The Dark Period – The Gold Room 1872

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

For Part 1 –The Dark Period – the Spivey Ticket

The Dark Period – The Gold Room 1872

Shortly before the August 1871 election, James Gregory, leader of the Gold Room faction, left the compromise ticket and headed his own ticket. Although the compromise also known as the “Spivey Ticket” carried by a strong majority and won the election, the Gold Room faction was not ready to give up. Throughout the fall of 1871, they continued to oppose the businessmen’s faction through intimidation and interference, making enforcement of any ordinances passed by the City Council difficult if not impossible.

The Gold Room Faction

The Gold Room Faction had several factors in their favor.

Many of the earliest businesses to open in what would become Newton were saloons. A reporter for the Wichita Tribune (24 August 1871) observed just a few days before the Aug 26 election that Newton had ten bawdy houses “in full running order and three more underway.  Plenty of rotten whiskey and everything to excite the passions was freely indulged in . . . Rogues, gamblers, and lewd men and women run the town.”

The cowboy businesses were not only operating in Hide Park, but also on the north side of the tracks as well.

Henry Lovett opened the first saloon in the spring of 1871 at the northwest corner of 4th & Main. Another saloon known as the O.K. Saloon was located on 5th Street with two additional “houses” located east of the OK. One writer claimed that every third building in Newton was a saloon. The Gold Room, owned by Isaac Thayer, was located between 5th & 6th on Main and was considered the “grandest.”

Perhaps the most influential businessman of the group of saloon owners and gamblers was James Gregory.

James Gregory

Gregory came to Newton in the summer of 1871 and entered a partnership with J. B. Means which lasted until November 1872 (Newton Kansan, 7 November 1872).  From 1871 to 1873, Gregory was the primary wholesale dealer for liquor in Newton.

Newton Kansan, 26 September 1872

In 1871, Gregory emerged as a leader of the Gold Room faction, opposing those that wanted a more civilized Newton. He broke away from the compromise or “Spivey” ticket to head his own for the first election inn August 1871.  Even though he lost, he was not deterred. Throughout the remainder of 1871 and 1872, the two groups struggled over the  fate of Newton’s future.

“Thieves and Roughs:” Fall 1872

Following the August 20 shooting in Hide Park, the violence continued throughout the fall of 1871 and those from the Gold Room faction seemed to stand in the way of effective law enforcement.  In September, the shooting death of  Deputy Carlos B. King again put Newton in the spotlight.

In another incident, several Texas cowboys were shooting randomly in front of the American House. Night policeman, Charles Bowman, attempted to disarm them. During this attempt another man, Tom Hicks, shot  Officer Bowman through the hip, and another Texas cowboy shot the officer a second time. An off duty police officer was standing nearby watching, but he  refused to provide aid.

An additional act of defiance occurred  that evening when a mob of approximately thirty well armed “thieves and roughs of Newton” crowded Main street to intimidate the civil authorities.  Although Hicks  initially escaped, he was later arrested and brought to trial in Wichita. Even though the shooting occurred in front of several eye witnesses, no one would testify and he was released for lack of evidence.

First City Council (April 1872-April 1873)

On February 22, 1872 Newton was granted third class city status. An election for city officials was scheduled for April 22.  James Gregory won the election with 131 of the 215 votes cast for mayor, becoming the city of Newton’s first mayor.

At the  first city council meeting several ordinances were passed aimed at curbing the violence in Newton. Most of the early ordinances addressed vagrancy, gambling, and disturbing the peace. Others restricted houses of prostitution to south of the Santa Fe tracks.  Another ordinance prohibited  carrying concealed weapons, only police officers were allowed to carry a firearm. Still another required all businesses to close on Sundays.

The early council also used their position to further their own businesses.

Ordinance 5, section 1 stated;

any person who shall keep a billiard saloon, ball alley, or dram shop with or without charge or shall directly or indirectly sell, or dispose of any spirituous, vinous, fermented, or other intoxicating liquors in any quantity less than a gallon . . .” without a license was subject to a fine.

Of course as Newton’s  only wholesale liquor wholesaler, Gregory’s, was the one business exempt from the license tax requirement.  (Ordinances, Ord. no. 5, p. 46.)

Throughout this period, police officers worked to enforce these rules and arrests were made, however the police judge, with the support of the mayor, did little to impose fines or jail time. The police judge, who was often drunk, also frequently failed to turn the fines collected to the City. Record keeping was also shoddy or nonexistent.

“Cutting the Throat of our Own Town”

In another instance of Gregory’s lack of care and foresight, a citizen wrote a letter to the Newton Kansan describing an incident that happened right outside of  Gregory’s front door.

The citizen described the incident  as “another of those police farces  conducted by and before the officials of the city . . .which every good citizen should be ashamed and such proceedings cannot fail to injure any town however bright its prospects.”

A young man from McPherson county had come to Newton to do business. By the time he had concluded his errands, it was sleeting and his horse became unmanageable and ran on the sidewalk and broke a wooden plank in front of Gregory’s store. The young man was immediately arrested, taken to police court and fined. The writer concluded that this young man, like several others, would now take his business elsewhere.  “We can hardly believe that our council and mayor realize what they are doing and how they are cutting the throat of our own town by such proceedings.” (Newton Kansan, 2 Jan. 1873)

Newton’s first city council was largely ineffective with a focus on holding on to the transient trade as long as possible. Commitment was lacking. Isaac Thayer, council member and owner of the Gold Room Saloon, only attended one meeting in August 1872. During the first three months of 1873, the city council was inactive and no  meetings were held in January or February. Record keeping was scattered or abandoned all together. As a result, large sums of money went unaccounted for and ordinances were ignored.

The Newton Kansan editor summed up Newton’s city council and law enforcement that first year.

In times past and even recently, all that has been necessary for the biggest loafer in christendom to do . . . was simply to get drunk and then treat the crowd. If someone happens to be arrested he is given a school-boy trial; marched to the calaboose, left until sober, and then let out, the expenses charged to the city. The city council might pass ordinances till doomsday under such officials, and to no effect. (Newton Kansan, 14 Nov. 1872)

Shattering the Power of the Gold Room

Elections were held on April 1, 1873 and it was clear the time of the  cowboys, saloon owners and gamblers was ending. H.C. McQuiddy, a businessman selling farm supplies was elected mayor overwhelming over E. Chamberlain, a member from the 1872 council and saloon owner. Only one man remained from the original council, David Hamill. Hamill also ran a business which served the agricultural community. The 1873 council immediately got to work  appointing a new city marshal and reviewing fines on the “vices.”

They also targeted saloons and liquor sales.

After reviewing Gregory’s ordinance no. 5, a new ordinance was passed which stated, “a petition signed by a majority of the residents of said City over the age of 21 years both male and female, which said petition must state that the applicant is a person of good moral character and a suitable person to sell intoxicating liquors . . “ A two thousand dollar bond needed to accompany the petition before the council would consider it. If approved the license was granted for one year and the applicant had to pay three hundred and fifty dollars.

The application from Harry Lovett, owner of the first saloon in Newton, the Side Track Saloon, was rejected.  In 1873, only six saloons were licensed.

The End of the Gold Room Saloon

By the summer of 1873, Gregory saw the writing on the wall and moved his business to Grenada, Ks, where he established a new wholesale business. In August, James Gregory, along with his wife, said goodbye to Newton for good.  The August 7 notice in the Newton Kansan reported that Mr. G.S. Bradley purchased the Gregory home in Newton. By December 1873, a new business featuring fancy notions and millinery, opened in the building in the 500 block of Main. Tragedy quickly befell the new business venture. After beginning as one of the ‘grandest’ saloons in Newton and a hub for early politics, the notorious Gold Room Saloon building burned to the ground in an overnight fire on Dec 8, 1873 (Wichita Eagle Dec 11, 1873).

In 1871-72, the Gold Room was the social center of Newton. The saloon owners had contact with every man in the city, and their influence was felt.  By the 1873 elections, there were other places to gather. Judge Muse remodeled the Delmonico Saloon into the Delmonico Dance Hall. The Delmonico became a place to gather, to enjoy traveling troupes and hold public balls.  Schools and churches were established, along with literary clubs and a small library.

The focus of Newton was shifting.


  • Daily Commonwealth: Oct 11, 1871
  • Newton Kansan: July 3, 1873
  • City Ordinance No 49
  • Muse, Judge RWP. “The History of Harvey County 1871-1881.”
  • Waltner, John. “The Process of Civilization on the Kansas Frontier, Newton, Kansas, 1871-1873” M.A. Thesis, Department of History, University of Kansas, May 1971.
  • First Mayor Evening Kansan Republican Feb 24, 1913, Aug 22, 1922.

“With a Rush and Roar:” Newton Water Tower

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

One postcard in our collection has the dramatic image of a large metal drum teetering on the edge of a stone tower – the notation “The Fall of the Old Water Tower, Newton, Kans.” 

An amazing photograph, capturing a moment in time, with a long story behind it.

Postcard, demolition of water tower at E. 12th & Walnut, Newton, Ks May 1907.

Postcard, demolition of water tower at E. 12th & Walnut, Newton, Ks May 1907.

“With rush and roar:” May 25, 1907

The demolition of the old water tower at 12th &  Walnut, Newton, was a long time coming and became a necessity at 4:00 o’clock in the morning of Saturday, May 25, 1907.

Evening Kansan Republican, 25 May 1907 p. 1.

Evening Kansan Republican, 25 May 1907 p. 1.

The Evening Kansan Republican reported that

“with rush and roar . . . a big wave of water swept down the valley to the north, scattering stones, sheets of steel, and iron trusses across the valley  clear to the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks.”

The farm of Silas Frame “a colored man, who lives in the Ensign house, a few rods northwest of the water tower” sustained the most damage.  “The trees in Mr Frame’s young orchard were pulled out by the roots and carried along by the water.”  Other damage included snapped telephone poles, damage to the hedge row  and a corn field.

If the pipe had broken on the south side, there would have been a great deal more damage to property.

“Last night’s accident has brought the matter to a crisis.”

The Evening Kansan Republican reporter noted that

“The stone foundation of the tower had been in shaky condition for some time.  The city authorities had been aware of this condition for months, but there had been some uncertainty as to the best course to pursue.  Some favored repairing the tower; others a complete new tower.  Last night’s accident has brought the matter to a crisis and makes anything but a new tower entirely out of the question.” 


Water Tower damage, May 1907.

Water Tower damage, May 1907.

“The water tower is in a rather precarious condition: 1901-1906”

Discussion of what to do with the water tower at 12th and Walnut was not new.  The city of Newton purchased the tower and equipment from the Water Works Co. for $75,000 in April 1895.

In February 1896, repairs took place on both the stone base and the steel pipe water tower.

“The water committee was instructed to have the water tower thoroughly repaired at as small expense as possible.”

By April 1901, it was noted that “the water tower is in a rather precarious condition and its future existence is a matter of some uncertainty.”

The problem remained in 1905.

Evening Kansan Republican, 9 June 1905, p. 1.

Evening Kansan Republican, 9 June 1905, p. 1.

“People living near . . . are hoping that this action will be taken speedily.”

In an article in July 1906, it was reported that the northwest corner of the base was “crumbling rapidly . .. and even from Main street it can be seen that a large portion of the wall is gone.”

Evening Kansan Republican, 28 July 1906, p. 1.

Evening Kansan Republican, 28 July 1906, p. 1.

The same article reported that the “council has given some thought to the matter lately and a committee was appointed . . . to investigate and report as to the best action.”  The reporter noted that “the people living near the tower are hoping that this action will be taken speedily.”

Removing the Water Tower: May 1907

Nearly a year later, the decision was made when the rock base of the tower collapsed on one side early in the morning of May 25, 1907.

Shortly after the collapse, the Council voted to “have the water tower removed.”

Viewing the damage of the water tower at 12th & Walnut, May 1907.

Viewing the damage of the water tower at 12th & Walnut, May 1907.

On May 30, 1907, with “about half the town’s population there to witness,” the water tower came “tumbling down” at 3:30 in the afternoon. Local businessman, D.S. Welsh and his crew pulled the structure down on their third attempt.

Demolition of water tower at 12th & Walnut, Newton, Ks May 1907.

Demolition of water tower at 12th & Walnut, Newton, Ks May 1907.

“A man climbed to the top of the tower and put a pulley there by which the steel cable was pulled to the top and there attached so that the pull would be on the top. . . the big steel tower fell slowly to the north striking the ground with a terrific roar and being obscured for several moments by a big cloud of dust.”

Demolition of Water Tower at 12th & Walnut, Newton, Ks, May 1907.

Demolition of Water Tower at 12th & Walnut, Newton, Ks, May 1907.

“Purest water in the State”

The City Council then turn their attention to a new water tower.

Postcard, New Steel Water Tower, 12th & Walnut, Newton, Ks, 1907

Postcard, New Steel Water Tower, 12th & Walnut, Newton, Ks, 1908-1909

A new steel water tower, 120 ft high with a capacity of 675,000 gallons of water was installed at the 12th & Walnut location. The water was “99.6 pure” and promoted as the “purest water in the State.”

New Water Tower, 12th & Main, Newton, Ks 1907-08.

New Water Tower, 12th & Walnut, Newton, Ks 1907-08.

The Council also had to address the issue of damages.  Silas Frame’s orchard sustained the most the most damage.  At the June 1907 meeting, he presented a bill for $400 damages to his young trees.  He noted that “the orchard was damaged to that extent when the water and rocks rushed over it.” At the October 1907 meeting, it was reported that the matter was “settled with Mr. Frame for $250 . . . for the damages.”


  • Newton Daily Republican: 9 September 1892,  26 April 1893, 11 May 1893, 12 May 1893, 17 April 1895, 7 February 1896,  20 February 1896.
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 24 May 1900, 6 April 1901, 8 April 1904, 9 June 1905,  28 October 1905, 28 July 1908, 25 May 1907, 26 May 1907, 30 May 1907, 7 June 1907, 4 October 1907, 15 May 1908, 3 March 1922,