or manufacture Kansas products. Let’s meet Cocoa Dolce Artisan Chocolates, Wichita’s most exquisite chocolate store, located in Bradley Fair. Owner, operator and Master Chocolatier Beth Tully creates small batches of her preservative-free confections by hand, using the finest chocolate from around the world and all natural ingredients. Cocoa Dolce features a variety of bittersweet, milk and white chocolate truffles and bonbons. The store is also home to Wichita’s only wine and chocolate lounge, where guests enjoy eclectic wines paired with chocolates in an intimate setting. For more information visit them online at www.cocoadolce.com.

(Deb) Good morning, welcome to Around Kansas, I’m Deb Bisel. When the Kansas territory was organized into counties, I think in 1855, I think there were 33 original counties. One of those was Davis County. You don’t know where to find Davis County? That’s because it doesn’t exist as Davis County anymore. Now we know it as Geary County. When that county was organized, Jefferson Davis was the Secretary of War. And of course honoring the politicians, important people, you know was just the way you named counties. Washington County for example, it’s really obvious where that name comes from. But Davis County became a little bit controversial when Jefferson Davis from whom it was named went on to become the president of the Confederate States of America. So the good folks of Davis County decided they needed to change it since most of them, of course had supported the Union and much of what would become that county were made up of Union soldiers after a certain point. So, in 1885 it became Geary County, named for John White Geary. Now he was much more acceptable. Geary had been the last alcalde and the first mayor of San Francisco. And most importantly to us he was the third territorial governor of Kansas. Now, he was big guy. He was way over six feet tall, Pennsylvanian and not afraid of very much. But being the territorial governor of Kansas was a tough job. And it was a pretty scary job. He actually fled in the middle of night with his brace of pistols and said, “You know what, I’m done with this.” It was a pretty scary place to be. So, he goes back to Pennsylvania where he will become a pretty big deal in the Civil War. He’s a general and later on he will become the 16th governor of Pennsylvania. So, when the good folks of Davis County were deciding who they needed to name their county after, rather than Jefferson Davis, they picked John White Geary. Now if you go over to Junction City to the Geary County Historical Society they’ve got all kinds of information about this, plus the other rich things that happened. Of course, so named because of the junction of the rivers there, the Republican and the Smokey Hill, which of course make the Kaw. So, it’s harder to find a more significant place in the geography of Kansas than that specific point. Another thing about Junction City. It was a great place in territorial Kansas… (Deb) Junction City of course, was home to another favorite person of mine, General JEB Stuart. Stuart actually laid the cornerstone for the Episcopal Church in Junction City when he was a lieutenant in the Union Army during the territorial period. So many great things to find and do in Junction City, so we hope you get over there. I was visiting with the ladies from the Geary County CVB the other day at a tourism event, and one of the things they told me about that I had no idea- the Duct Tape and Cardboard Boat Regatta that they hold each year on Milford Lake. So if you’ve got some engineering prowess and a lot of optimism you too can make a boat from cardboard and duct tape and compete in the regatta. They have you know, some pretty small little entries on up to… they told me that the K-State Engineering Department actually used a semi to bring their entry over one day. So, I think that’s one that we’re gonna have to put on our calendar this year. We’ll be right back.

(Ron) Howdy folks, I’m Ron Wilson, Poet Lariat. The cowboy really came alive in legend at the time of the great cattle drives. And the goal of the Texas drovers was to get to Abilene. This poem is in honor of the “First Cowtowns.” One of the first cowtowns the world had ever seen, was the little community known as Abilene. It all began after the Civil War here, with demand for beef from the western frontier. A livestock dealer named Joseph McCoy, helped bring about the American cowboy. He saw Longhorns in Texas running free and he knew what an opportunity these could be. McCoy looked for a place with grass and water abiding where he could build a big railroad sighting. He traveled through Kansas on a railroad route west, in search of a town that would suite his request. And when he got to the city of Abilene, he found a place which he had foreseen. It became a cattle shipping point hence forth for Texas drovers bringing cattle north. Thousands of Longhorns came up the Chisholm Trail to the city of Abilene to meet the rail. The money flowed and cowboys got wild until the local folks got riled. So in time the cattle trade moved west and the Texas cattle rancher’s quest. But in the history of the west, the name still resounds Abilene, Kansas, one of the first cow towns. Happy Trails.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for posting my lady! I have been feentvrly checking daily to see if she made the cut – I’m thrilled, I only wish I had her email address so she could check herself out on the big screen. Love love love your blog. These folks totally inspire me.

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