In front of the Old Municipal building is a deteriorated collection of locally produced tributes. The largest is 1972 tribute for the centennial of Dodge City's founding. This includes a plate memorial for George M. Hoover--the first and longtime wealthy businessman in town, the one who hired Wyatte Earp, and contributed the 1919 Hoover Pavilion that is located in the City Park. Also nearby is a plaster cowboy statue (1927) that is the work of pioneer dentist O.H. Simpson, who used cowboy and marshall, Joe Sughrue as model for the mold, just 2 years before the rebuild of the municipal building. There's also a dried up fountain and bronze cast bell (1939) in honor of longtime Marshall H. B. Bell. Finally, there is yet another tribute by O. H. Simpson, this time to the 7 million longhorn that were herded through Dodge City between 1870 and 1880, this time though also as a yoked beast of burden for settlers in the area.
The old municipal building is worth a visit, if for nothing else it's good hillside view of the old downtown and gospel hill. The original police building was nearly destroyed during an apparently low budget 1929 rebuild of the municipal building, but a distinctive buffalo entrance remains from the original 1880 structure. In front are various tributes to the cowboy and cattle drive days, mostly in a state of poor repair. See next tip for more details on this.
At the corner of Central and Cedar Ave. is a home that is historical for the family that lived there from 1915 to 1978. P. H. Sughrue was a cousin of early Dodge City lawmen of the same name. The home is not available for viewing, but note the decorative ironwork that surrounds the front garden of this home, and the similar less well preserved neighboring house.
Fellow VT member writes more detail about this outstanding locally quarried yellow sandstone building, located on the corner of Vine Street and Avenue A, that was once a residence. It was constructed between 1879 to 1881 and appears to be the oldest residence in town.
Founded two years after the Presbyterian congregation, in 1882, the current Sacred Heart Cathedral is actually older than the protestant church building by 9 years. Both churches are on Central Avenue. The Spanish Mission architecture includes a stone surround on the front doorway, stained glass windows, and a large altar mural.
The most impressive church architecture on Gospel Hill would have to be the First Presbyterian Church (1925). Located on a spot where early wooden churches look down upon the debauchery of Front Street saloons, the congregation roots (1880) served as an important milestone toward more civilized Dodge City. The church has stained glass windows and interior woodwork, in addition to the outstanding stone exterior and red tile roof.
Clearly the oldest church in town is that of St. Cornelius (1898), which has retained a sanctuary of original native stone, but has considerable additions further uphill. The building appears rather odd and modest architecturally for a church building, as it was actually built as part of a commercial ice house owned by Henry Sturm. Sturm demolished the ice house and donated the stone building to the church. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is often open for viewing.
The central portion of downtown remains paved in 16 miles of quaint brick, although there were some residents I talked to who argued that the old cracked up brick of downtown ought better be removed and replaced with fresh asphalt. The intersections have an interwoven pattern to prevent being dislodged by heavy vehicles turning corners. The brick buildings of downtown Dodge City are significant but meager inventory of most early 20th century construction. There's a theatre and most importantly, the Carnegie Library building. Also, the tallest building in town, the (1930) Bank of America which has a western mural with a stagecoach painted by local artist, Stan Herd. The Gunsmoke Trail of Fame wanders through this part of town.
The original building in Dodge City was built of earthen sod in 1871, and then locally quarried yellow sandstone, but the days of fame in Dodge City brought imported wood on the railroad to build the saloons and houses. Not surprisingly wooden Dodge City suffered three terrific fires--all in 1885. The first started in a grocery store and burned down nearly an entire block of Front Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. The second claimed the block of Front between 1st and 2nd Avenues, and the third claimed the northside block of Gunsmoke, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. During the 1880's to early 20th century, most of these blocks were virtually all constructed of brick, and in 1970, the last of the old downtown was bulldozed in an "urban renewal" project. In an effort to rediscover the romance of the original downtown, a facsimile was built on Boothill, and a museum was added. I didn't want to pay to walk along a synthetic boardwalk, having walked along many authentic ones in California, nor did I care to pay the museum entrance fee to browse scavenged artifacts from the old west. So these image will have to do. In the parking lot is an early locomotive of interest.
Gunsmoke was first a radio series that ran from 1952 until 1961, and then a television series that ran from 1955 until 1975. It remains one of the longest running television series of all time, a tribute to the lasting power of the western as a genre. The show is loosely based upon the setting and characters of 1870's Dodge City. So, not surprisingly, the town pays tribute to such attention in its walk of fame, mostly along Front and Gunsmoke streets within the old downtown. The actors and characters of Gunsmoke fame are memorialized by large bronze medallions, about the size of manhole covers, paved into the sidewalk along the streets of Gunsmoke and Front.
The Dodge City Trail of Fame was inaugurated during the 2003 Kansas Cowboy Symposium, with the help of Gunsmoke TV actor and Hollywood cowboy Dennis Weaver. Dennis Weaver was himself honored with a Trail of Fame medallion dedicated during the ceremony, but the real attention was devoted to the 8 foot tall statue of Wyatt Earp, erected in 2004, which is located across from the Santa Fe Depot on Wyatt Earp Boulevard. The bronze was cast by famous western artist Mary Spurgeon, and provides a starting point for the historical walk of downtown Dodge City.
Wyatt Earp is as much a legend as real man, having been recruited from duty as an officer in Wichita, to become a relatively high paid Marshall of a cowboy town with an out of control murder rate. There are many histories for Dodge City, and other similar Kansas towns, such as Hays that also have mass buried cemeteries locally known as "Boot Hill", because the deceased died in the prime of their life with their boots on. Basically though, there arose across a short period of time, between 1875 and 1885, a transition toward settlement on the western Kansas prairie, the quick extermination by hunting of the wild buffalo followed by the unfenced, unregulated herding of sturdy long horn cattle toward the slaughterhouses in Kansas City, that in turn grew as a railroad center for markets in New York and Europe. The consequence of unregulated commercial towns outside the domaine of military forts was a routine and continual feuding among the cowboys, railroad workers, drifters, and gamblers attracted to the town. Wyatt Earp and others were hired to bring law into these towns, and the force of the personality, as well as their weapons, remains a winning formula for Hollywood film and television productions.
After Dodge City, Wyatt Earp moved to Tombstone, where he became famous for participating at the shooting at the OK corral, and then later he moved to San Diego, CA, Nome, AK, Tonopah, NV, and finally back to the Mojave Desert, each time following an effort to find fortune where mining and gambling were involved.
The popularity of Wyatt Earp, Doc Halliday, and others has its origins in early 20th century pulp fiction produced by authors who often interviewed these men before they died. Later, these works provided the basis for Hollywood Westerns, such as Gunsmoke. However, with this popular legend came distortions of the realities faced by these lawmen and the criminals they faced, particularly with respect to ability to handle a gun and even what type of gun they carried.
Do not waste your time in going in to the facility. It is small and quite common. They do have a Lama, a tiger, and a longhorn steer. A local guy who was raised here said you need to see Elvira, the old lion. Well I think he was sleeping inside, like the other animals. Only 1-2 were outside. The zoo is SMALL, and in a little park surrounding it to the south of downtown two blocks.
This is the one, and maybe only real decent attraction in the town. It has a string of replicated store fronts form the 1880-90's era. Inside of the buildings is a museum that goes the length, as well as Boot Hill Cemetery (removed from original spot) on the hill and a jail. The whole area was conceptualized in 1975 and the current day presentation is very nice of the times of the old west. The jail from 1865 circa was moved here in the 1980's from Fort Dodge, 5 miles to the east, and the cemetery is right above it. The house at the end is from 1879 and in its original condition totally unchanged to include the interior and the every day items of a home life. The school is from 1915 and inside is a one room open area for teaching. They have an old map chart that probably is form early 1930-40's still on the wall. Also in that area is a nice depiction of the Indian strife over these years, to no avail. the treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867 was to supposedly solve the problems. That did not happen, and then more treaties created, but the main demise was US killing of the buffalo herds; starving the Indians.
The cemetery held only 50 or so graves. In the first year of settling the town in 1871-72, 30 of 500 residents got killed in one way or another. It really was the wild west. The cemetery closed in 1878, after only 6 years in use. This is the relocated site from one about 100 yards behind the site on the real Boot Hill. A commemoration behind this museum is about the first dedication to the cemetery and locals that became famous.
Besides the other 2,000+ libraries he helped fund and subsidize, this is one here. It now is an administrative facility and art exhibits. Open Tues-Fri 12-5 and Sat 11-3. The outside looked very nice and preserved. The inside was not as interesting or attractive. It was constructed around 1905 with a donation from Carnegie of $8,500. The outside is still the original red brick, but the inside is now an active office facility used for daily city business, even though some of the interior has old style wallcovering and dark stained wood supports.
There are some quite magnificent churches on the east side of town for all denominations. The area is called Gospel Hill Churches. These churches are from the late 1800, with Sacred Heart being 1897. I talked to the priest of the Catholic church and he says they have about 20,000 members, mostly active also. Religion has not died out here, and it was those members that helped tame the town from its rough and raging life. They also tried to stop the drinking and saloons, and keep out guns.