History of Willard, Kansas

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History of Willard, Kansas


History of Willard, Kansas

Compiled by Zelda M. (Sally) Whitmore, Patsy Hogan, Neal and Barbara Haze

Written by Barbara Jones Haze-Sept 1997 from:
Writings by Joe Skidmore;
Ghost towns of Kansas, Vol. 3, by Daniel Fitzgerald, 1982;
Lesser Known or Extinct Towns, Vol. 14, Vol. 19 by Mrs. Mary E. Montgomery;
Various newspapers; Interviews with current and former residents; Writings of V. D. Jones; Material from Shawnee Co. Historical Society; and other miscellaneous sources.

History of the City of Willard, Kansas

Willard, Kansas: “Not just a country town…it was the life of the region at the turn of the century,” is a quote from historian Daniel Fitzgerald written after a visit with area resident Vilasco D. Jones. We current residents believe that Willard is a place where life continues in a positive, fruitful, and joyous way.

Willard, Kansas, in 1997, has 96 residents. Twenty-one of these are 12 years old or younger, and fourteen additional children twelve years old or younger visit townspeople on a daily basis. Willard is an incorporated city with DeVere Miller serving as Mayor. City Council members include Neil McKenzie, Laura Lord, Treasurer, Bertie Searcy, Clerk, Brent Crow, Tom Roduner, Vince Mioni, and Mike Lord. The most visible business is the Miller Garage where residents gather for car repairs and conversation.

The first recorded settler in the Willard area was T. N. Stinson from Westport, MO, who built a stone building in 1848 for use as an Indian trading post. This post was called Union Town and was located on the Green/Anderson farm, east of Willard. The stone building was torn down 55 years later in 1903 and the block house which still is in use was built at that location.

The town of Willard was first platted 110 years ago in 1887 as follows: Station on the Rock Island Railroad, in Dover Township, located in SW ¼S. T. 11. R.13, on the Kansas River and became an incorporated city 85 years ago on October 22, 1912.

Willard has been a colorful spot for 149 years since 1848, when the first river ferry crossing was operated by Sidney Smith, a Union Town resident, a short distance up-river from the present town site. This river crossing was used by early travelers of the Oregon Trail on their way West. Among those people crossing in 1848 was the group who founded St. Mary’s Mission and College. They were held up at the crossing by high water and had to camp until the water went down. At that time, a dry crossing on the ferry cost $5.00 per wagon. Those who could not afford to pay had to float their wagons across the river while their livestock swam across. As many as ninety thousand people may have crossed this ford in the years 1849 and 1850.

Early population of Willard was 61 in 1888; 60 in 1891; 80 in 1894; 100 in 1900; 120 in 1904; 200 in 1906; and 200 in 1912.

July 1859, Mr. Lucias Darling made $650 a year as ferry man and had Darling Street named after him. In 1854, John Ogee was ferryman. The ferry continued to operate and, in October of 1886, the Board of Commissioners granted a license to the Wabaunsee Ferry Company to run the ferry. In 1871, the rates were: 75 cents for a four-horse team or two-yoke oxen; 50 cents for a two-horse team; and 25 cents for a one-horse team. Wm. Reese operated the ferry from 1900 to 1904.

The arrival of the Rock Island Railroad in 1883 brought business and prosperity to Willard from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. Willard was a typical railroad community. Long time resident Joe Skidmore remembers Willard as “busy all the time” with train passengers, freight, and cattle going to Kansas City. He recalls the depot with office room, waiting room, and baggage room, with one agent on days and two agents on nights; stock yards; pump house for locomotive water with two men to run it on two shifts; and a section house for the section gang, tools, motor car and other supplies. Skidmore recalled that there were two regular signal maintainers; about 8 men on a section gang with two such gangs working all the time. Ten to fifteen families made a living from railroad work in Willard.

Railroad agents included L. H. Higgins, R.R. Express and telegraph agent in 1891; J.J. Hadsell in 1904; and E.G. Hoover in 1906.

September 8, 1923, a train wreck at Willard left three people severely injured when the engine and 5 cars left the tracks, with the engine nearly burying itself in a cornfield north of the tracks.

In November of 1935, another train wreck occurred when a train of 51 cars, travelling east, was passing the Willard Station and one of the gasoline cars, located around the middle of the train, seemed to buckle. It left the rails, carrying seven other tank cars and eleven box cars with it. One of the tank cars plowed into the station. Flaming gasoline from the other cars flowed around it and set the station on fire. Calls for help were sent to Topeka. The police department sent men with rifles and machine guns which they used in efforts to puncture the steel tank. The bullets only dented it. The Topeka police then sent out a heavy caliber weapon which did the job of making holes in the tank so the gasoline could drain out. March 1937, NBC Radio honored Frank Stone Jr., for his heroism when he “saved Willard, Kansas” by shooting holes in the tank car. Some area residents were not convinced that Stone was a hero, however.

Willard continued to gain attention for train wrecks again on August 5, 1967, when 26 cars of a freight train were derailed, blocking both tracks through Willard. This wreck occurred west of the elevator.

October 19, 1967, twenty-one cars of an eastbound 39 car freight train were derailed, again blocking both tracks. The elevator again escaped damage. Most of the freight cars were loaded with lumber that was hauled away by trucks.

The depression of the 1930’s caused the Railroad to become a less important shipper of agricultural products from the Willard area, thus creating a less lively economy in the town of Willard. However, trains still went through Willard, though they no longer stopped.

Early Post Offices in the Willard area included the Post Office at Wah-Wah-Suck in 1876 near Rocky Ford and the Nabaun Ice Cream Company. This office was then called Post Creek Post Office by 1882, with F. M. Jones as Post Master. By 1884, the Post Creak office moved 2 miles southwest into Shawnee County. In 1888, the Post Office relocated 4 miles northeast into Shawnee County near the Kaw River and the railroad and was renamed Willard Post Office with William Douglas as Post Master. Willard Post Masters have included T.H. Cope in 1888, L.H. Higgins in 1891, V. Douglas in 1894, William Reese in 1900, Laura Edwards in 1906, Frank Fleming in 1912, Jack Lewis in 1932, and Mrs. Alice (John) Setchell from 1947 to 1959. The Willard Post Office closed July 30, 1959, after serving area residents for over 70 years. At closing, the office serviced 23 paid box holders and 12 general delivery customers.

Over the years, Willard has had a wide variety of businesses, including a general store. In 1887, Mr. Cope and Mr. Gilkerson ran the General Store and both men succeeded in having city streets named after them. By 1891, Mr. Cope was still running the store. Other general store proprietors included: C.S. Eyer and V. Douglas in 1894; R.W. Blackburn and John Wilson each operated a store in 1900; R.W. Blackburn continued to operate a store in 1904 and he had added lumber to his stock. His store was located a block from the stockyards on Main Street. In 1906, Frank Fleming ran one store and Harlow Store Company ran another; in 1912, D.H. Atkinson was the local merchant. A newspaper reported on January 21, 1916, that the D.H. Atkinson store in Willard was robbed and dry goods and jewelry valued at about $30.00 was taken. The Rock Island station agent saw two men get off the midnight passenger train. A freight which pulled out a short time later would have given the robbers time to rob the store and get away on the freight. Deputy Sherriff Hixon measured some footprints near the store and followed the trail toward Rossville but could not find anyone whose foot would fit the measurements, so he gave up the chase.

A two story building at the south corner of Holden Street housed a general store on the first floor and an athletic club on the second floor where wrestling and boxing events were held. This store was run by Mr. Morris and taken over in the early months of 1921 by the Lynde Brothers. This store burned May 19, 1921.

January 24, 1924, the R.E. Smith General Merchandise store was also destroyed by fire as a result of poor wiring for electric lights. Mr. Smith and his wife and daughter lived in rooms on the second story. About four in the morning, they were awakened by smoke fumes. Mr. Smith hurriedly dressed but failed to be able to make his way downstairs because of the smoke. He kicked out a window, crawled out on the porch, and dropped to the ground. He got a ladder and rescued his family. Attempts to put out the fire failed because the pump was frozen. The building was formerly the Willard Hotel, owned by Joe Fitzsimmons. The Smith Mercantile stock was valued around $2500.00

After the fire, Mr. Smith and his family spent several months looking for a location in California, Oregon, and Washington to start a new store. In November, 1924, Mr. Smith was back in Willard opening a new store. He was quoted as saying: “I saw all that country on the coast and it is not in it in Kansas; nor is there a town on the coast that can compare with Willard!”

Joe Skidmore recalls stores run by Mr. Hartley, Mr. Cheney, and Mr. Stitt. Dave Stitt owned and operated a General Grocery Store in Willard for 30 years. Warren and Naomi Pendleton operated the last Willard General Store.
Other Willard businesses included:
Hay buying and shipping: Herb Green
Honey Bees: Mr. Keeler (Located at Al Ent house)
Violin Maker: Ike Cotton (Smith house)
Garage: George Hahn, then J.B. Skidmore, then Mr. Carlson, and now Mr. Miller
Gasoline Station: Mr. Smith
Ice House: Frank Fleming - Ice was cut on the river and stored in sawdust for summer use (located at the Fleming Place)
Race Track: Located on the Mack Janes ranch just southwest of John Miller’s barn
Woman’s Hat Shop: Jenny Allen
Brick Manufacturing Company: Mr. Pettinger and Mr. Bemmett in 1888. By 1904, the company was operated by the Brick Company of Topeka.
Coal Company: Across the street from the Railroad right away.
A Dance Pavilion-Skating Rink: Mr. John Fish- Made with a tent type platform
Ice Cream Parlor: Martha Lewis
Dray Service from Depot to businesses: Louis St. Auben, who lived in the Hosack place (Haze Place)
Blacksmith Shops: J. Chilcott in 1906, O.E. Everly in 1906. Later Shortie Everlie ran a shop with lots of horseshoeing work. An auction was held January 1949 to sell shop tools and blacksmith equipment belonging to the then late O.E. (Shortie) Everlie.
Barber Shop: 1906 L. Winn
Barber Shop and Pool Room: 1906 Walter Turnbull
Barber Shop, Pool Hall and Restaurant: Skidmore Family. Joe Skidmore’s father had two barber chairs with Chet Skidmore as helper. Del and Beck Skidmore racked pool balls and collected 10 cents a game. They had two pool tables that were busy all the time. Martha Skidmore ran the restaurant and central (telephone) office in the back room with help from Lura and Bertha Skidmore.
Livery Barn: Harve Lister and Frank Lloyd in 1906. The Livery Barn was located across from the Depot between Main and Holden. The larger section of the barn was moved to the Hosack Farm (Haze farm). Mr. Skidmore tore down the front section and used the material to build the J.B. Skidmore house which later became the Teeter house and finally sold to FEMA and was torn down in 1996.
Heading and Cooperage Company: Hally in 1906 and 1912
Thrashing Crews: Jim Lewis and George Lealine
Hotels: Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Gibson operated a large hotel for railroad gangs, boarders, and transits one block south of the railroad depot. Harve Lister operated a hotel with livery in 1906. Both hotels burned.
Hardware and lumberyard: Willard Hardware and Lumber sold coal, fuel, seed, and lumber at a location between Holden and Darling Streets. The store went bankrupt after area residents reported seeing lumber being taken out of the store after dark and used to build a barn for a local resident. This may have contributed to the store’s financial instability.
Museum: Vilasco Jones-1969 through 1984. Contents were sold at an auction in 1984.
Dr. C.S. Smith served the town as Doctor during the years around 1906.

Early Willard residents blamed the loss of local business activity on a shooting which occurred in August 1922. Willard had the only dance hall/skating rink, pool hall, and cattle yards in the area, so it enjoyed a great deal of business from people in neighboring communities. The dance hall closed after the shooting and a lot of business was lost. Hiram Pendegrast, aged 40, was shot and killed as a result of Pendegrasts’s threats upon Manford Metzger.

Pendegrast came to Willard in a drunken condition and attempted to park his Ford car near the dance hall. He ran into another car with his vehicle. During the argument that followed, Pendegrast was shot in the shoulder and right hand and arm. This turn of events did not please Pendegrast and he poked his gun into various individuals at the dance hall, and shot a hole in the floor. He said he was looking for Manny (Manford) Metzger, who he thought had shot him. The dance hall proprietors immediately called the sheriff’s office and the word was given that Pendegrast was to be taken dead or alive. Pendegrast continued his search for Manny Metzger at the home of Chuck Metzger where he began arguing with Metzger’s mother. Chuck Metzger then supposedly shot Hiram Pendegrast, thus killing him. At the coroner’s inquest, the jury found that Chuck Metzger had shot in self defense and cleared him of wrongdoing. Some Willard residents were not convinced that the events were accurately reported to the sheriff and believed that there could have been other people involved in the killing. Pendegrast, a former Willard resident, was said to have been a bootlegger who the law had been after for some time.

The Willard community’s early church was located at Second and Darling and was torn down and the lot vacated in the early 1930’s. The material from the building was used to build a house in Topeka. A new church was started in 1948 by Rev. Charles W. Spencer, a disabled WWI veteran. Jack Lewis donated the land at First and Carlson Road. The church was completed in 1953 with about 60 attending services regularly.

The Willard State Bank was built by Mr. Kendell with ½ the funds being his and ½ coming from local residents. The bank was robbed twice. The first robbery occurred July 4, 1916, with Bob Best shot as a result of the skirmish that followed. September 12, 1924, the bank was again robbed and the robbers caught in Topeka on the same day. The robbers were caught at home with the $800.00 they took. They were sent to prison for eight years. In 1925, the bank closed and moved its business to Dover. The bank building is now used as the Willard City Hall. Kendell and Mr.Bethel ran the bank with Minnie Fleming as bookkeeper. S.C. Clark was President. On November 24, 1917, the bank listed resources of $63,128.87

Street lights came to Willard on April 22, 1922, and telephone service was reported as being started in either 1906 or 1919.

W.W. Wiley was in charge of Willard’s first school. This building was of brick construction and opened in 1891. It was not far from the store and taught all grades. It was known as the Reader’s School. It was torn down about 1915 and the present building was erected. Chet Skidmore and Dave Stitt cleaned bricks from the old building for use in the foundation of the new schoolhouse. Some teachers included: Virgil Herron and Josephine Rezac in 1914; Golda Harshbargar and Fred Nevens in 1935; Harry Schwanke and Golda Harshbargar in 1937; Miss Nettie Startup in 1911; Miss Jessie Rice was principle replacing Mr. Herron in 1917; Miss Ruth Rogers in 1924; Diplomas given on May 27, 1937, went to Edna Johnson and Scott Lister.

The Willard school was closed in 1963 because of declining enrollment.

Willard suffered minor damage in the flood of 1903, however the flood of 1959 did major damage to the town. The flood waters came up into many homes and discouraged business and new building. This flood caused the collapse of the bridge on July 5, 1951, just as a bread delivery truck reached safety on the south side of the river. The truck driver was shaken after his near disaster. The bridge was rebuilt by the Frisbee Bridge Company and is about 2,297 feet in length with approximately 3 feet clearance above the 1951 water mark.

The flood of 1993 produced ground water and buyouts from FEMA resulting in the Willard Park of 1997.

The Willard Grain Elevator, built in 1950 by Warren Pendleton and Clyde Rogers, was completed just in time for the corn harvest. The following year it was flooded. The builder told Mr. Pendleton that the building was built well and would stand as a monument to Mr. Pendleton. When Warren Pendleton died March 18, 1970, the elevator was sold to Charles Riley and later to Bill Fletcher. Later, it was closed as a business and sold to Lynn Binder for storage. Currently, Don Miller has the small storage bins and scales and Steve Gee has the remaining space. It was one of the last businesses in Willard. September 1958, the elevator was the scene of a near tragedy when Don Miller, Della Skidmore and Warren Pendleton were overcome by fumes while they were fumigating the storage bins. All three recovered after an exciting afternoon.

In 1958, a new 100,000 bu. Behlen storage building with 25 ft. side walls and measuring 52 by 80 ft. was added to the elevator. It was equipped with aerian and temperature recording equipment. The elevator had a storage capacity in total of 225,000 bushels.

Holden Street was named for Mr. Holden who owned the Holden Ranch with pastures south of Willard and ranch house north of the river. The Holden Ranch was quite large.

Tony Dean played baseball for Willard in the early 30’s with Marvin Billings, Joe Skidmore, and Ralph Pitts. Jack Lewis was the team manager and gave his players a dollar for every homerun they hit. That was a lot of money, but Mr. Dean said there weren’t too many homers so Mr. Lewis didn’t spend much money. Mr. Dean also remembered the town policeman who didn’t have much police work to do even though everyone left their doors unlocked all of the time. They young people didn’t go far from Willard because most of their travel was on foot, however, they did go swimming in Kassenbaum’s Swimming Hole north of the bridge (French Pond). Mr. Dean said the swimming hole was deep and fed by the river. Mr. Dean remembers the iron bridge with a wooden floor that rattled loudly when someone crossed it, the same bridge that was washed out in 1951.

How did Willard get its name? Some say Willard was named after a boxer, or maybe a crippled boy. Marlin Schrader, while a student at Kansas State, met a physics professor named Dr. Julius T. Willard, who said a town west of Topeka was named for his family. Mr. Schrader recalls finding a book at the K State library that listed “J.T. Willard 1897” on the checkout sheet. Considering that Willard was platted in 1887, it would seem logical that Dr. Willard might have been correct in claiming Willard as his family namesake. Dr. Willard may be related to John Ekdahl of Chicago, should you want to check on this.

Willard, Kansas, will your future once again awaken to new business and busy streets or will you be content to be a quiet, peaceful place for contented families? Only time will reveal the answer to this question.

Written by Barbara Jones Haze
Compiled by Zelda M. (Sally) Whitmore, Patsy Hogan, Barbara Haze and Neal Haze, from:
Writings by Joe Skidmore;
Ghost towns of Kansas, Vol. 3, by Daniel Fitzgerald, 1982;
Lesser Known or Extinct Towns, Vol. 14, Vol. 19 by Mrs. Mary E. Montgomery;
Various newspapers; Interviews with current and former residents; Writings of V. D. Jones; Material from Shawnee Co. Historical Society; and other miscellaneous sources.


Compiled by Zelda M. (Sally) Whitmore, Patsy Hogan, Neal and Barbara Haze

Written by Barbara Jones Haze


Rossville Community Library


Written September 1997


This work is copyrighted; the copyright holder has granted permission for this item to be used by the Rossville Community Library. This permission does not extend to third parties.



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