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Minnie Howell Champe: Dr. J. W. Evans Remembers Manhattan of Early Days

The log of a life of adventure and intelligent contemplation of the passing human scene is capsuled in the memories of Dr. J. W. Evans, retired but very active Manhattan physician. Living quietly now with Mrs. Evans in their home at 514 North Fifth, he devotes his time to his garden and yard and to recalling the history of the past 60 years, nearly as real to him now as the happenings of yesterday.

Though only 71, Dr. Evans can remember when the hoop-skirt of the Civil War period was in vogue! "In fact, I've never met anyone so old that his memories could not be matched by my own," he remarked. The explanation is that the southern Idwa [sic] county of Decatur, from which he came with his parents in 1885 "was at least 75 years behind the times."

When the family came to Kansas, he said, they supposed they were casting their lot in the wilderness, a completely uncivilized area where dark-skinned savages roamed. Instead,

"We found ourselves in the center of an area more culturally advanced than any we had ever known."

Population 1,750

Manhattan was a town of 1,750 population. It was a thriving little town, though almost everything west of Juliette was prairie. North of Poyntz to the center of Bluemont there were only 58 houses, the doctor remembered, "and I can name right now all but five of the families occupying them."

Kansas State was a thriving college even then. Its buildings included Anderson Hall, what is now the machinery building, and armory and a frame building used for horticulture and greenhouse departments. The president's house and the home of the agriculture professor were on the campus. The latter is now the hospital.

The present campus was at least three-fourths farm, everything east of the cafeteria, west to where the gymnasium is and south to the south line of Manhattan. The horticulture farm occupied the part north of Lover's Lane.

All the area now occupied by the present girls' dormintory was in corn, and there was farming going on west and north of the machinery building.

Five Big Trees

There were only five large trees on the campus then, a sharp contrast to the deeply-wooded vista of today," Dr. Evans recalled. "I remember when the first big trees were planted at the south side of the campus. I helped hoe them the summer of 1890."

Dr. Evans was 11 when the family came to Manhattan. In Iowa he had attended several country schools. He had to attend several to get in six or seven months of schooling a year.

"Our district was so poor it could pay a teacher only three months," he said. "So when our term was up we'd go to the adjoining district for a two or three-months term, then on to the next. The other districts likewise attended our own school. It was fine to go to the old Central school here in Manhattan, and stay in the same building all year! That building was located where Woodrow Wilson is now. I graduated from the eigth grade in a building where the high school now is. There were only two buildings then. Two rooms of Central were devoted to Negro children."

Rolling Stones

Right here the doctor said he wanted to pay tribute to the high character of colored people who have made Manhattan their home over the years. Perhaps they took their cue from the white folks, he added, since the latter were chiefly of old New England stock. A few of the Negroes settled at the foot of Bluemont Hill and one such family barely missed extinction one night when college boys, up to their usual pranks of rolling boulders down Bluemont, rolled a heavy one right through the middle of a Negro family's home, missing by about a foot a bed in which the couple was sleeping.

"And to this very day you will find an ordinance on the city's books prohibiting the rolling of stones downhill," he laughed.

His father, George W. Evans, built and moved his family into a home in the 1200 block of Kearney a few months after moving here. The house now is the G. R. Pauling home.

"I grew up with the students of the college," he recalled, "and became familiar with its activities. I entered college myself from the eighth grade, on special examination."

Dr. Evans was graduated at 19--an exceptionally youthful age for those days--and celebrated with 14 other members of the class its fiftieth anniversary at the 1944 commencement. That, he says, was one of the happiest occasions of his life.

In those early days the main business part of town lay east of the old First National Bank, where the Manhattan Mutual now is.

Red Points Up

"Those were the days when butcher shops hung their meat outside every day--hams, bacon, sausages, poultry. In the summer they kept the meat on ice overnight but took it out to hang up in the daytime. Milk was dispensed in barrels and kegs that stood open in the stores.

"No, children were not healthier then. To the contrary. Many died of summer bowel diseases which we now know are avoidable by commonsense hygienic living."

Sidewalks were of wood or flagstone, he said. The first sidewalk to the college started where the Wareham hotel is now and angled to the east entrance of the college grounds. It was flagstone, four feet wide.

There was no Aggieville then. In fact his own father was actually "guilty" of starting Aggieville, Dr. Evans laughed. There was a student who ran a laundry substation, picking up bundles, transporting them to the commercial laundry and back again. Mr. Evans decided it would be worthwhile to build a small shack to house the laundry business, with another room for a barber ship [sic] and school supplies. This was done--and Aggieville was on the way. Soon a grocery store moved in, where is now the Co-Op Book store. Other business followed.

Early day industries of Manhattan included a lime kiln located at the east entrance of the present viaduct on the Kansas river. There was a stove factory at the east side of Fairmont Addition in 1888. A brick kiln was located near the southeast corner of the city park for many years.

Limestone Sawmill

The largest industry was the limestone sawmill, southeast of the Earl May hatcheries. The Ulrich Brothers did a thriving business here, shipping building stone as far east as Chicago and western Indiana. Several large quarries remained until a few years ago.

Many do not know, Dr. Evans said, that Manhattan once had a brewery. It was built about 1857 and closed when Kansas went dry.

C. P. Dewey, an early-day promoter, was paid tribute by the doctor. He it was who, coming here in 1887, bought several thousand acres of land south of Manhattan and built a huge feed yard for livestock south of El Paso. Of concrete in the shape of a horseshoe, it enabled farmers to drive in at one end and out at the other and created a market for all the corn grown in the surrounding area.

Mr. Dewey built the first two college dormitories, at the corner of the city park, which now are used as apartment houses. He erected a downtown structure used as a livery barn, where the newest style carriages, buggies and traps were rented to the young romanticists and other [sic] of the day.

Mrs. Kimble

Another citizen of an earlier day to whom the town owes a debt of gratitude was Mrs. Sam Kimble, said Dr. Evans.

"It was she who started the planting in city park and around the high school grounds, then the grammar school," he said. "It was in 1888 that Mrs. Kimble spent a winter in the East and observed how usefully Arbor Day was spent there in planning for future shade and beauty. So in 1890 she arranged to have the same program inaugurated here. We boys were given a holiday to go to the hills and bring back elm and maple saplings on our shoulders. These were set out around the present high school grounds. The next year many more were planted.

"From this beginning the planting was extended to the city park. Many now large trees were placed there directly under Mrs. Kimble's supervision, as well as the large pine trees in the cemetery.

"Of course the trees themselves are her finest memorial," the doctor mused. "But don't you think there ought to be some permanent, public record of her efforts? Something to show the town remembers?

"I think there should."

"Dr. J. W. Evans Remembers Manhattan of Early Days,"
Manhattan-Chronicle, 29 July 1945.