Waterworks, WPA, and Highway 10: 1930-1939

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In 1931, a man killed a policeman by gunshot in Lawrence. When the killer fled, he took refuge at the farm of Fred and Dollie (Daniels) Reetz in Fall Leaf. The man walked up to Fred who was feeding his calves and asked whether Fred had seen the escaped criminal. When Fred said he hadn’t, the man poked a gun in Fred’s back and told him to get his car keys. However, when Dollie came out of the house and asked what was going on, the man fled, ending up in Oklahoma. He confessed his crime in a police car and was shot by the sheriff as he tried to escape, according to Monica Johnson who wrote the story of Fred’s life in 1986.

Robbers hit Kaw Valley State bank again on March 9, 1934 and held Will Mercier and his wife hostage for four hours until a timed clock opened the safe, allowing the robbers to take $3,750. On April 23, 1939, escaped convicts passed through Eudora again. Louis and Mae Hadl, and their children Marguerite and Bob were at their farm one mile west of Eudora. After milking, they discovered that three escaped convicts had hidden in the barn. The men forced them into the house and terrorized the family. They forced Louie, 62, and Bob, 18, to drive them in the family Chevrolet to Kansas City where they were captured the next day.

Crime continued in smaller ways as town citizens struggled through the Depression. People, for instance, kept more chickens than usual, sometimes 500 to a flock, and guarded them from ever-present thieves who stuffed the chickens into bags then made their getaways. Their other stock, according to Oscar Votaw, Eudora township assessor in 1935, included 629 horses; 179 mules; 1,295 milk cows over two years old; 1,584 other cows over two years old; 268 hogs; and 967 pigs and shoats.

Unemployed relief workers cleared trees to build the five-acre Rothberger Lake, dam, and spillway south of Tenth Street near the eastern city limits. They also surfaced more than five miles of road three miles south of Eudora with rock the next year, and Mary Neustifter led women in sewing projects for Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.), a federal relief program. The sewing was for the county’s needy and consisted of bedding, dresses, shirts, overalls, layettes, and all kinds of underwear. The women turned in finished garments every two weeks and worked 128 hours each month for federal government wages.

The year 1935 also was when the first Highway 10, now Tenth Street in Eudora, was finally paved from the Johnson County line to just west of the Wakarusa Bridge. That same year, John Sommer put a cement curb with pump over the city well on the south side of City Hall for residents to easier draw water.

Floodlights at the high school field, too, added to the list of city improvements. In April, the town came out to watch baseball played under the new lights by the “Outlaws” (Clarence Fuller, James Edwards, Will Zimmerman, Will Mercier, Fred Walker, George Gerstenberger, Hubert Woodard, Charles Gerstenberger, George Bartz, and Clarence Daughterty) versus the “Long Ears” (Ray Stroud, Robert Zillner, Bert Seiwald, Clement Zillner, Clifford Eisele, Harold Daugherty, Joe Zillner, Billy Mertz, Joe Blechel, and Robert Eisele). Why the excitement? The players had to ride donkeys!

Those who lettered in football at the local high school were: quarterback Roscoe Parker; halfbacks Charles Mitchell, Willie Neis, Felix Muller, Carl Johnson, and Delbert Mathia; ends Ralph Rood, Raymond Bowen, and Dale Papenhausen; guards Ezral Broers, Kermit Broers, Paul Brob, Gerald Ott, and Randall Cole; and centers Delbert Gerstenberger and Emerson Ott.

A cheer of the times, according to a scrapbook of Eva Belle Gerstenberger, was:
Cheer boys, cheer,
Eudora’s got the ball.
Cheer boys, cheer,
Get the ball.
We’re going to make a goal.
There will be a hot time in the old town tonight.
Eu-do-ra!

Marie Abeles speaks out on business patronage. Judging from the 1935 editorial “Eudora is dead” by Marie Abeles, publisher of Eudora Weekly News, lack of pride rather than money hurt Eudora commerce during the Depression years. She wrote:

“Eudora is dead, it is forgotten and is filed in the archives of time according to some of its citizenry. Notice I say ‘some’ of its citizenry. ‘Yes,” the old town don’t amount too much;’ ‘The merchants are not aggressive;’ ‘We don’t have any leaders;’ ‘Nobody takes an interest in things’: ‘The merchants won’t cooperate and how can you do anything without cooperation?’ ‘There’s no use trying to do anything for the old burg, she is dead.’

“Those remarks and many more just as unfavorable we have heard time and time again. But not from the progressive citizens of the town. Just the few old grouches of the city, who are dead and should either leave the town or keep their dyspeptic remarks to themselves. They have been a menace here for several years and have said those things so many times that they believe them. They have been joined by some few pessimistic persons who are also singing in the same chorus.”

“Let’s analyze this situation. Possibly it would be a fine thing for Eudora to die for one week. Every business has to close for one week and the entire business personnel take a vacation, leave town, close up tight. Close the telephone office (the gossip will wait) and the people could drive to DeSoto or Lawrence for a doctor. Close the churches, folk don’t like to go to church anyway. Close all the grocery stores for everyone buys their food out of town and when an unexpected lot of guests drive in for diner, and the supplies are low, just let the citizen jump in the car and drive to Lawrence to get the needed supplies. Close the bank; they charge too much anyhow and it would be much cheaper to drive to a neighboring city each day to attend to business.

“Close the restaurant, the teacher and the other regular boarders don’t need meals, eating causes over weight and many diseases. Close the barber shops; it won’t take long to drive to a nearby city for a shave and hair cut. What difference does a 15 or 20 minute drive make? It doesn’t cost to drive a car and then you have the trip, too. Close the filling stations and garages; it’s just a nice drive to another town to get gas several times a week and if you have car trouble or a breakdown it only cost 50 cents per mile to have your car ‘towed in.’ Close the schools, too, the teacher gets too much money and we don’t believe in education anyway. Close the hardware stores and plumbing shops. The mail order houses can send in supplies and repair men. Close the Mill and Elevator, the farmers are used to taking long trips with their produce.

“Close the drug store; folk never need medicine. Close the harness shop; take the repair work twenty miles to be fixed and lose a day’s time in the field. Close the lumber yard and paint shop. It would only take a day or two to get supplies elsewhere. Close the News office; the old paper isn’t needed and doesn’t help the community.

“Now let’s go downtown and view the scene. Not a store open, not a car on the street, not a person to greet you with a cheery good morning, no activity, literally a dead town.”

“Perhaps the other side of the picture would be the one that would appeal to the progressive citizen and most of the people in our city.

“To begin with, Eudora is a beautiful little city, located on a hill overlooking the Kansas River and the fertile Kaw Valley. The stately trees which line its several streets give a grandeur to it that many small towns do not have. Church Street, is as beautiful in the summer with its avenue of trees whose limbs overlap at the top, forming a gorgeous green canopy as any you find any place in the world. The churches are superior ones; the ministers exceptionally well trained and competent. The educational system will compare most creditably with any school of its size in the state. The grocery stores carry the best brand of canned goods; the meats are good; fresh fruits and vegetables are available the year around and we know the prices are cheaper than in nearby towns. Our bank is one of the best on the country, the personnel of which takes keep interest in trying to help solve our problems.”

”Our restaurant has always had a reputation for being a superior place in which to eat. The proprietor has made a reputation on good pies and just recently while she was in the hospital someone asked if that good restaurant in Eudora was still serving those delicious pies. Our barber shops do good work; both men have families and deserve the patronage of the people. The filling stations in our town would do credit to a much larger place; the garage service is dependable and prices are reasonable. The hardware merchants are up to date and use modern methods of selling. We have never heard any complaints of inferior work on local plumbing jobs. The mill and elevator have a large volume of business that should be kept here. The drug store is and always has been one of the cleanest, neatest places in town. Prescriptions are filled more reasonable than in most drug stores. The harness shop and shoe repair work is always done most acceptably, with a minimum charge.”

Tumbling bridges and water system. Besides the Great Depression, Eudorans dealt with grasshoppers, drought and a 54 days of 100-degrees plus in 1936; nine days even exceeded 110 degrees. Jay Grosdidier said families slept on their lawns for comfort. An ice gorge formed on the Kansas River in February 1936, and the rising water slammed the frozen mass into Eudora’s 200-foot iron bridge. The bridge, a parked Chevrolet, and part of the wooden span fell into the river. The northernmost span was left swinging above the bank, and steps were made to the bank for foot travel. Said the contractor working on the bridge: “The ice jam seemed to rise up five or eight feet just before striking and then the cars against the piers, and the spans and material and the motor car toppled over into the water and ice, almost out of sight.” The next year, another ice jam hit the river and took out the 150-foot span of the same bridge upon which repair equipment stood.

The WPA provided another benefit to Eudora when it funded a water system for town residents in 1937. The funding paid for a well, sewer lines, pumphouse on the Wakarusa River, 37 fireplugs, and a 127-foot water tower at 621 Elm Street that could hold 50,000 gallons. As soon as water was available, 174 applicants signed up and paid $3 to connect to the city’s main lines. In 1938, Eudora played Rossville, Baldwin, Turner, Tonganoxie, Bonner Springs, Gardner, and Wellsville in football competitions. About a Baldwin defeat, the Eudora Weekly News headlined its article “Too much power” and summed up the game with: “Coach Wallace has a nice team with plenty of reserves, but the Bulldogs were no match for Coach Knipp’s fast and hard charging line and ends. They were always on their toes and the backs and ends were down on every punt and stopped the receivers in their tracks most of the time. Baldwin never got within the 30-yard line.”

Business of 1930s. Many businesses from the previous decade White adcontinued into the 1930s. New businesses were: Lentz Bakery (“Trade with me ― I knead the dough”); Smith’s Café; the short-lived Eudora Cleaners (“Ring us ― that will bring us”); Kansas Cleaners; Emma Lotz Confectionery; Clover Leaf Dairy; Durr Dairy; Fred Walker’s Grocery; Green Tavern (owned by Ralph Davis who sold to Harold Reusch in 1939); Bartz Radio Service; Clement Zillner’s Eudora Cash Market (Raymond Warmuker sold the market to Allen Cochurn and Kenneth Coffman from Wellsville in 1938); Phillips 66 gas station; Eisele Hardware (and Case Tractor sales); Ex-Cel-Cis Beauty Shop; and the Modern Beauty Shop (which offered shampoos, finger waves, hair cuts, manicures, machine or machineless permanents). In one of many business transactions, Gus Bohnsack sold his Standard gas station on the southwest corner of Tenth Street and Church Street to Allen Westerhouse on March 23, 1934. John Miller sold livestock, Ray Ogden and H.T. Melton both sold real estate and insurance, and Russell Comfort opened a bowling alley in 1939 that he sold the next year to Everett Elmore. Also in 1939, William Rice of Athol joined barber Elmer Everley.

John Kazmaier and Fred Walker operated a grocery out of the Pilla building. They stored their receipts in Charles Pilla’s heavy, black Mosler 1881 safe . Receipts found in 2002 showed their beef, for instance, came from the John Meier Company, Kansas City, Missouri. Armour and Company in Kansas City, Kansas, supplied beef, too, and pork loins, neckbones, cheese, and lard. Cudahy Packing, Kansas City, Kansas, also was a beef and cheese source as well as pork liver, salami, soap, and bacon.

Other stock was supplied by A. Reich, Kansas City, Missouri (fruits and vegetables); H.D. Lee Mercantile, Kansas City, Missouri (syrup, canned items, cereal, starch, Hiawatha sandwich cakes, cream cakes, yeast, and ginger ale); Theo. Poehler Mercantile Co., Lawrence (cider vinegar, flour, starch, canned beans, and sardines); Larabee Flour Mills Company (Airy Fairy flour); Figaro Company (condensed smoke, sugar cure, smoke salt, ausage seasoning, and Worcester sauce); J.A. Folger & Co., Kansas City, Missouri (coffee); Colgate-Palmolive (laundry detergent); and Earl E. May Seed Co., Shenandoah, Iowa (flower and vegetable seeds).

Gerstenberger groceryGerstenberger IGA Grocery. Another grocery of the time wasCharles Gerstenberger's IGA Grocery Store, which opened March 27, 1930 and stayed open for 20 more years. The store was designed to be a “help yourself type” and had a meat section. Housed halfway up the block between Seventh Street and Eighth Street on Main Street in a building now demolished and even further south in another razed building when it first opened, the store offered opening day prizes, including a free console mirror to the family who made the largest purchase. For people who correctly counted beans in a jar, there were the prizes of an eight-pound ham, sack of flour, box of bacon, and candy bars for the women and cigars for the men.

Loretta (Gerstenberger) Trabant remembered the "meat market" in which meat was cut to order with a large butcher knife. After being weighed, the butcher wrapped the meat in brown paper and tied it with a string. Gerstenberger had an electric hamburger grinder, a hand-operated sausage grinder, and a coffee grinder.

Customers bought cookies from a large round glass jar and candy from behind a glass case. Carrol Gerstenberger said the store’s all day sucker was "as big as a golf ball" and cost one cent. Alvena Tuggle said when her father paid the weekly bill, Gerstenberger would send home a sack of candy for the little ones.

Bob Neis said the 10 cent lunches that Gerstenberger packed for the school consisted of a big bologna sandwich, two cookies, and a banana, orange or apple. Customers would bring eggs in exchange for groceries, and Gerstenberger candled the eggs in the basement, and, for a short time, tested cream. Trabant said the best deal that Gerstenberger made was trading 18 cans of sardines for a toilet in the bathroom during the time when the modern sewer system was put into Eudora. He stayed open six days a week and late on Saturday nights when the farmers came into town to do their shopping. In the winter during the Depression, customers would gather around the heater stove exchanging conversation.

To accommodate people at the Sunflower Ordnance plant who worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day, without refrigeration in their homes, Gerstenberger kept his store open on Sundays for a while. The rationing of foods especially the sugar stamps made extra accounting work at the store.

Copyright 2005. Higgins, Cindy. Where the Wakarusa Meets the Kaw: The History of Eudora, Kansas. Eudora, KS: Author.