THE HISTORY OF wHITEWATER: aCCOLADES FOR WHITEWATER
Had you visited the townsite of Whitewater 250 million years ago, you would have needed a boat. Kansas at that time was covered by the Western Interior Seaway. (1) Invertebrate fossils are common in the limestone deposits that formed the Flint Hills. The limestone, shale and chert (or flint) rocks were left when the seas gradually receded carving valleys out of the sea bottom. Many of the foundation stones used for the early buildings around Whitewater in the 1800s came from limestone pits near Florence, Marion County, Kansas. These stones reflect sediment of the sea bottom. Figure 1 shows an example of fossilized mollusks in a limestone used in construction. As the sea receded, many marine reptiles were also fossilized and can be seen at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Hayes, Kansas.
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As the waters receded the rivers and hills of south central Kansas were etched into the landscape including the West Branch of the Whitewater River. This territory that was to become Kansas was in the center of the large North American continent. The soils of Kansas reflect its limestone or sea-bottom origins and tend to be alkaline. The rainfall now averages between 29-34 inches per year. The sun shines more than 250 days per year. It tends to be windy and the temperature can oscillate widely in a day from 50 to 105 F reflecting the intercontinental climate. The Whitewater area is in USDA Hardiness Zone 6a and averages 150-180 frost free days per year, ca. April 13 to October 15. The elevation is 1386 feet above sea level.
Had you come to the Whitewater area at the time that Jesus lived in Palestine, you would not have been alone. Native Americans were traversing the area and unfortunately lost a few of their projectile points. Two points have been found on Section 17 just east of town and are shown in Figure 2. These isolated finds are points chipped from Kansas Wreford chert (flint) and depict Late Archaic Williams points (ca. 1000 B.C.E. – 500 C.E.). (2)
Figure 1. Mollusk fossils in a limestone foundation rock obtained from Florence, Kansas and used on the Bernhard Harder Farm beginning in 1876 on Section 17, Milton Township, one mile east of Whitewater. Source: Private collection. Author’s photo.
Had you come to Section 18, Milton Township in 1869, you could have offered to help brothers George Peter Neiman and Isaac Howard Neiman construct their log cabin on the southwest quarter, which George homesteaded per the Homestead Act of 1862. See Figures 3 & 4
Figure 2. Native American artifacts collected from Section 17, Milton Township between 1950 - 1970. Photo 2a shows a projectile point 6.75 cm from tip to base, picked up on the southwest quarter of the section. Photo 2b shows a point 10.25 cm long collected on the southeast quarter. Since Section 17 is not traversed with a creek where points are normally found, these points may have been dropped and lost as the hunters traveled through the area or the points were carried in animal bodies (most likely bison) until they perished. Source: Private collections. Author’s photos.
Born in Pennsylvania, they moved with their parents to Iowa as boys. As youths in their early twenties, they came by covered wagon to the then trackless prairies and became the first settlers of Harvey County in 1869. After only a few months they relocated to the east bank of the West Branch of the Whitewater River, just south of the present town-site of Whitewater. (3) The grasses were as tall as the height of a horse’s back. (4) At that time, antelope, deer, and prairie chickens were abundant. Although the Neiman brothers may have seen buffalo on the west bank of the West Branch of the Whitewater River facing their log cabin, the buffalo were slaughtered in mass between 1872-1874 for their hides and meat. By 1875, few, if any, buffalo still existed in Kansas. (5) However, they were not the first settlers in Milton Township; Milton C. Snorf located on the northeast quarter of Section 36 in 1868. The Neiman brothers did organize the first Fourth of July celebration on the West Branch of the Whitewater River at their place in 1871. The festivities included the usual: patriotic songs, a picnic dinner, and dancing.
The Neiman brothers could have received letters from or sent messages to their concerned relatives remaining in Iowa. In 1869-1870, Towanda was the nearest post office; Towanda was an Indian Trading Post with a post office starting in 1865. A local post office, the Holden Post Office, was initiated on Section 18 in 1871 in the home of B. C. Leveredge as postmaster. After a few years, Thomas H. Storms was appointed postmaster and the office moved to his home on Section 8. Later the post office was moved to the Eton residence on Section 20 and E. T. Eton was appointed postmaster. In 1886 he moved the post office to Brainerd on Section 22 where it remained until closed in August 31, 1907. (6) The mail was carried by horseback, wagon, or on foot.
In the late summer of 1876, a group of eight families of West Prussian Mennonites purchased land in Milton Township through C. B. Schmidt, the German-speaking General Agent of the German Department of the Topeka Land Office of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (a.k.a. Santa Fe Railroad). On January 1, 1870 about 15 per cent of the land of Kansas had been given to the railroads by the Federal government through the Land Grant Legislation of 1863 and signed into law by Abraham Lincoln. The Santa Fe Railroad had 3,200,000 acres to sell in order to finance the completion of the expansion of railroads and telegraph lines across Kansas from the Missouri River to the Colorado state line. The state granted to the railroads the odd numbered sections 10 miles on either side of the railroad track, including the Santa Fe right-of-way through Peabody and Newton. This included all of Milton Township. The even numbered sections of land were reserved for homesteading per the Homestead Act of 1862. One of these Mennonites, Bernhard Harder, Sr., purchased Section 17. (7) See Figure 5.
Figure 4. First home in Whitewater area—1869, built by George P. Neiman. A picture of an oil painting by L. Schroeder, created from a sketch drawn by Arthur L. Neiman. The location of this first log cabin is thought to have been in the middle of Main Street right in front of the home of John and Marilyn Umbach and not within the original 1887 plat of Whitewater. Source: Marilyn Nigg Umbach Collection. Author’s photos.
Had you visited Milton Township in 1885, everyone would have been excited. The Ellsworth, McPherson, Newton, and Southeastern Railroad Company (also referred to as the McPherson branch of the Missouri Pacific Railroad) decided to build an east-west track through the heart of Milton Township with a major train station together with a stockyard siding in the center of the township, i.e. Brainerd. (10) If you flagged the train when you wanted to get on or get off, it would stop where a road crossed the tracks, or you could also go to the nearest train depot. Passengers rode in the last car of the train, the caboose. Early on there were two trains, a freight train and a passenger train. Each train had a morning train going east to El Dorado and an afternoon train going west through Newton to McPherson. Several new towns were established along the track wherever a train station was built: McLains, Annelly, Brainerd and Potwin. With the establishment of these towns shopping locally was possible, rather than driving a day by wagon to get supplies from Newton, Peabody, or El Dorado, which were 20-25 miles away.
From 1885 to 1888, Brainerd was a bustling frontier town. Many business men from small cross-road establishments in the surrounding area relocated to Brainerd. The railroad was a conduit to the world. The town was platted in 1885 and by September of that year there were 180 buildings with 43 businesses and 500 inhabitants. (11) But in 1886 when the Chicago, Kansas & Nebraska Railroad Company, a Rock Island Railroad subsidiary, constructed a north-south track traversing the land homesteaded by George P. Neiman on the west edge of Milton Township with the first train running in August, 1887, business development began to focus on the area where the two tracks intersected. Here the Rock Island Railroad immediately established a train station with a stockyard siding, and the town of Whitewater was platted north of the junction by the Golden Belt Town Company in 1887. The Arthur L. Neiman addition to the townsite on the east was platted before Whitewater was incorporated in 1890. The Samuel R. Neiman addition to the townsite was on the north. See Figure 6.
Main Street south to the section line, was not laid out or opened for traffic for several years after the town was platted. (12) The Missouri Pacific shortly erected a station there as well; their stockyard siding remained in Brainerd. Other local towns established along this Rock Island Railroad were Furley to the south and Elbing to the north. Isaac Howard Neiman was appointed the first Postmaster of Whitewater by President Grover Cleveland in 1887 with the first post office opening on May 15, 1888 in the S. L. Motter general store. Mr. Motter was the deputy postmaster. Rural deliveries began in 1902 with Isaac Neiman the mail carrier on Route 1 and George Corfman on Route 2.
If you stopped by Brainerd or Annelly in 1888, the conversation would have focused on the future impact of Whitewater on the business development of their communities. Chester Smith did not spend much time in contemplation; he moved his house the three miles east from Annelly to Whitewater in January, 1888 and is credited with establishing the first house in the town of Whitewater. Two more houses were relocated from Annelly. The three-year-old town of Brainerd was literally put on wheels and moved to Whitewater with businesses and houses disassembled, put on wagons drawn by horses, driven the 2.5 miles west to Whitewater and reassembled. An estimated 35 businesses relocated from Brainerd to Whitewater. With two railroads intersecting, the prospects for long term business development was deemed very positive—superior than locations on only one rail line. The heyday for Brainerd was over, (13) however, the town remained an active business and residential center with 68 residents in 1890 and with the Brainerd Store remaining in business until 1953. A history of Brainerd with pictures is available on the Internet. (14)
Initially, the name proposed for the new town was Neiman, honoring the original owner of the land of the town site. However, George P. Neiman declined the honor, so the name was drawn from the fact that the town lay in the Whitewater River watershed. (15) A pioneer tale also relates that the Whitewater River initially was called the Whitewoman River because some pioneers found the body of a white woman, massacred by Indians, floating in the river. The name was later changed to Whitewater and the “creek” just west of the town site is actually the West Branch of the Whitewater River. (16)
Had you ridden your horse into the Whitewater town site anytime after 1887, the hustle and bustle would have been impressive. The town developed services commensurate with the needs of the community at that time. Listed below are the names of some of the early people and their contribution to the development of Whitewater and the surrounding agricultural community. (17,18,19,20,21,22,23)
Figure 5. Deeding of the railroad land from the US government to Bernhard Harder Sr. in 1876 who purchased Section 17, Milton Township. Source: Office of the Register of Deeds, Butler Country Court House. Author’s collection.
Figure 6. A 1977 plat map of Whitewater modified from Figure 4-A in Comprehensive Development Plan, 1977-1995, City of Whitewater, Kansas. In Frederic Remington Area Historical Society Library. The original area within the 1887 plat is outlined on the map. The location of the original log cabin is marked with a house; early on Main Street going south did not go through to the section line or K-196.
Two churches, the Swiss Church and the Federated Church, continue to meet the spiritual needs of the community. Additionally, there are several more churches in the countryside.
The current library, Whitewater Memorial Library, is very busy and provides collections, services, and programs to meet the informational, educational, and recreational needs of the community patrons. The library is fully automated and has an active Friends of the Library support group.
The Whitewater Lions Club organizes the Fourth of July fireworks and the Fall Festival activities. The CJ’s (unaffiliated group formed from the disbanded Whitewater Area Jaycee Organization) are helpful with removal of yard debris from spring cleanup. The American Legion sponsors an annual Ground Hog-Pancake Dinner, and bingo in season. The Whitewater Seniors meet twice a month with a potluck lunch and fellowship on the 2nd Tuesday and a movie and popcorn on the 4th Tuesday.
The Bank of Whitewater and the Whitewater Post Office give the town continuity to earlier days and continue to provide services that are taken for granted.
There are new social and medical service within the community. Wheat State Manor was dedicated on April 7, 1974 and is a nursing home established as a shared undertaking of nine area churches to provide continued loving care and excellent support with Christian orientation for the elderly who may need nursing home care. It is a sixty-six bed home on twelve and one half acres donated by Mr. & Mrs. Donald B. Joseph. Adjacent immediately south of the manor are the Sunflower Apartments, Senior Citizen Housing. Residency requirements are 65 or older, or handicapped and the 12 units are totally electric. Main Street now also has a resident Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine.
Main Street also sports a collection of businesses vital for the 21st century Whitewater: a realtor, a café, a pizza parlor, an insurance broker, an implement dealership for hobby farmers, self-storage units, a day-care center, a mortuary, several beauticians, a floral shop, and the district school administrative offices. A bit off Main you can find a locker and cold storage, grain storage and brokerage, farm chemical sales, and an auto repair shop. There is a veterinary service nearly in the country. There also are a collection of home businesses offering activities like photography and charitable support groups.
From the past and present, it would appear that Whitewater has always attracted wonderful people who appreciate their neighbors, have a positive outlook, and relish the pace of a rural Kansas town. (48) There is every reason to think that this tradition will continue for a long, long time to come.
Melvin D. Epp, Ph. D., President
Frederic Remington Area Historical Society
January 6, 2009
Sylvia K. Epp, M.S.
Donald J. Martin, Ph.D.
Marilyn Nigg Umbach, B.A.
Figure 7. The location of businesses in the Whitewater of 1920. Adapted from Mike L. Hopkins’ A Look in Whitewater’s Past, May 5, 1985. In Frederic Remington Area Historical Society Library.
Had you driven into town in your gasoline-powered horse-less carriage with rubber tires to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Whitewater in 1990, you would have perceived that the residents were proud of their town, its accomplishments and its place in history. Yet, looking around you would sense that things had changed and the needs of the community are very different now, one hundred years later. Although the population size has remained static since 1889, the train depots, the livery stables, the general mercantile stores, the hotels, the saloons, the lumberyards, the blacksmith shops, the barber shops, the hardware stores, the car dealerships, most implement dealerships, and now with time even the last remaining grocery story and service station are only historical remembrances. Driving to the shopping malls of Wichita takes less time and is considerably more convenient than driving three to five miles to town with a horse and buggy. Local shopping may now include Wichita, Newton, El Dorado, or even Kansas City. The times have changed. Most employment is out of town with the major employers located in Wichita, Newton, or El Dorado. Indeed, the times have changed and Whitewater is no longer a frontier town. Whitewater is now a bedroom town. (47)
After meeting some of the current town’s people, while you took in the Centennial Celebration Parade on July 4, 1990, you would have without doubt been tempted to ask some of them during the lulls in the parade the same questions you asked 100 years earlier: could they live a somewhat normal life here on the wide open farmlands? Is there a school for the children, a church for Sunday, and what do you do on a Friday or Saturday night for relaxation? The answers would have been varied, but always very positive. But the look on the faces would have expressed—“and where are you from?”
The local schools are active and flourishing, and equipping the young people to meet the challenges of an ever changing world. Through available information technologies, the students can access the world and its large source of information. The athletic and academic programs provide endless activity and involve many people in the community. The high school is named to honor the life and work of Frederic Sackrider Remington who was a resident of the rural community from 1883-1884; a commemorative plaque was placed at the high school by the Frederic Remington Area Historical Society in 2006. See Figure 8.
The History of Whitewater: Accolades for Whitewater
Ancient to 1885
Figure 8. The Remington Rock Plaque. Author's photo.
1885 to 1887
Homage for Early Contributors
1887 to 1990
1990 to the Future
1. Missouri Pacific Depot
2. Whitewater Mill
3. Rock Island Depot
4. Eskridge Hotel
6. Pace Hardware Store
7. Whitewater Jail
8. Delivery Stable
9. Telephone Office
10. Newspaper Office (The Independant)
11. People’s State Bank
12. Neil Pool Hall
13. Hazlett Drug Store
14. Penner Department Store
15. Lowther Hardware Store
16. Neil Tin Shop
17. Motter Barber Shop
18. Mellor Real Estate Office
19. Lambert Grocery Store
21. Post Office
22. Gladfelters Bakery
23. Breising Meat Market
24. Nothing But Storage
25. Hidgon Home
26. Breising Home
27. Kirwood Lumber Yard
28. Smith Filling Station
29. Bruhn Implement Store
30. Neil And Lauther Hardware Store
31. Golbeck Cage
32. Dr. Nossman Office
33. Lamour Filling Station
34. Bank of Whitewater
35. Smith Mortuary and Furniture Store
36. Grouan Garage
37. Nolder Poultry
38. Reform Church
39. Evangelical Lutheran Church
40. Methodist Church
41. Dr. Regier’s Office
42. Dentist Office
43. Fire Station
44. Stuart Grain Bin
45. Spencer Hotel Down
46. Alfalfa Mill
After meeting some of the early town’s people, you would have without doubt asked them if they could live a somewhat normal life here on the wide open prairies. Is there a school for the children, a church for Sunday, and what do you do on a Saturday night for relaxation? The answers would have been varied, but very positive.
Education has had a long history of importance in Milton Township. Mrs. E. T. Eaton taught the first term of school in a small house built on the southwest quarter of Section 20 in what became District 95. The Holden School was built later in 1871 (30) and was located on the north side of Section 20, just west of the half-mile hedge row. As Whitewater organized, District 95 was relocated to town and the first school building was built in 1889. It was located one block west of Main and one half block north of Rock Island Avenue (currently Topeka Street) on the east side of the street. (31) Miss Mary Margaret Neiman was the first teacher. A high school was first opened in 1900. A brick building was erected in 1909 to house both the grade and high schools. In 1923 the north building of the Whitewater Grade School was built for the high school and served the community until Remington High School was constructed north of Brainerd in 1963. (32)
Rev. D. B. Shuey organized the first church in Whitewater, the Grace Reformed Church in 1888. Rev. Henry Acker relocated the Evangelical Lutheran Church to Whitewater in 1889, which he had organized in Annelly in 1881; he built the new sanctuary for $1,400 on the site of the present Federated Church. The Federated Church was established by the merging of the Lutheran, the Reformed, and the Christian congregations in 1924.
The town also had three dance halls and three saloons on the street one block west of Main during the 1890s. Several fraternal organizations were created: the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Whitewater, 1889; the Mason Lodge 280, ca. 1890; Ancient Order of United Workmen; Grand Army of the Republic; and the Modern Woodmen Camp 2860 was charted on May 9, 1896 with J. W. Stiger as First Consul and J. M. Pace as First Clerk. (33) The first ladies' order was the Rebekahs; another was the Woman's Relief Corps. Baseball and softball have long been a favorite sport of the community, and local and church leagues continue to perpetuate this popular pastime.
Early on horses had such value for work and transportation that horse theft was frequent. Horse power was essential and drove the economy. The community formed a neighborhood watch group for their protection and the Whitewater Anti-Horse Theft Association at one time had 168 members.
Politics were also an important component of community development. Prior to 1890, residents of Whitewater went to Brainerd to vote in country, state, and national elections since there was only one voting precinct in the area. Dr. Horner’s band of 18 members often played at political rallies as well as other venues. (34)
The first street lights and church front lights were coal oil wicked, subsequently gasoline-mantle systems were used, and then electricity. The first use of wind power was by the Rock Island Railroad to pump water from the creek nearby. (35) Electricity was first installed in the Whitewater Mill by R. H. Farr in 1913. KG&E was granted an electricity franchise by the city in 1921.
Whitewater installed their first city sewage system in 1953. Most septic tanks in the city were closed and the residents were put on the city sewage line. In 1980 and 1981 the sewage system was updated. A larger filter tank was built and larger lines were installed.
The Whitewater Fire Department was established in 1891. The first fire station was a small building on Main Street. The next station was built in ca. 1920 and was located under the water tower and is now used to store city equipment. The present fire station was finished in 1980. In 1923 the city purchased a Model T Pumper to augment the bucket brigades; updated equipment was added as needed: a 1954 Ford LeFrance Engine (Pumper), a 1981 Ford Collins Engine, and in 2008 an American LeFrance Engine. The Whitewater firemen are all trained volunteers. The G. H. Roach barn was the first fire in town. On November 19, 1893 the Evangelical Lutheran Church burned to the ground. Another major fire was the Carter barn in which a mule burned. The next was a stable of Chester Smith in which a cow burned. The two greatest fires to date were the Korber garage/Smith Bros. furniture store in April 1930 and the last major in-city fire occurred on August 1930 when the Lamer and Neal buildings housing the Golbeck Café and Dr. Regier’s office burned to the ground. (36,37,38)
The City Library was established about 1928 by Mrs. James A. Thompson who served as the librarian at least through 1935. The library was first located in the basement of the school building. In 1949 it moved into the frame building south of Neuman’s Hardware, which was built by Fred Breising, Sr. in 1890 for his meat market. The new Whitewater Memorial Library building was erected at Elm and Topeka in 1980.
In 1889 Whitewater had five general stores: Roach Bros., John Eilert, G. H. Otte, T. J. Whiteside, and S. L. Motter.
The first harvesting machines sold in Whitewater were: McCormick, Henry Weachman; Plano, L. H. Oldfield; Deering, Irwin Bros., E. L. Neal, agent; and Champion, Gerhard W. Penner.
The Whitewater Bank of Brainerd vacated their brick building in Brainerd in 1889 and moved their business operation to Whitewater on a farm wagon. A local farmer, wanting to make a deposit after he had sold his hogs, caught up with the “bank-on-the-move” one-half mile west of Brainerd and gave them his check for deposit. This was, no doubt, the first drive-up window with extended customer banking services.
The Whitewater Bank of Brainerd failed during the depression of 1891 and was reorganized by George Peter and Isaac Howard Neiman into the Bank of Whitewater on April 3, 1891. The first officers were J. C. Kirkwood, president; I. H. Neiman, vice-president; G. P. Neiman, cashier; and R. G. Kirkwood, assistant cashier. The first board of directors included G. P. Neiman, I. H. Neiman, T. C. Newcome, J. C. Kirkwood, A. H. Rich, J. W. Steiger, and R. G. Kirkwood.