From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Leavenworth Times, Monday Evening, March 3, 1948 under the heading Early Leavenworth
(Editor's Note: the following letter, though never actually written, might have been, and the information it contains is vouched for after several weeks study of old city directories and culling information from articles that appeared in the Leavenwoth times from 1865 to 1870. It is intended to be informative only of the actual conditions in what was known as Leavenworth City in those years. Parenthetical insertions are as the author now recalls them.)
Leavenworth City, Kas.,
April 1, 1865.
To Mr. and Mrs. Downeasterner,
Bunker Hill, Mass.
"I have at last reached what is know as the jumping-off place or border of the Great American Desert, Leavenworth City, on the west bank of the Missouri River, of which Horace Greeley in his New York Tribune, wrote so glowingly in letters back home in 1859 while he was touring the boundless west in his trip to the pacific coast. The letters made many of us, companions on the trip, yearn to see this country where the buffaloes are so numerous as to delay the caravans of prairie schooners for days at a time and wish to see the limitless prairies, the massive Rocky Mountains, Great Salt Lake, and lastly the Pacific ocean.
"At St. Joseph, Mo., I, with many others, changed trains, boarding the Hannibal & St. Joseph to Weston, Mo. From Chicago, Ill., the trip consumed 36 long hours, but to us who looked forward to the adventure, time passed quickly.
"At Weston we went aboard the river steamer Emilie, of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Packet Line which makes daily round trips between Leavenworth and Weston in the summer months. At the Leavenworth levee we were greeted by George W. Nelles, local H. & St. J., agent, who directed us to hotels none of which were far distant from the river. We had the choice of the Planters House, Manin and Levee; the Mansion House, Fifth and Shawnee; Brevoort House, Main and Seneca; The Pittsburgh House, Levee between Cherokee and Choctaw; St. George Hotel, Second and Delaware, and the Sherman House, northeast corner Fourth and Shawnee Streets (location of present postoffice).
Quarters at The Planters
"I had read so much of The Platers in Mr. Greeley's letters that I concluded to seek accomodations there, and was fortunate to obtain them. This year the hotel is undergoing enlargement and being refurished, and an advertisement in The Daily Times states that by October of this year it will have 120 rooms available for patrons. The Planters was erected by a company of Pro-slavery men, and in the beginning Free-Staters were denied accomodations, but this policy was later changed and Abolitionists were received as guests providing they behaved themselves and paid their bills promptly. This is the hotel where two sets of bartenders are kept on duty throughout 24 hours of each day, on to cater to the wants of the Pros and the others of the Antis.
"On the hotel's first floor I noted the local office of the Missouri Pacific railway which quite recently began torun its trains from St. Louis, Mo., north as far at this city; also the Kansas Stage and Omnibus lines office with J. M. Terry, agent, and the railway and stage lines ticket office of Fred Harvey. We had reached the hotel from the levee by bus north on Levee Street, up quite a steep hill to Shawnee and entered the Planters through the Shawnee Street portals.
Site of Lincoln's Address
"No sooner had I arrived and obtained by reservations than I went out to do abit of exploring. A gentleman who said he knew the city well offered to be my guide. On the southwest corner of Shawnee and Main was a long two story building of brick and I was told that there Abraham Lincoln recited his famous Cooper's Union New York speech to interested Republicans that won for him the Republican nomination for the presidency. The Leavenworth Times, I learned, on December 3, 1859, carried the item: 'Hon. Abe Lincold arrived in Leavenworth. Tonight he speaks at Stockton's.' The theater mentioned is at the southwest corner of Fourth and Delaware.
"On the lower floor of the building in which Lincoln was entertained I noted the corner room was occupied by T. M. O'Brien, a military claim agent; next was an odd sign proclaiming that F. B. Bryant conducted there a furrier and glove-making business. The Leavenworth Conservative was published in a double store-room on the alley, and a large feed and sales stable was on the southeast corner of Second and Shawnee, B. F. Akers, propietor. Two hotels, the Tremont House and the Shawnee House, were on the north side of Shawnee. Other concerns were Jacob Grebe's boot and shoe store; Mrs. M. Rosier's confectionery, and Mrs. P. L. Stutsman had a sign soliciting dress-making.
"Most city lost from Second to Fifth street, both sides, were occupied by business buildings and it wassurprising the great number of shoppers on the street. I was told that Leavenworth already had a population of over 30,000; that no city of its size could boast of so many hotels or "boarding houses." At night the sidewalks were crowded with shoppers, pedestrians and sightseeers. Wagon trains destined to cross th plains were passing all night long, and plainsmen, judging from their costumes, were more numerous than any other class of citizens.
"West of Second Street on Shawnee, north side, was the tailor shop of James Chivers; next a large livery and sales stable of L. M. Tough; then came Gordon & Bro., a large double storeroom grocery. H. Riepenkroger's boot and shoe shop was next, and adjoined the stove and tin shop of G. R. Ludolph. J. A. thomas, who, I was told, is the really fashionable merchant tailor of the city at this time, occupied a storeroom next to the corner where was the drug store of Parham & Brenner. On the south side I particularly noted the office rooms of Drs. D. W. and M. S. Thomas, brothers; Beehler & Diefendorf's boot and shoe store; Kauffmann (Geo.) & Co., repairers of guns and locksmiths; P. H. Tiernan, book and job printer, and J. Rapp's boot and shoe store was on the corner of Third and Shawne.
"Between Third and Fourth were the grocery stores of S. Selden, northwest corner; George Leuder's boot and shoe store; W. D. Russell, stoves and tinware; T. C. Laing, confectioner; Moore and Jennings, paint shop; John Grund, merchant tailor; J. H. Kalbfleish, boots and shoes; Seckler and Luhn, men's clothing; August Renz, cigars and tobacco; Bergman & Brink, books and stationery, Wissler & Company, boots and shoes; and on the corner was the Sherman House.
"On the south side ofthe street were the business places of John Maduska, saloon; G. Schmidt, saloon; Banyon & Moore, restaurant; W. D. Matthews, grocer; J. Unger, barber; and the last building to the occupied was that of O. Braeklein, druggist. At the southeast corner of Fourth and Shawnee was a low-lying piece of ground covering at least six city lots. My companion informed me that this was used by the ox teams of an overland freighter as a wallowing ground where they rested after returning from a homecoming trip across the plains from Salt Lake City. I'll write again soon.
"Your Loving Son, Horace."
(Note: Several persons and establishments mentioned above became well known in Leavenworth and doubtless are recalled by some present day residents; also living now in the city are relatives of some of these early day merchants.
An outstanding feature of the business district in those days was the great number of "boot and shoe" stores. That alone should be conclusive evidence the city was as populous as claimed. Drs. M. S. and D. W. thomas were brothers; the former was the father of Meige, Theodore and Mose Thomas, well recalled by the older generation.
Miege later, as a physician, was connected with the US Penitentiary. Bernie was a son of D. W. Thomas.
D. W. Matthews, mentioned as grocer, was better known to old timers as "Bill."
He was probably the most prominent negro politician ever in the city. Early day tales were that he and several white men who were Free-Staters, conducted what was known as an "underground railroad," a system of aiding slaves who escaped and made their way to Leavenworth.
It was said Matthews and his white friends would secrete these ex-slaves in the grocer's cellar and at night take them in conveyances farther north into what were then as "Free" states.
The Ludolph family consisted of three boys, Carl, Henry and George. Henry was bookkeeper for the First National Bank, while George, starting from "scratch," became an official for the Pacific Express Company, first in Leavenworth and later in Kansas City.
William Gordon, grocer, was the father of Howard Gordon, recently deceased, who was cashier of the First National Bank, and grandfather of Ted Gordon, the bank's present cashier.
Oscar Braecklein, druggist, was to the pioneer family what A. Lange was to families here in the 1900's.
Fred Harvey, as owner of the famous line of eating houses and hotels along the Santa Fe railway, was known from the Atlantic to the Pacific. An early recollection of the writer was witnessing his first stage performance, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," in Ummethun's opera house, known previously as Stockton's. L. M. Tough, liveryman, went from Leavenworth to Kansas City where he conducted a large hourse and mule sales barn. He was known as "Captain," and it was said both he and a brother were members of the "Red Legs: who kept order along the river in the early days.
The names Riepenkroger, Wissler and J. Rapp, Beehler and Diefendorf were synomous with "shoes."
Many relatives of these men still reside in the city. J. A. Thomas, mentioned as the "merchant tailor of Leavenworth in those days, had two sons, Jake, Jr., and Dave, who also became famous in following their father's line of endeavor. The senior Thomas was known as a military tailor and had among his customers some of the most noted army officers of his day. The late Mrs. Burt Morton, and Walter Thomas, former city engineer, were also children of J. A. Thomas.
George Kauffman (of Kauffman and Company) was the father of Mrs. Will Feth, deceased. His last business location was at 304 Shawnee Street, where he had a well-equipped machine shop. Will tholen, deceased senior member of the firm of Tholen Brothers, learned the machinist's trade under Kauffman and in later years Will and his brother Webb purchased the location and business of Kauffman. They previously had a machine and general repair business at Nos. 315-17-19 Shawnee.
(The foregoing "dream" trip along the business streets of pioneer Leavenworth will be continued in the near future.