By Dr. Ferrell Miller
Geary County Historical Society Board Member
“Junction City’s Main Street (Washington Street) At The Turn Of The 20th Century”
On the first floor of our Museum at the corner of Sixth and Adams Streets in Junction
City, there is an exhibit titled “Main Street.” “Main Street” depicts six types of businesses found
on many main streets around 1900. This gallery was one of the first in the museum. Much of the lumber for the exhibits came from Geary County. The stone and brick facades are made of plaster, but were modeled after actual architectural elements found in downtown Junction City. There are vintage elements that add authenticity like the 18 inch floor boards in the Carpentry Shop.
Around 1900 Geary County had a booming carpentry trade. Carpentry was a class offered to students as a part of the “Manual Trades Classroom”, when the high school opened in 1904. The current museum was originally the high school in which those classes were offered.
Another business represented in the gallery is a dress shop. Before there were department stores with skirts, shirts and underwear in every size and color to be purchased, women went to the dress shop and had clothing custom made to their size and specifications. The Rizer sisters ran a woman’s clothing store in Junction City from 1918 to 1952. By the 1950’s women still visited modistes or seamstresses to have previously purchased clothing tailored to fit. Dress shops were not only for buying clothing they were also a place for gathering to exchange social information making the dress shop one of the best sources for gossip in town. The dress shop was also the place where ladies could find that rare hat for which they may had been looking, which was like no other.
Visit our Museum and see the other representations of early Junction City shops, which include a general store, a bank and a photography and blacksmith shops. You will also see J.J. Pennell photographs of a barber shop, photos of downtown Junction City in its early days to the 1940’s and a barber shop. The Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays between 1 and 4:00 PM and admission is free.
“George Smith’s Gift – A Library”
Many of us remember walking up those many stairs to get to the George Smith Public Library, to browse, to read a magazine, check out a book or a vinyl record album. The library was located at the corner of Seventh and Washington Streets in Junction City. Today’s story is about the man for which that library was named.
George Smith came to Junction City in 1866 and opened a hardware store. He left for a short time and came back in 1879. He worked in the tinner and cornice (pronounced kornis) professions. During his lifetime, George Smith acquired substantial property.
He retired in 1886 with an incurable kidney malady, which caused him considerable pain. George withheld spending money on pain medication in order to leave more for his estate. At his death his holdings included all business buildings on the south side of West Seventh Street and several prime corner locations on Washington Street.
When George Smith died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head in 1905, his entire estate was left to the city of Junction City for the building, equipping and maintaining a library. However, there was no money provided in the will to staff and operate the library.
It was to be built on the southwest corner of Seventh and Washington Streets. The plan was for businesses to be on the bottom floor and the library on the upper floor. The building would not only contain a library, but also a reading room.
A board was to be appointed by the Mayor and the City Council to administer the estate as well as the library. It took 3 years after his death for the building to become a reality. Construction was begun in 1907 and the building was dedicated on March 17, 1908.
The George Smith Library was closed in 1983. There were 27 steps from the ground floor to the library, which made it inaccessible to those who were handicapped. The Dorothy Bramlage Library was established in 1983 and is the current public library located at 230 West 7th Street. It IS handicapped accessible.