The Kansas Pacific Railroad was completed, the Fort had closed — gone was the reason Hays City ever existed. Gone were houses of ill repute, dance halls with the girls, gunslingers and soldiers that filled them. From the rubbish and rubble of the wild frontier an honest to goodness respectable town remained. Had civilization and respectability crept in without notice? It was there all along — silent in the shadows.
Most of us remember it as the "Opera House." It occupied the southwest corner of 9th and Fort. It was the building recently demolished. When new, it was the focal point of action — and culture.
Henry Krueger, a pioneer merchant, commissioned the building to be built. It was started in 1878 and completed 1879 (year the Fort closed). The first floor was to be his hardware and general merchandise store. The second floor was created as our Opera House — not only for traveling troupes, but for local talent. Home talent shows and plays were produced. Many were of Shakespearian Vintage. It seems Hays, in those days, had a Shakespearian scholar. "Con Henley (who also had a grocery store) read only Shakespeare and could quote any line from 'Bard of Avon's' comedies and dramas." Con apparently influenced local productions. Culture had arrived.
The traveling troupes made Hays their last stop between Abilene and Denver. They packed them in with standing room only (SO cent tickets along the sidewall). One of the all-time favorites was The Louie Lord Players with "Ten Nights in a Barroom."
The third floor was used for the weekly practice of the Hays town band. There was a secured rear room where instruments — along with the band booze was stored. Each band man had a key in case he wanted to come in early for practice. The band boys did need to "oil up" before they could "tune up." Their private stock was kept in that rear room. Never could tell when Carrie Nation and her hatchet might come to town.
In 1896 to 1898 the third floor was also used as the courthouse until a new one could be built to replace the one that burned.
The building was sold on 10 Oct., 1907 to the Essex Club, a gentlemen's social club — named after the famous "Essex Gentlemen's Club" of London, England.
All seemed to be going well — what happened — why did Henry Krueger sell his building? There is a "rest of the story" — but later.
In every community there are "goers, doers, movers and shakers" — perhaps the description was self-awarded but none-the-less they were our up and coming "yuppies of the day." They were our High Society — they were the Essex club.
The entire building was to be their clubhouse. "The first floor will be used as a dancing hall. The floor is to be laid in hard maple. The second floor will be partitioned and converted into a billiard room, library parlor (each member contributed the best books from their own library), and bath rooms. The third floor will be provided with everything necessary for a banquet hall and kitchen."
A printed description appeared in the paper: "The Essex Club — the bon ton social organization of Hays. All the younger sets were rated socially by their membership to the club. Those who didn't 'make' the Essex weren't ostracized exactly but if they weren't members they weren't among the approved and anointed. As for the belles of the village, it was as tragic for those socially ambitious if they didn't have a beaux who were members as it is today for a young woman who fails to be 'pinned' by some sorority at college."
"Henry Schwaller, the town's active and progressive mayor — and successful businessman was a founding member and president." Also included were Fred Haffameier, Tom Ryan, George Ziegler, Dr. W. H. Jordan, Fred Schwaller and E.D. Yost as seven of the founding dozen. "E.D. Yost, was son of son of the founder of Yocemento and builder and proprietor of the Yost milling industry." R.J. Mulroy, editor of the news, was a founding member. Others mentioned were Harry Felten, Bill Philip, George Philip, James Urban, C.A. Harkness and Herbert Chittenden. "The club, started five years ago, has now grown into a membership of thirty-six."
"One of the most interesting and entertaining features of the Essex Club is the annual banquet, which is growing more popular as the club grows older. No decorations and edibles are spared in the feast."
The Essex Club lasted about fourteen years. On Jan. 5 1922 it was sold to Carl Wolf for a hardware store. What happened? Obviously, over fourteen years membership changes — ideas change.
From the Ellis County News: "More than fifteen fellas have signed up for the Hays City Polo Club." That notice was Dec. 29, 1921. The notice of the sale by the Essex Club was January 5, 1922 — seven days later. And yes, the usual suspects.
"High Society" still existed — This time, perhaps, more action was sought — more than a proper gentlemen's club could provide. A Polo Club now seemed to be the proper answer for these red blooded gentlemen. It was an intercity traveling club. They did play polo, but the after game socialization, not the score, was most important.
From the Ellis County News July 6, 1922: "Mr. and Mrs. A.B. Glathart entertained the Hays Polo Club and the visiting players from Junction City at a five course, seven o'clock dinner on the Fourth (July) at their home on west second street. Covers were laid for twenty-four. The central decoration of the table was a polo pony in the form of a hobby horse decorated in yellow and green ribbons which extended the streamers from the pony to the name card at each plate. The pony also wore clusters of ribbon on the bridle in Junction City colors. The favors were little mallets tied with yellow and green ribbons and inscribed: Hays Polo Club, July 4, 1922."
"The company remained until it was time to take the midnight train back to Junction City."
No mention of the score was given. High Society was alive and well.
Bud Dalton is a Hays resident and frequent HDN contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org