logo: Kansas Heritage

Ford County Historical Society
Dodge City, Kansas

A nostalgic tour of
downtown Dodge City, Kansas

By Judge Gene B. Penland

On a crisp evening in 1984, my wife Joyce and I were visiting my mother, Mrs. Agnes Penland Callahan. Having grown up in Dodge City, I always enjoy "touring the town" with Mother [Mrs. Callahan died in 1997].

     Since my graduation from Dodge City Sr. High School in 1952, the changes in my hometown are too numerous to mention. On this occasion, the three of us decided to walk south on the west side of Second Ave. from the 800 block to what used to be the intersection of Second and Chestnut and then back north on the east side of Second to Mother's house in the 900 block of First Ave.

     Proceeding across Vine St. south from Anderson's Cleaners, I noticed the many changes on the west side of Second Ave. First, there was the missing Christian Church. And only one block to the east, the Methodist Church had also disappeared, although portions of the building were saved for municipal purposes.

     Just south of where the Christian Church used to be is the former site of a large white stucco apartment building. I remember Angus Snyder sitting on the porch of that old building where he lived for so many years. Angus fought the great Jack Dempsey in an exhibition fight in Wichita in the 1930s.

     For a time in this same vicinity, Johnny Malo operated a small café where I often stopped for one of his large delicious hamburgers and a bottle of pop. Johnny, who was a good friend of my dad, became accustomed to my visits and my usual order. I often ate lunch there while delivering ice cream for Myers' Ice Cream Co. of south Dodge City.

     Next we passed the Dodge City Daily Globe building. We were reminded of the days when KGNO Radio was located on the second floor of that building. Before television, the station would conduct quiz show and other public participation programs on Saturday afternoons. And Herschell Holland would sing, "I Know There Is Somebody Waiting in the House at the End of the Lane" for his radio audience. It was a very busy, exciting time and place.

     It was here that my own 'radio career' began and ended. Some may remember a string band of about 1940 vintage called the "Tune Wranglers." The group consisted of Cal Buckner, Mr. & Mrs. Bill Kimes, Wayne Hileman, Don Nungester, R.C. Hill, Johnnie Lubbers and my dad, Bill Penland, who played the banjo. My dad had my sister Janiece and me sing on KGNO a few times during "Tune Wrangler" programs. We were nine and six years old. Our main songs were "You Are My Sunshine" and "Moonlight Bay," both favorites of my dad.

     Upstairs at this location, the Saturday night Moose dances were joyous occasions. Ora Evans and my dad often played the violin (or fiddle, as Ora would call it) and banjo at those dances. As a child, I had to attend with my folks and Janiece, as parents took their children with them in those wholesome years when families did things together. I didn't appreciate going then, but now I wish those exciting nights and dances could be relived.

     Many of you will remember another unique place of business between the Daily Globe building and the Carnegie Library--Pop Jenks' popcorn and candy stand. It was scarcely larger than a telephone booth. I'm not sure whether Pop's name was actually "Jenks" or possibly "Jenkins," but we all called him "Pop Jenks." He drove a four-door gray-blue Willys, a late 1930s model, when that type was rare. It was always parked in front of his stand near an old stone drinking fountain at that corner. Pop sometimes became impatient with the many mischievous kids who frequented the busy area, but he tolerated them and sold many sacks of popcorn, peanuts and candy bars to them. I remember him as a cherubic, impish old gentleman, always dressed in white. He reminded me of a plump retired sailor. Appropriately attired, he would have made an excellent Santa Claus.

     After passing the ornate Carnegie building, where Lois Flanagan served so ably, and the First National Bank (now, Bank of America), we remembered the old location of the bus depot and the White Buffalo Cafe, run by Mr. And Mrs. Irven Shuman. On the north wall behind the counter, a large white buffalo head was mounted. It was said to have been an albino shot on the plains by "Prairie Dog" Dave Morrow.

     Across the alley to the south we passed the former site of the Pollock & Beck Shoe Co. and next door to that was where Hoffman Jewelry Co. was located. My dad worked as a watchmaker and jeweler for William Hoffman in the late 1930s.

     We proceeded on into the next block past Eckles Department Store (now Eckles Main Street Center) to what used to be the busiest intersection in the Southwest--Second Ave. and Chestnut (Wyatt Earp Blvd.) Kuhn Drug Store was at the northwest corner of that intersection. I remember going into Kuhn's at age fourteen in 1948, and paying $1.00 for my first driver's license. No examination was required in those simpler times.

     We then crossed Second to the east and recalled Mosher & Cochran Drug Co. (now Trails West), where Doctors Klein, Melencamp, Alderson and others had their offices upstairs before moving to the Southwest Medical Clinic (now Dodge City's City Hall). Kuhn, and Mosher & Cochran reminded us of the demise of many other drug stores--A&A, Campbell, May, Keller, and Jones in south Dodge.

     Dodge City also had many jewelry stores downtown during this period, including Hoffman, Lubbers, Reynolds, Morgan-Penland, Arvin Heichen, Bangs, Walkers and Clark's. There was also a jewelry store in Campbell Pharmacy, run by Charlie Caldwell, and my dad had a jewelry store in Tasker Book & Stationary Shop for a time.

     As we turned north on Second Ave., we remembered the classic old M.M. Gwinner's Palace of Sweets with its delightful food and homemade candies. At times, when the cafe was there, the aroma from those delicious candies would permeate the entire block. Gwinner's was the victim of a downtown fire, which occurred about the summer of 1950. We passed the Fidelity State Bank building, another landmark, and walked across Gunsmoke, which used to be Walnut, past the beautiful Warshaw building and the former Palace Drug Store.

     The east side of the 600 block of Second was perhaps the busiest section in town in the 1940s and 1950s. It bustled with a variety of business activity. Duckwall's, Woolworth, Virtue and JC Penney were all in that block. Business reached a crescendo on Saturday and continued unabated until 9:00 p.m. when the stores closed and the weary employees and customers trudged home.

     We continued north and crossed Spruce St. where we recalled McLellan's, which had a wide array of merchandise. Onto the north and across the alley, we came to the former site of Keller Drug Store which, in the 1940s, was at the north edge of the downtown business district. I hope this brief tour will serve as a pleasant reminder of the good old days.

(© 2002, Ford County Historical Society Inc. Judge Gene B. Penland, author.)