Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Great Interaction at our Short Film Premiere

Our premiere's audience.
For the past seven months, the Dickinson County Historical Society has been working on a short film highlighting the life of C.L. Brown and his lasting legacy of community giving that still exist in Kansas independent telephone companies today. On Saturday, July 21, 2012, we premiered the fifteen-minute film, C.L. Brown and Kansas Independent Telephony, to a crowd at the Eisenhower Presidential Library auditorium. I was hoping for a good-sized crowd for the event. What we got far exceeded my expectations.

That evening, we totaled 165 guests for the film screening. That’s right, 165 people. This total was more than would fit in the auditorium’s seats, but staff at the Eisenhower Presidential Library graciously set up additional chairs so everyone in attendance could have a place to sit.

After the screening, we also held a panel discussion focusing on the history of C.L. Brown, community engagement, and how the short film was made. I was very pleased with the variety of questions our audience posed and the many stories that were shared during the discussion. Many of our audience and their families have strong memories of the Brown Memorial Park, so it was fascinating to hear those people reminisce about the past.

After the discussion, we hosted our annual Ice Cream Social at the Dickinson County Heritage Center. This was probably the largest crowd we have ever hosted for this event. Our museum was a packed house, but everyone seemed to be in high spirits throughout the evening.

I would like to thank everyone who helped make this short film and event a success, and would like to thank our society’s membership for coming out in full force Saturday night. If you were not in attendance, we will be announcing other ways to view the short film very soon.

For another take on this evening, be sure to read the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle’s writeup on the event. 

Principle funding for this program is provided by the Kansas Humanities Council, a nonprofit cultural organization promoting understanding of the history, traditions, and ideas that shape our lives and build community.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Event Notice: Ice Cream Social and Museum Fundraiser

The Dickinson County Historical Society will conclude this year’s Memories of the Prairie series on Saturday July, 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Dickinson County Heritage Center.

This week's activity will be our annual Ice Cream Social and Fundraiser.  Ice cream and baked goods will be served beginning at 6:30 p.m, a good-will offering will be accepted at this event.

For the evening's entertainment, Alice Thomas of Abilene will begin singing at 7:15 p.m.  Alice loves music and will play many of your old time favorites.  It should be a very enjoyable evening, so bring you family and friends and be a part of an old time tradition.   
This year, we will also host an auction of several food items from some special cooks beginning at 7:00p.m. These items will include pie, cake, homemade bread, and other baked goods.  This is a great opportunity to get some very fine desserts and help support the Dickinson County Historical Society.
Just a reminder, the society members whose names begin with L-Z are asked to bring baked goods for this event.  These can be left at the Heritage Center beginning Friday or brought to the Ice Cream Social on Saturday.
Concerned about the heat?  Don't worry, since the Ice Cream Social will be held inside the Heritage Center Museum where it is cool.
Also don’t forget to come early and see the premiere of C.L. Brown and Kansas Independent Telephony.  This short film will be shown at the Eisenhower Presidential Library auditorium at 6:00 p.m.  After the film, everyone will be invited to walk across the street to the Heritage Center for ice cream and to view the Museum of Independent Telephony.
For more information about the Memories of the Prairie or about becoming a part of the Dickinson County Historical Society, please contact the Heritage Center at 785.263.2681.  Help us preserve our heritage.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Press Release: Film Premiere for "C.L. Brown and Kansas Independent Telephony" Scheduled for July 21, 2012

C.L. Brown at age 20.
We posted some information about this event earlier this week, but here's the official press release announcing the premiere of the new short film C.L. Brown and Kansas Independent Telephony.

The Dickinson County Historical Society is pleased to announce the debut of C.L. Brown and Kansas Independent Telephony, a new short documentary film on Abilene’s twentieth-century patriarch.

Beginning in 1899, Abilene’s C.L. Brown began the Brown Telephone Company, which in its later years would grow to become Sprint.  At a time without wireless technology or even dial phones, operators diligently worked twenty-four hour shifts connecting customer calls and greeting everyone with a friendly voice.  After much company growth and expansion, Brown began to give back to his employees and the general public.

In 1926, the Brown Memorial Foundation was born.  With this foundation, Brown and his siblings built the Brown Memorial Home, a retirement community still in operation today.  They also created Brown Memorial Park, which featured boys and girls camps, a swimming lake, golf course, and zoo.  This was a popular Kansas destination, attracting as high as 20,000 people on one weekend occasion.

With his acts of philanthropy, Brown promoted a spirit of giving that is still seen in telecommunications companies today.  Kansas is home to over 30 independent telecommunications companies, which give back to their communities in remarkable ways.

C.L. Brown and Kansas Independent Telephony will premiere with a debut screening on July 21 at 6:00pm in the Eisenhower Presidential Library Auditorium.  After a screening of this short documentary, the film’s project staff will hold a panel discussion on the making of the film and the importance of stories like C.L. Brown’s.  Everyone in attendance is also invited to attend the Dickinson County Historical Society’s Annual Ice Cream Social at the Dickinson County Heritage Center at 7:00pm.  Both events are free to the public, but donations will be appreciated at the Ice Cream Social.

Principal funding for this program is provided by the Kansas Humanities Council, a nonprofit cultural organization promoting understanding of the history, traditions, and ideas that shape our lives and build community.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

C.L. Brown, Kansas Independent Telephony, and a Spirit of Giving

C.L. Brown
Abilene, Kansas will soon be host to the premiere of a short film on one of the city’s most influential people who often times has been unheralded in the past. On July 21, the Dickinson County Historical Society will present C.L. Brown and Kansas Independent Telephony, a look at notable Abilene patriarch Cleyson L. Brown and the spirit of giving that he inspired for Kansas independent telecommunications companies that continues today. After becoming a successful businessman in the early twentieth century, Brown decided to focus on many community improvement projects late in his life. Whether you know it or not, the legacy of Brown can be seen in the area around Abilene, and Kansas as a whole to this day.

Brown was born February 3, 1872 in Brown’s Mill, Pennsylvania. He was the oldest of Jacob and Mary Brown’s five children. The family decided to move to Dickinson County, Kansas with a sect of the Church of the Brethren in 1880. Jacob Brown owned a grist mill on the Smoky Hill River south of Abilene. At the mill, the Browns would saw wood and grind grain for local farmers. C.L. helped with various work at a young age, and was met with an accident at the age of nine. In 1881, C.L.’s right elbow was crushed by a piece of equipment.

The damage was too severe, and his arm was amputated soon after the event. Throughout most of his daily life, Brown would wear an artificial arm and hand, covered by his sleeve and a glove. Later in his life, Brown was known to muse that if it had not been for this accident, he likely would have been a farmer.

After graduating from Abilene High School, Brown worked as a school teacher, attended business college, and worked as the manager of a creamery in Wichita. In 1898, he started Abilene Electric Light Works with his father. Jacob Brown’s grist mill was converted to be a source of Abilene’s electric power. This company grew and grew, eventually becoming the United Power and Light Company in 1924.

Brown Telephone Company linemen.
Due to the success of his electric company, Brown decided to build a local telephone company just one year after Abilene Electric Light Works was formed. Brown later chartered the Brown Telephone Company in 1902. Abilene quickly became filled with various electric and phone lines strung on wooden poles. After much growth, Brown’s telephone company was renamed the United Telephone Company in 1911. In 1914, Brown and his associates decided to sell controlling interest in the company’s stock to the Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company (later Southwestern Bell). This allowed for United to have enough money to expand, and Brown was still manager of his business.

Brown built himself a large empire of companies throughout the early 1900s, having 85 companies to his name. In addition to electricity and telephone service, Brown also owned oil and refining companies, shoe stores, insurance companies, and Piggly-Wiggly grocery stores.

Having amassed a great fortune and large business empire, Brown decided he should give back to his community. He had been concerned for others for quite some time, ordering all of his employees to save ten percent of their income for future expenditures. Additionally, he had honored employees who saved money with “honor pins” for their commitment. This mandatory savings plan would come in handy for many employees after the stock market crash in 1929.

However, it would not be until 1926 that Brown began making visible gifts to the Abilene community as a whole. Brown and his siblings formed the Brown Memorial Foundation in memory of their parents. With the foundation, they constructed the Brown Memorial Home for the Aged and a 226 acre park open to the public. At the time, the park cost approximately $1,000 a day to operate. However, it was free to the public and included a swimming lake, golf course, zoo, and camps for boys and girls.

Brown once said, “Every man tries to accumulate wealth and it’s all to buy six feet of ground. Others enjoy the fruits of his effort and he never can see how much they enjoy it. But I want to see people enjoy mine while I am still alive.”

Brown Memorial Park was a huge attraction in its day. The lake was often filled with swimmers and canoes. Local Sea Scouts would practice sailing skills on a massive ship that sat in the lake. Weekend visitor totals consistently reached over 5,000 people, occasionally reaching as high as 20,000 people. It seems hard to believe today, that Brown’s Park drew in so many people, and was considered a major amusement park for the area, and was free to the public.

During all of this, Brown still focused a great deal on his businesses. In 1931, during the Great Depression, Brown opened the Sunflower Hotel in downtown Abilene. It was known as one of the grandest hotels between Kansas City and Denver. Though Brown opened this hotel in 1931 and appeared to be doing well financially, the Great Depression would take its toll on his businesses very soon.

The Great Depression greatly weakened Brown’s business empire in the 1930s. This was largely due to Brown’s persistent effort to continue funding business ventures that were making less and less income, such as the Piggly-Wiggly grocery store chain. Brown died on November 12, 1935. He was bankrupt at the time of his death.

Many aspects of the Brown Memorial Park had to be closed over the years after Brown’s death due to lack of funding and damage from the 1951 flood. However, the Brown Memorial Home still continues to offer affordable housing for senior citizens, camping is still offered for youth in scouting programs, and residents around the area are still welcome to enjoy visits to the park. The Brown Memorial Foundation is still an active force in the Abilene area, supporting area projects and scholarships for students.

Though the financial situation of the Brown businesses looked grim at the time of Brown’s death, the United companies continued to grow and expand. United Utilities pulled out of bankruptcy in 1938 and grew through the acquisition of many smaller companies over several years. The company went through many changes over the years, but continued to grow and grow long after Brown’s death. In 1986, United (then known as United Telecommunications) consolidated with Sprint. United purchased controlling interest in Sprint in 1989, and adopted the Sprint name soon after due to the company having better brand recognition.

The legacy of C.L. Brown still continues to be seen in Abilene. With all that remains of Brown’s legacy: the Brown Memorial Foundation, park, Memorial Home, Sunflower building, Brown Mansion, and the memories of Abilene’s residents; C.L. Brown lives on to this day.

C.L. Brown and Kansas Independent Telephony is a short documentary highlighting Brown’s story and the benefits independent telecommunications companies offer to the Kansas public. The film will premiere on July 21 at 6:00pm at the Eisenhower Presidential Library auditorium and is free to the public. A brief panel discussion will follow the screening, featuring the project’s staff. The Dickinson County Historical Society also welcomes the public to visit the Dickinson County Heritage Center and Museum of Independent Telephony immediately after the program, where refreshments will be served. For more information about this event, please contact the Dickinson County Historical Society, (785) 263-2681,

Principal funding for this program is provided by the Kansas Humanities Council, a nonprofit cultural organization promoting understanding of the history, traditions, and ideas that shape our lives and build community.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Memories of the Prairie Lecture Series: Lt. Frank Baldwin and the Indian Territory Expedition of 1874

Dan Holt, former director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, will be the speaker for the next Memories of the Prairie program sponsored by the Dickinson County Historical Society on Saturday July 7 at 7:00pm at the Dickinson County Heritage Center located at 412 S. Campbell Street in Abilene.

Between the years of 1867 and 1875, some of the worst Native American conflicts took place in Kansas.  Most of the raids and attacks were along the new railroad being built along the Smoky Hill Trail.  Dan Holt's program, entitled Lt. Frank Baldwin and the Indian Territory Expedition of 1874, tells the story of an expedition directed by General Nelson Miles, a result of American Indian raids by the Comanche, Kiowa, and Southern Cheyenne in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Northern Texas.  This purpose of this expedition was to put down these raids and return these people to the reservation.  Forts Larned, Wallace, and Dodge in Kansas were all involved.  Baldwin, of the Fifth US Infantry, won his second Medal of Honor during the expedition for rescuing two girls captured by the Cheyenne along the Smoky Hill Trail.

Dan Holt began working on this story at the Kansas Historical Society, where he served as assistant manuscript curator 1963-1964.  The original version of his work was published by the Kansas City Westerners in 1965.  He had access to Frank Baldwin's diary and a wealth of primary sources and became interested in the different aspects of what was known as General Phil Sheridan's Southern Plains campaign.  He will focus on one part of the campaign, the Indian Territory Expedition of 1874, and specifically on the exploits of Lt. Frank D. Baldwin.  Baldwin was awarded two Medals of Honor, one in the Civil War, and one for his rescue of the girls captured by the Cheyenne on the Smoky Hill Trail near Fort Wallace, Kansas.

Contrary to popular stories about Indian campaigns, over half of the troops on this expedition were infantry, not cavalry.  On the other side, these Native American tribes' living conditions were destitute.  Some of the names included in this campaign are well known, including Bat Masterson.

The commentary in Baldwin's diary, Kansas newspapers, and officers on the expedition regarding the Inidan Bureau and Indian Agents, particularly the Quaker Indian agents' policy of "friendly persuasion," clearly reveal the differences of opinions on the causes and possible solutions related to the reasons for the tribes leaving the reservations and how best to convince them to return.

This Memories of the Prairie program is free of charge, however donations are always welcome.  For more information on the program or about how you can become a supporting member of the Dickinson County Historical Society, please call (785) 263-2681, or visit