Downtown project preserves district
The interest of a private developer in downtown Hays in 2000 sparked the creation of the private, non-profit Downtown Hays Development Corp. The DHDC, with an all-volunteer board, purchased six downtown buildings through a private fund-raising campaign.
Plainville entrepreneur Chuck Comeau, owner of C.S. Post Co. Hays, will take title to the buildings as he restores them. Comeau has purchased 10 other buildings, forming the nucleus of the project to restore historical buildings and recruit new retail, restaurant and entertainment establishments.
Hays' early commercial district was parallel to the railroad tracks on what now is Ninth and 10th streets. What now is Main Street was named Chestnut Street. That became the inspiration for the "Chestnut Street District," the name of the area.
A devastating fire in March 1895 destroyed more than 60 businesses. Most of the present buildings were erected in the 1910s and '20s.
The three oldest buildings downtown are the former Philip Hardware Store at Eighth and Main, built in 1874; the Krueger Dry Goods store, also housing an opera house, at Ninth and Main, built in 1877; and the former First Presbyterian Church, a stone structure built in 1879 and now part of the Ellis County Historical Society at Seventh and Main.
The Philip building and opera house are among those included in the downtown project.
Joining in the project is the Hays Public Library, which was expanded. Its new exterior replicates the style of the original 1911 Carnegie building.