DAVID R. MENKE has been an important factor in the development and upbuilding of Garden City since 1878, the year the town was founded. Not only with the founding but the development of some of Garden City's most important and characteristic institutions, such as the beet sugar factory, the flour mills, irrigating works, electric lights and other industries, has Mr. Menke's name been intimately associated from the beginning. In fact much of Finney County's history might be told as incidental to the career of Mr. Menke.
Mr. Menke was one of the organizers of the Garden City Townsite Company and one of its directors. The first settlers in the locality were the Fulton brothers, and upon their half section of land much of Garden City is built. The Fultons arrived here in March, 1878, while Mr. Menke arrived in the following August. The Fultons were buffalo hunters, and the town was first named Fulton in their honor. It is an interesting story as to how Garden City acquired its name. The Fultons kept an open house or hotel, and one day they were visited by a tramp. He inquired of Mrs. Fulton "what do you call this town?" She stated that the place had been called Fulton, but she was not quite sure that would be the permanent name. "Why don't you call it Garden City?" asked the tramp. That name was suggested to his mind because he was impressed with the level, lawn-like lay of the land and with the beautiful greensward of the springtime. Thus the name came into instant favor and has since been retained.
Mr. Menke's first enterprise there was as a small merchant. In his store was kept the first postoffice of the city, and his business and the postoffice were probably the only enterprises of the kind between Garden City and Dodge City. His little store was situated on what is now the park site of the courthouse. He built the second house in the town. He continued selling goods for two years, but had active charge of the postoffice three years. His stock of merchandise he exchanged for sheep. Mr. Monke took as a homestead the east half of the quarter cornering on the northeast of Garden City, proved it up, and used it and the townsite as his sheep range. His family shelter on the claim was a two-room frame house, and it served as a home until 1886.
Finney County was organized in 1884, and Mr. Menke was chosen as one of the first board of county commissioners, and this board made the initial purchase of county supplies and inaugurated the affairs of the county. After two years as county commissioner Mr. Menke was elected county treasurer in 1886, and at that date the family moved into Garden City. He served as county treasurer four years, as long as the law permitted.
It was during his term as postmaster that the Garden City Townsite Company was organized. The railroad declined to stop trains at Garden City for the delivery of mail. The Santa Fe at that time had a townsite of its own at Holcomb, then known as Sherlock. For a time the government seemed to sympathize with the Santa Fe Company in its effort to pass Garden City up in favor of Sherlock. To offset this influence the Garden City people organized a small army of the local residents to serve as mail carrier. Each in his turn went to Sherlock for the mail, and thus Garden City was given a daily direct delivery. There are many cases to prove that the permanent destiny of towns is due to some special enterprise on the part of local residents. This is true of Garden City. Its people, prominent among whom was Mr. Menke, did all they could to build up their own community at the expense of the rival village of Sherlock. They induced Sherlock settlers to come to Garden City, even taking teams and hauling the little houses across the prairies. In time the railroad company was ready to make terms and negotiate for a settlement of the trouble. The Garden City people were quite eager to meet them half way or more. They sold the Santa Fe a half interest in the townsite, and one share of the site went to its attorney, George R. Peck. That gave the railroad a controlling interest and from that time on the trains stopped regularly. The Town Company built the first station for the railroad and also paid for the construction of the siding necessary.
During the last two years he was county treasurer Mr. Menke was also serving as assistant cashier of the First National Bank. He was then made cashier and continued actively with the institution for fourteen years. When he sold his interests and retired from the bank in 1902 he was a majority stockholder.
For ten years Mr. Menke was busily engaged in farming and the breeding of registered White Face cattle and other livestock. He became widely known as a breeder and dealer. In fact he was the first man to handle on any extended scale White Face cattle in this region, and a large number of patrons of his stock came from New Mexico and Arizona. For a number of years as his means justified, he bought the cheap land in this locality and then became one of the largest landowners of the county. He and three other men incorporated themselves as a syndicate for acquiring lands extending from Lakin to near Garden City and including the townsite of Deerfields, the Great Eastern Water Ditch, and an interest in the Amazon Ditch. This company sought outside capital to develop this proposition, and finally these capitalists took over all the holdings of the company. The local parties made it one of the conditions of the contract with their successors that a beet sugar plant should be established in Garden City, and that plant was built and is now one of the big industries of Kansas and has given a characteristic feature to the agricultural development in Finney County.
Mr. Menke was also instrumental in developing alfalfa in this part of Kansas. On his own lands he began growing that crop, and he secured his first seed in small sample packages from Washington. While he was postmaster he induced many of his friends and patrons of the office to make application to the Government for seed, and they would turn the packages over to him when they arrived. In this way he secured about a half bushel of alfalfa seed and sowed it in 1879. However, he credits Squire Worrell, a Colorado man, as being the first successful grower of alfalfa in Finuney County. From this beginning alfalfa culture has gradually spread all over the valley. Mr. Menke as a land owner developed a fine ranch of 1,700 acres near Garden City.
In 1898 he built the first electric light plant in Garden City and operated it for seven years without profit. In 1899 he installed the automatic system of telephones and built up an exchange of 100 subscribers. He sold the telephone system in 1905 and the electric plant in 1907. He also built a small grist mill in Garden City. Some other men had erected the Windsor Hotel, and he took charge of the property, revived it, found tenants to operate it and subsequently bought the property himself. Two years later he sold the hotel to good advantage.
In 1909 Mr. Menke built one of the best homes in Garden City. It is a splendid brick residence at the corner of Pine and Fifth streets, and would be a credit to any city and is a monument to the work and genius of its owner.
Mr. Menke was elected mayor of Garden City just before the present electric light plant was built. During his administration and after the plant was completed the rates were lowered more than 50 per cent. Politically he has usually been a republican, though he joined the progressive branch in 1912. He is a member of the Congregational Church, and is a Mason and Odd Fellow, having taken all the work in the latter order and having attended Grand Lodge. For several years he was on the auditing committee and attended the Sovereign Grand Lodge in California.
Mr. Menke was born at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 4, 1848, grew up in that city, and for three years before coming to Kansas conducted a cigar factory at Farmington in Fulton County, Illinois. His father Henry Menke, a native of Hanover, Germany, came to the United States when a boy, joining the navy, and after serving his time located at Pittsburgh, where he followed his trade as tailor, and was also salesman in a local clothing house. In Pittsburgh he married Margaret Gerkin, who was also born in Hanover. These parents are buried in Pittsburgh. Their children were: David R.; Josephine, wife of William Shurr, of Pittsburgh; George, who died in Pittsburgh, leaving a family; and Charles E., a farmer at Boaz, Alabama.
David R. Menke married at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvan,[sic] in September, 1869, Miss Maretta B. Urie. Her father, William Urie, was a blacksmith. Mr. and Mrs. Menke have three children, Olivia, Harry William and George. Olivia is the wife of B. R. H. D'Allemand, now of Garden City. Mr. D'Allemand was superintendent of the Government Forest Reserve in this part of Kansas for many years, but is now a farmer. They have two children, Mildred and Janet. The son Harry is a machine operator and assistant superintendent of a film company at New York City. The son George is a merchant at Angiola, California.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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