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Letters, Memoirs & Family Stories
of our
Kansas Ancestors

As told in their own words

Shawnee County


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The following Family Story was provided by Martha Schneck, 27 November 1999.  This was written for her by her Grandmother, Edith (Foss) Mohney in 1972 when asked what it was like growing up in Kansas.. 

Early Oakland
By Edith Foss Mohney (b: 1890 d: 1984)


In 1891 my grandparents purchased the home where I have lived most of my life – 834 Wabash.  It is one of the older houses in Oakland. 

        Where the Oakland Park is located, stood a marvelous old farm house that belonged to Chet Thomas, one of the early settlers of Oakland.  It was probably the ranch house when most of Oakland was his farm before it was laid out for building lots.  It was torn down in 1936 to make the Oakland Park.  As far back as I can remember this place was owned and occupied by a family by the name of Moore.  I never knew Mr. Moore, but I remember Mrs. Moore well.  On the southeast corner of this place stood a small square building which was the real estate office of Parker Moore, a son.  It was later torn down.  It was in this yard, under a big tree, that the Oakland United Methodist Church was organized in 1887.  They had fourteen charter members.  This was four years before my grandparents purchased their home. 
        Oakland had a Mayor, Councilmen, and a Justice of the Peace.  Mr. Brigham was the first mayor and Mrs. Don Coffman was the last.  Uncle Ben Williams was the Justice of the Peace.  Everyone called him Uncle Ben.  Uncle Ben lived in the big house on the corner of Forest and Thomas.  The City Council met in a wooden building located on the southwest corner of his yard, but when the weather was warm they would meet under a large tree in the yard.  Oakland also had a Marshal, Mr. E. C. Shaver, who is still living and will be 101 on the 4th of November.
        Poplar Street was the dividing line between the City of Topeka and Oakland.  Poplar Street and all north of Division and east of Poplar was Oakland.  The streets still have the original names except for three east and west streets.  Iowa was changed to East Grant, Indiana was changed to Fairchild, and Pennsylvania was changed to Laurent.  These were changed because some of the streets in Highland Park had the same names and it was confusing, especially in delivering mail.  I have always felt that Highland Park should have changed their street names because Oakland had the names first.
        There were no sidewalks or paved streets.  Houses were heated by big stoves that burned coal or wood.  They had to carry the coal in and the ashes out.  In those ashes were what we called clinkers or cinders. These were spread on all the walks like gravel.  Gas streetlights were first used in Oakland because we didn’t have electricity.  One pole still stands on the southeast corner of Forest and Fairchild.  When we first got electric streetlights, they were turned off at 10 o’clock.  If we were out for the evening, we tried to be home by that time.  Gaslights were also used in all the homes.
        Oakland has always had beautiful trees and there were hundreds of cherry trees.  We had eighteen cherry trees in our yard.  People came from far and near to buy our cherries.  They were sold by the half bushel or bushel and sometimes folks bought a whole tree for a few dollars and picked the cherries themselves.  There were a lot of houses in Oakland, but still more vacant lots.  When I was young, we played Run, Sheep, Run, all over town.
        When I was two years old, my father and mother moved to California to help build a sugar factory in Oxnard.  We moved back to Oakland in time for me to go to the second grade.  Mr. Will Amos was my teacher.  She lived in  the 900 block of Forest.  The school was a two-story wooden building with three rooms on each floor.  There were eight grades in this school, and some of the rooms had two grades in them.  In later years there were two first grade rooms.  Mrs. Florence Graft taught one and Miss Augusta Waite taught the other.  Both also had a second grade in their rooms.  I don’t know how you enter the building now, but when I was going to school, Mr. Biggs, the janitor, pounded on something that made a lot of noise and we lined up two by two and marched in.  Miss Waite would be standing in the door with a ruler and saying, “left, right, left, right.”  In those days we used slates up to the third grade and tablets after that.
        We moved away from Oakland again, to Springfield, and returned when I was in the 8th grade.  I don’t remember who my teacher was at that time, but John R. Carter was the Principal.  He and my father had attended school together at Auburn, Kansas.  There was an old organ in this school and we sang every morning and I played the organ.
        Not many of the Oakland children were fortunate enough to be able to go to high school.  The high school was in the city of Topeka and you had to pay tuition to attend.  Finally a brick building was erected north of the old wooden school for the Oakland High School.  The high school building burned down and the grade school was later torn down to build this school.  There were some wonderful basketball and volleyball games in the gym of that high school.
        Street cars used to run through Oakland and made a loop somewhere near Riverside and Arter in order to turn around and start the trip back to town.  That was near the old Kelsey home.  North of that home and down by the river was a park.  My mother used to tell me that there were Chautauquas every summer at that park.  A Chautauqua was an assembly lasting several days for educational and recreational purposes.  Programs included lectures, concerts, and plays.  The Sells-Floto Circus used to use the park for its winter quarters for several years.  They had all kinds of animals at  the park, and Mr. Nagle, father of two of our Oakland residents at this time, took care of the animals in the summer and taught school in the winter.  When Garfield Park was created, the Oakland Park was done away with.
        East of Oakland were big farms and lovely old houses.  Potatoes were the main crops and when potatoes were dug all the Oakland boys went potato picking.  I don’t know how they were paid, but I do know a lot of the boys depended on picking up potatoes to buy their clothes and for spending money.  I made my first money picking strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries for Harley Taylor.  He had a team and a hay ruck and would pick us girls up and haul us to his berry patch which was on Strait Street across where the Shunganunga used to be.  It is part of Garden Park now.  At that time the Shunganunga was quite a large stream and some of the churches used it once in a while for baptizing.
        We had a post office in Oakland, churches, quite a few grocery stores, a hardware store and even a newspaper, the Oakland Blade.  I understand there is a complete file of the Oakland Blade at the Historical Society at 10th and Jackson.  There was a rug factory, and a woolen mill.  The woolen Mill later housed an airplane factory.  We also had two drug stores, a doctor and a dentist and a cleaning establishment.  What is now the Kaw Valley Bank was the Oakland Bank, located on the southwest corner of Wabash and Thomas.
        The Methodist church was the largest of the churches and when a lot of room was required for an event, it would be held at that church.  The church also had a bell that was donated by the churchwomen of Topeka.  When there was a fire or a calamity of some kind, that bell was rung.  The Presbyterian Church also had a bell.  Once, when two little boys were drowned in the river, the Presbyterian Church rang their bell until the bodies were found.  The Presbyterian Church was located at 1301 Winfield.  Later it moved to its present location.  The Christian church was built in 1903.  There was also a Dunkard Church and when the high school burned, the Dunkard Church was used for part of the school.  It is now a Baptist Mission.
        Oakland also had a very fine marching band of about forty members.  It was organized by Rev. Scholes of the Christian Church and was often mistaken for Marshall’s band.  There was also a Veteran’s club, and the GAR.  They both met monthly.  On Memorial Day, services were held in the Methodist Church and the veterans marched to the church led by the Oakland Band.
        In the spring when the violets were in bloom, there was a day when all the teachers took their pupils over to what is now Billard park to pick violets.  They also organized a Maypole dance every spring in the schoolyard and all of Oakland came to see it.
        Oakland became part of Topeka in 1926 and they began to pave some of the streets.  Many of the old streetcar tracks were not removed and are under the pavement now.  Sometimes the pavement wears through and shows the tracks.  Now all of the streets in Oakland are paved, with the exception of a few east and west streets.  Wabash was paved in 1941.
Everything east of the Santa Fe Shops is considered Oakland now, but we old-timers know that Oakland is really east of Poplar.


Edith Mohney
834 Wabash
October 1972

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Edith Foss Mohney's home
abt. 1894
Click picture for larger view

Edith Foss and her future husband
Click picture for larger view

Gold Bar

The following links are to letters and personal accounts that were provided by Teresa Lindquist, 15 December 1999.

The letters of Charles Foster
These are letters that Charles wrote to his mother and sister.
Graciously donated by,
Janice Rioux

Last update: Sunday, March 23, 2003 00:11:09

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