Downtown buildings show Manhattan’s history

By Burk Krohe

Manhattan has changed significantly over the years and continues to change. But residents might not realize how much of the city’s history has been left intact. Now they have the opportunity to see the remnants of the city’s past on a historical walking tour of the downtown area.

The tour will be at 6 p.m. Thursday and will coincide with the “Forces: The Shaping of Manhattan,” a temporary exhibit at the Flint Hills Discovery Center. The exhibit focuses on the years 1853 through 1917. Cheryl Collins, director of the Riley County Historical Museum, said it is broken up into four smaller periods.

“What I’m going to do is look at the built environment and how the buildings reflect each of those periods,” Collins said.

The founding/pioneering period took place between 1853 and 1865. Collins said few buildings from that period are left because of development and changing landscapes in the downtown area.

“Of course we used (1865) as a cutoff because the railroad got here in 1866,” Collins said. “Once the railroad got here, everything changed.”

The transition period took place between 1866 and 1880 when Manhattan became a city of the second class. The building period took place between 1881 and 1900 and saw the erection of more permanent buildings and the arrival of services such as water and sewer. The modernization period ran from 1901 until 1917 when transportation moved from horse and foot traffic to automobiles and trolley cars. 

Collins will start the tour in the Riley County Courthouse plaza with some of the more recognizable historic buildings downtown. The Courthouse was built in 1906 and the Carnegie building on the west side of the plaza was built in 1904.

“Those are two significant public buildings,” Collins said. “It took Riley County a long time to get a courthouse.”

Collins will also touch on the Amanda Arnold Arch on the north side of the Courthouse. It’s the original doorway from the Central School, the city’s second elementary school, built in 1878.

From there, people will hear about the buildings across Poyntz Avenue from the Courthouse. The building on the corner of Poyntz and South Fifth Street is now a one-story building that houses Kieu’s clothing store, but at one time it was three stories —the top story housing a Masonic Hall.

The tour will move across the street, and Collins will talk about the buildings directly to the east of the Wareham. She said the Wareham was built after the modernization period, but the rest of the buildings on the block are much older. The building that now houses the Strecker-Nelson Gallery and the Otto building on the corner of Poyntz and Fourth Street will be of particular interest.

Collins noted the mix of styles on the block — the result of multiple owners and renovations over the years. 

“Very few (buildings) are essentially the same, especially downtown,” Collins said. “One of the things you have is changes in style with facades.”

The tour will continue south down Fourth Street where Collins will focus on the city’s original post office at the southwest corner of Fourth and Houston streets, and the Marshall building.

The post office was one of the few buildings in the area that was built with brick. Collins believes that’s because the post office was a federal building built from a standardized plan and also because the government was able to afford bricks. However, most of Manhattan’s early buildings were made with limestone.

“You had limestone readily available, and you didn’t have to pay so much shipping for it,” Collins said. “And we had skilled stone masons.”

The Marshall building, on the northeast corner of Fourth and Houston streets, formerly held the Marshall Theater, which Collins said was a very “up-to-date” theater at the time, seating about 1,000 people. 

The tour will continue onto Third Street and up Poyntz. Collins will note how First National Bank, now Landmark Bank, was originally at the corner of Third and Poyntz but gradually kept moving locations to the west. The first relocation moved it one street over to Fourth and Poyntz. It moved there because it was the crossroads of the city’s trolley cars and, therefore, one of the city’s busiest intersections.

“It became the main business corner,” Collins said. 

She added that it is apparent which buildings used to be banks because of the marble used in their facades. But details from the past can also be found on the ground. Tile inlaying in the entrances of buildings on the north side of Poyntz mark where the old Woolworth’s and Spot Cash retail businesses once stood.

The tour will end at the Armed Forces Memorial outside of the Courthouse. Overall, Collins anticipates the tour will take an hour depending on the size of the group and the number of questions.

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