A Progressive Kansan: James M. Gross

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

The 1880s in Newton were filled with optimism and incredible growth. Main street was filling in with buildings and new businesses.  Businessmen were busy with real estate and building a modern progressive city. They were eager to push away the reputation of the 1870s and “Bloody Newton” and replace it with “Progress and Prosperity.”

Perhaps this thriving community was what drew thirty-one year old James M. Gross and his wife, Frances,  to Newton in approximately 1884* to establish a barber shop.  No doubt James and Frances were also looking for a good place to raise a family. The couple’s first child, Carl J., was born on October 7, 1885 in Newton. By 1888, James had joined his brother, George, in the barber shop business.  Throughout the next thirty-three years both James and Frances  were active leaders in Newton’s “colored” community.

Arcade Depot and Hotel at Fourth and Main, Newton, Kansas, ca. 1900.

James & Frances Gross

James was born on December 25, 1866 near Lexington, Mo. In 1883, he moved from Missouri to Ottawa, Kansas where he learned the barber’s trade. Perhaps to apprentice, he spent a year with Dan Lucas of Kansas City. Once in Newton he worked with his brother for a number of years. By 1900, he was the sole propietor of the barber shop and the Evening Kansan Republican noted, “he has made his business a financial success.” and is known as a “progressive Kansan.”

The Topeka Plaindealer, 13 December 1912.

James M. and Frances Gross were married 12 June 1894 in Buchanan, Missouri.** Frances also known as Fannie was born in 1863 in Christian, Kentucky, to Loyd and Melonia Clements. Frances was previously married to a man named Ben Morrow.

Arcade Barber Shop

In Newton, James opened his own barber shop in the newly rebuilt Arcade/Santa Fe Depot building in May 1900.

Arcade Hotel & Santa Fe Depot, 1905.

Evening Kansan Republican, 15 May 1900

Always looking for ways to impove his services, in the spring of 1901, Gross annouced that he had “added an adjustable chair for children to his barber shop.”  At the state level he had the respect of both Black and white barbers. Gross was a charter member of the Kansas State Barber’s association No. 6 of Newton. The organization had a membership  of twenty, seventeen of whom were white. He was elected treasurer and later,  secretary for the organization.

Both the Evening Kansan Republican and the Topeka Plaindealer agreed;  James “conducted the leading tonsorial parlors of the city . . . he is held in the highest estem by the businessmen of his town.”

“One of the Leads in Society”

Both James and Frances were active members in the Black community, locally and at the state level. James was a writer for the Topeka Plaindealer, a newspaper run for and by the Black communities in Kansas and printed in Topeka.

Locally, he was active in the local Fred Douglas literary society, serving as president in 1900. The group of men met to discuss various issues of concern or interest to them.  At their December 1900 meeting, papers were read and then a discussion was held on the topic, “That the Negro has a better right to this country than the Indian.” 

Frances was described  as “his cultured wife . . . one of the leads in society and church circles”  with her “winning way and sweet disposition.”  She also was involved  in several local women’s group including  N.U.G, which seemed to function much like the all white Ladies Reading Circle, Unic Octon Club,  and the Colored O.E.S. Almond Chapter 27  where she served as Worthy Matron in 1920-21.***

Both James and Frances were heavily involved in their church. At a benefit in 1902, James “made a fine Uncle Rufus or ‘Ole Man’.” A short time later, the paper reports that James’ performance of  I’ve a Longing in My Heart for You  “brought the house down.” He also served as  Sabbath Superintendent for the A.M.E. Church.

Frances apparently also had a mind for business and the Topeka Plaindealer, May 1901,  noted she was James’ “peer as a financier and manager in church work. If lawful I would have her for a steward instead of a stewardess.”

The Topeka Plaindealer, 22 May 1901.

“A Delightful Lawn Party”

The couple frequently entertained in their home. In April 1900, they held a welcome to Newton party for Frances’ younger brother, Jesse, which included games, music and “a fine supper.”

Evening Kansan Republican, 28 April 1900.

Later that same year, they hosted  “a delightful lawn party” for their out-of-town guests, P.J. Morrow and his wife, at their home on east 4th. “Excellent music was furnished by Messrs. Hamilton and Robinson of Wichita and it was of a very high order.” Morrow was likely a relative of Frances’ first husband, Ben Morrow.

“Most Prominent Colored Citizen”

In 1909, James sold the Arcade barber shop to G.A. Tong. In the announcement to the paper,  he noted he plans to remain in Newton, but wanted to make a trip to the Pacific coast.  In July 1909, he accepted a position as a Pullman porter. His “run” was between Newton and Amarillo.

James and Frances were living at 511 east 8th with their son, Carl and his wife Canilla Gross in 1918.

Newton City Directory, 1918-1919.

One year later the Evening Kansan Republican on May 16, 1919 carried the sad announcment that at 3:30 in the afternoon James Gross, “one of the most prominent colored citizen of Newton” had died from stomach cancer.

He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Ks.

Describing James M. Gross, the Topeka Plaindealer noted; “He was well respected by all who know him as a man devoted to his family and race.”


*Gross’ Obituary gives the date 1897 for his arrival in Newton. This is likely an error in printing, as census and newspapers have the family in Newton Ks by 1885 when Carl was born.

**Frances Clements Morrow Gross was previously married to a man named Ben Morrow. Some of his children also came to Newton at the turn of the century.

***In 1925-26 Carl J. Gross family moved to California and established a life there. There is no mention of Frances in the Newton papers after 1921. The location of her burial has also not yet been discovered.


  • Evening Kansan Republican:  1 May 1899, 12 Jan 1900, 15 May 1900, 25, 12 Dec. 1900, 29 April 1901, 9 Jan 1902,  4 Mar 1902, 8 April 1902, 17 May 1902, 23 July 1902,  1 September 1902, 18 Aug 1903,  26 Aug 1903,  29 Aug 1903, 18 Aug 1905, 25 May 1909, 30 July 1909,  16 May 1919, 5 Feb. 1920, 29 June 1921,  29 Dec 1921.
  • Newton Journal: 23 May 1919.
  • The Topeka Plaindealer: 1 June 1900, 2 Dec 1900,  1 Mar 1903, 13 Nov 1903, 29 July 1904, 2 Oct 1904, 3 Oct 1904,  2 Dec 1911, 2 Feb 1912, 9 Feb 1912 13 December 1912, 3 March 1916, 4 April 1919,  16 May 1919, 30 May 1919, 31 Oct 1919.
  • U.S. Census: 1870, 1900, 1910, 1930, 1940.
  • Kansas Census: 1915
  • Marriage Certificate for James M. Gross and Fannie B. Morrow, 12 June 1894, Missouri, County Marriage, Naturalization, and Courthouse Records, 1800-1991.

Peter Pan Ice Cream In Newton

Originally posted on HCHM’s previous blog site on Thursday, August 30, 2012. Link below.

The Peter Pan Ice Cream Store

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
Recently, we posted a photograph on facebook of a Newton Peter Pan Ice Cream Store.  The questions and memories that resulted encouraged us to look into this Harvey County business. One goal was to see where these stores were actually located and how many were there?
Peter Pan located at 1326 N.Main
(corner of 13th & Main), Newton
ca. 1969-1977
Our photo technician, Linda Koppes, searched our photo archives for any photo related to Peter Pan Ice Cream and then she scoured the City Directories for locations and dates. I did a bit of background research into the business and discovered that a popular business today has a direct connection to the Peter Pan Stores of the 1960s and 70s.
100 Block North Main, Newton, August 1968
The Hotel Meridian (two story brick building in the photo) was located at 123 N. Main and housed a Peter Pan Ice Cream Store on the street level from approximately 1956 to 1966.  Other businesses from south to north included the Gail Ward Used Car lot (117); Russell’s Furniture (121); Peter Pan Ice Cream Store (123); Meridian Hotel (123 1/2); Miller’s Sinclair Service Station (127).  Signs for the Meridian Hotel and Coca Cola are visible on the north wall of the building.  These buildings were town down in approximately 1970.
From 1973 to 1979 a Peter Pan Ice Cream Store was located at 127 N. Main.  In 1980, it became the Pancake Hut and then in 1984 the Dairy Queen.  The Dairy Queen was torn down in August 2012.
In addition, there was a store located in the Pop Shoppe at 104 W. 1st.
104 W. 1st
Peter Pan Ice Cream Store
ca. 1967-1971

Peter Pan Ice Cream Stores were a Kansas creation.  In 1933, Henry H. Braum started a small butter processing plant in a converted house in Emporia,KS.  Gradually, this business grew. In 1952, Bill, a son, developed a chain of retail ice cream stores in Kansas named Peter Pan.

In 1967, the 61 Peter Pan Ice Cream Stores were sold to a large wholesaler.  The sale did not include the Braum Dairy or processing plant.  As a condition of the sale, the Braums were not allowed to sell ice cream in Kansas for 10 years. Bill moved the business to Oklahoma City, OK and in 1968 opened the first Braum’s Ice Cream & Dairy Store.  Today the Braum family owns and operates nearly 300 stores located in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri and Arkansas including one here in Newton.

Where did the name Peter Pan come from?
Braum got the name ‘Peter Pan’ after the Emporia Park.

Postcard of Peter Pan Park, Emporia
How the park got it’s name is also interesting.  Mary White, the young daughter of Emporia’s William Allen White died of injuries sustained while horse-back riding.  White writes an editorial about her life and funeral.  In the article, White refers to his daughter as a “Peter Pan”, a girl who did not want to grow up. The article was widely published.  Contributions were given to the White family in Mary’s honor.  The Whites decide to use the money to build a park in Emporia.  The Park was named the Peter Pan Park after the young, energetic Mary White.
You can read the story of Mary White in a book written by museum volunteer and former board member, Bev Buller.

A Brave Spirit: Mary C. Hildreth

Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Originally posted  on Thursday, October 4, 2012 on HCHM’s previous blog site.

When I was working on the exhibit Up the Beaten Path: Following the Chisholm Trail I ran across a short remembrance of the cattle trade in Harvey County that became one of my favorite stories.

Cornie R. (Royston) Reese (Mrs. John C.) recorded a brief story she had been told when she was a young girl growing up in Harvey County.

“The cow boys used to drive the cattle to Newton and let them browse along Sand Creek  while they would go to the gambling houses and saloons.  Mrs.O.B. Hildreth lived upon the hill over looking the cattle crossing of Sand Creek.  She said those roving cattle would devour her garden.  So, one day, she went out on her porch and yelled as loud as she could waving a red table cloth – she stampeded the herd and they ended up in Abilene.”


Mrs. Hildreth had spunk! I wondered what else I could find out about her.

“She came . . . with her baby . . in her arms.”

In the spring of 1870, twenty-seven year old O. B. Hildreth, a Civil War veteran, arrived in Kansas.  He located on a quarter section of land in Darlington township.  A year later, he sent for his wife, Mary.  According to Mary’s obituary, “she came to Newton in April 1871 with her baby Harriet in her arms, to meet her soldier husband.”  Just getting to her new home was an adventure.  The Santa Fe Railroad had not yet completed the line to Newton, so Hildreth met his wife at Cottonwood Falls, “and they came the rest of the way in the covered wagon, camping over night at Peabody.” 

The Hildreth family settled on the claim near Sand Creek (today 400 W 10th). During these early years, Mary “tasted of the loneliness of the pioneer woman to the depths.”   She had her second child, John, in 1873.  O.B. was  busy with the farm and breeding horses.  He was also engaged in the lumber business and laid out additions to the city of Newton.  His 1892 obituary noted that “the evidences of his progressiveness are to be found on every hand.”

Mary C. Hildreth, 1880
In the early years, Mary was busy with family. From the 1880 census, it appears that in addition to the two children, O.B.’s parents also lived with them, as well as two boarders.   In 1892, O.B. died at the age of 49.
10th Street Bridge over Sand Creek, Newton
Postcard, black & white, ca. 1908
Produced by Western Book & Publishing Co., Newton
Postcards of the 10th Street Bridge located near the Hildreth home.
10th Street Bridge, Newton
Postcard, color tinted, ca. 1910
Produced by Western Book & Publishing Co., Newton
10th Street Bridge, Newton
Postcard,  color tinted, 1910

“A Brave Spirit”

Mary was described as “a brave spirit, carrying on thru adversity, courageously and cheerfully, ever being an inspiration to the younger generation.” She was a leader in the community.  The first township election was held at their home and Mary made the ballot box.  As the community grew, Mary was involved in many activities.  “It was in the hospitable home on West Tenth street that many of the finer and better things for the community had their birth and their encouragement” including the organization of Newton’s Free Library and the Newton Flower & Garden Club.  She was a charter member of the Ladies Reading Circle established in 1880.

Ladies Reading Circle, 1880
Charter Members
Seated:  Margaret McKee, Emeline Ashbaugh, Laura Tripp, Louisa Lehaman, Mary Hildreth, Lovina Gilbert
Standing: Mary Cutler, Eva Patterson, Mary McKee, Mary Lynch, Kittie Goss, May Tarrance

The Last Charter Member

In May 1930, Mary was the last original member of the Ladies Reading Circle.  The group honored her at their 50th Annual Meeting.  During the presentation of Mary Hildreth’s portrait, Mrs. Oscar Nelson, President of the Ladies Reading Circle, noted;
“For fifty golden years, she served,
In springtime and in bleak December,
A golden crown of love unswerved,
Shall deck our only chartered member.”
O.B. & Mary Hildreth Home
Constructed in 1878
400 W. 10th, Newton
Photo taken 1990
Mary C. Hildreth died October 28, 1930 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Kansas.


The Kansan, 8 Dec. 1892; Evening Kansan-Republican, 9 May 1930; Evening Kansan-Republican, 28 October 1930; 1880 Census; Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives Photo Archives; Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives Vertical File.

  1. This is a wonderful Story. What a heritage we have of strong, educated and serving women who lived to build a better world, one town at a time. This spirit reminds me of several women who touched our lives growing up in Newton. Mrs Hassenbank at McKinnley Grade School , Mrs Erma Stewart(Mrs Birch), and Mrs Walter Biersbough To name some is to dimminish the work of so many. But it is with a greatful heart we remember Newton and her people.