Image: - postcard with town clock and courthouse. - 131K

HISTORY -- Hiawatha was founded in 1857. John M. Coe, John P. Wheller, and Thomas J. Drummond were instrumental in organizing the town company, and the town site was staked out February 17, 1857. B. L. Rider reportedly was responsible for naming Hiawatha, taking the young Indian's name from Henry W. Longfellow's poem, "Song of Hiawatha." The main street was designated Oregon Street after the Oregon Trail. Parallel streets north of it were named after Indian tribes north of the Trail, and streets south carried tribal names of those south of the Trail. Hiawatha became the Brown County Seat in 1858, and the first school opened in 1870. Announced as a city of third class in 1871, its first bank was opened, and by 1875 Hiawatha had a fire department.

LOCATION -- The county seat of Brown County, Hiawatha is located in northeast Kansas, 95 miles northwest of Kansas City, 65 miles north of Topeka, 45 miles west of St. Joseph, Missouri, and 116 miles south of Omaha, Nebraska. Major highways serving Hiawatha are east/west U.S. Highway 36 and north/south U.S. Highways 73 and 159.

POPULATION -- Hiawatha, 3603 (the largest town on U.S. Highway 36 between St. Joseph, Mo. and Denver, Colorado); Brown County 11,955.



Located at 700 Oregon Street; in the downtown area, is the only such clock between Indianapolis and Denver on Highway U. S. 36. It was built in 1891 as part of the First National Bank building and is listed on the Kansas Register. The clock is owned by the City of Hiawatha and the building by a local businessman.


Owned and operated by the Brown County Historical Society, their headquarters is located downtown at 611 Utah street, south of the Courthouses square. This building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Hours 10-4 Tuesday thru Saturday. There is an admission charge.


Located on east Iowa street near the Davis Memorial, is under development. It will resemble a 1900 farmstead when completed with a paved windmill trail for sightseers and joggers to use and enjoy. There is a log cabin replica that is the office, wash house, barn, brooder house, corn crib, cabinet shop, horse drawn implement building, antique tractor building and many windmills and wind chargers. Hours are: 10-4---Tuesday-Saturday. There is an admission charge.


    Mt. Hope Cemetery, Hiawatha, Kansas

Post card image of Davis Memorial - 193 K

John Milburn Davis erected this memorial to "the sacred memory" of his wife, Sarah. After she died in 1930, he almost immediately commissioned the work to begin.
    In every sense, it was a monumental project.
    The lifesize Italian marble statues of the Davises were striking in their detail and their accuracy. The cost of the memorial was staggering in a small town during The Great Depression. The stubbornness of Davis toward his project in the face of public criticism was prelude to a legend.

The story began when Kentucky-born John Davis followed some other Kentuckians to Brown County in 1878. He met and married Sarah and they settled on 260 acres north of Hiawatha. They were hard-working, frugal and childless. They moved to Hiawatha in 1915 and lived ordinary lives of quiet routine.
    When Sarah died, the script changed. John Davis suddenly became a big spender He removed a simple "Davis" headstone from his wife's grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery, and began to erect a massive memorial.
    First, a 52-ton canopy was erected on some stone pillars surrounding her grave. In 1932, marble statues began to arrive from Italy.
    In a few years, 11 marble or granite statues were positioned beneath the canopy or surrounding it. These included an empty overstuffed chair, a winged angel-version of Sarah in prayer and figures of Davis without his left hand, which he lost to infection.

As the memorial grew, so did the dismay of towns-people. Hiawatha was without a hospital and swimming pool. Community leaders wanted Davis to underwrite those projects -- and they told him so. He ignored their requests.
    Roving American reporter Ernie Pyle, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for his work, interviewed Davis in the late 1930's. Davis told Pyle he was unmoved by the community's appeals.
    The eccentric Davis continued to watch over his memorial into the 1940's. He had a marble and granite wall erected to discourage visitors from walking among the statues. He visited the memorial weekly and sometimes personally greeted tourists.
    Through it all, Davis never wavered in voicing devotion to his Sarah, though others were skeptical. Nor did he and the townspeople ever come to terms about his decision to sink money into the memorial instead of investing in the town. What is not as widely known is that he secretly gave away tens of thousands of dollars to the needy, a few hundred dollars at a time.
    Davis died in 1947 and was buried next to his wife under the marble canopy. The funeral was poorly attended and the Baptist minister conducting the service gently scolded Davis' fellow citizens for not accepting the memorial-builder as he was.

Today an air of mystery hangs over the memorial, sort of a second canopy of skepticism and resentment.
    Some of his peers insist that Davis never treated his wife as royally in life as he did in death. They suspect his generous gift was intended more as a slap in the face to his wife's heirs than it was a tribute to Sarah. And resentment lingers over Davis' refusal to be a benefactor to Hiawatha in its hour of need.

Yet the irony is that the Davis Memorial has benefited.the community. Every year tens of thousands of visitors come to Mt. Hope Cemetery to view the marble statuary and to hear the story of the memorial's eccentric creator. Built in memory of Sarah, the imposing work has become an enduring public attraction.
    The Hiawatha Cemetery Association renovated the memorial in 1994-95 in cooperation with the Kansas Historical Society. The outer wall was raised and stabilized. Statuary was restored and sealed. A sidewalk ramp now makes the memorial accessible to all visitors.
    The Davis Memorial is today a piece of history -- and of mystery. Hiawatha knows whodunit: John Milburn Davis. The question remains...why?

Memorial Facts

  • Most of the lifesize statues were commissioned, crafted in Italy and positioned at the memorial between 1931 and 1934.
  • All but one of the stone figures is carved from Italian marble, which was deemed most suitable for a woman's delicate facial features.
  • Estimated total cost of the memorial was $200,000, an extravagant sum during the Depression.
  • The marble canopy over the main section of the memorial weighs 105,000 points -- more than 50 tons!
  • The memorial has been featured in Newsweek, Life and People magazines and on a TV version of Ripley's Believe It or Not.
  • The marble-and-granite display is visited annually by 20-30,000 people from across the United States and around the world.


The following homes are part of a self-guided old homes tour. This tour features many of Hiawatha's beautiful turn of the century homes. You may pick up a brochure at several places in Hiawatha, including the Chamber of Commerce office. Each description includes a link to a .gif image of that home.

  1. 200 Delaware - James Faloon, a native of Ohio and prominent attorney who arrived in Brown County by 1880, purchased these lots in 1887, building his home shortly thereafter. This brick Italianate home features a low hip roof. The cornice is accented by ornate double brackets. The windows have segmental stone headers with keystones and stone sills accentuated by half segmented shutters. The front porch has heavy turned posts that shelter the double leaf entrance doors and large transom. Image: - 75K.
  2. 201 Miami. - Built for his bride, Mame Adams, Ward Salisbury began building this home in 1914. They moved in February 1915 after their honeymoon. Mame Salisbury, a 1904 graduate of Stanford University, had been so impressed with the tile roofs of her alma mater that she had this home roofed similarly. This elegant colonial brick home features two-story columns that extend from three of the five bays on the large front porch. Image: - 58K.
  3. 500 North 2nd Street. - I. B. Morgan, a native of Wales who came to Brown County with his family in the 1870's, graduated from the University of Kansas, and became Superintendent of Sabetha Schools. He built this house on lots he had owned since 1891, prior to his 1904 marriage. In 1906 he sold the home to the Hiawatha School for Trained Nurses and the Medical and Hospital Company. This group operated a nurses' training school and hospital until 1917. After that it became a private residence again. Image: - 85K.
  4. 601 North 2nd Street. - This weatherboard home was built in 1916 by Edward Idol, son of an early Brown County settler. Mr. Idol was a very successful cattleman and moved into the Hiawatha area from Irving Township. The home features hip roof dormers, extending from each slope. The house and dormers have wide cornice friezes and the windows extend into the friezes, which form continuous lintels. The rafter ends are exposed and ornate. Image: - 65K.
  5. 410 North 3rd Street. - This two story weatherboard home was built in 1888 by Thomas Dunn, a native of Ohio. The home is irregular in form and has a low hip roof. The cornice has porch bracketing and wide plain frieze. The two story bay extends from the east facade and has corner pilasters and string course between the first and second floors. Image: - 88K.
  6. 311 North 5th Street. - Aaron Hall arrived in Brown County in 1876. He was a stone mason for a number of years and during which time he built this house. Whether he lived here is not clear, but by 1883 it had been purchased by Everard Bierer, a native of Pennsylvania, and who had been admitted to the Bar in his native state in 1848. He was one of Brown County's earliest attorneys, having come west in 1865. The coursed stone, two story structure has corner quoins and strong horizontal banding. The windows feature semi-circular stone headers with keystone and fanlight transoms. Image: - 72K.
  7. 604 Miami. - This brick home with gable roof was built in 1895 by Eli Davis, an Irving Township farmer. The gable faces are shingled and have pent roofs and plain barge boards. The cornice frieze is concave and has an etched pattern. The windows have flat arch voussoirs and stone sills. The Davis family had the home until it was sold in 1938. Image: - 75K.
  8. 407 North 6th Street. - In 1924 Robert Roos, who was a partner in the Wellcome Lumber Co., purchased this tract and had this home built. The two and a half story brick and stucco residence has a Tudor influence. The entrance is in the north bay and is protected by an arched hood. The open porch has brick pedestals and a solid balustrade spans the front facade.      Image: - 77K.
  9. 610 Hiawatha. - C. W. Wellcome, Hiawatha lumberman, purchased these lots in 1891 and made the family home. This two and a half story weatherboard home has a gable face with sunburst wooden decor and triple milti-pane fixed sash. The shallow bay on the second floor has two double-hung multipane windows with an arched center section. The first floor has a bay window with double-hung side windows and a center single-hung window with art glass transom. Image: - 70K.
  10. 614 Miami. - Arriving from Galesburg, Illinois in 1881, Manning Smalley was intent on opening a second bank in Hiawatha. Apparently a man of means, he paid $1000 for the tract on which he built this house in 1882. He was the president of the 1st National Bank from 1881 when it was chartered until 1893 when after some sort of defalcation he assigned his home to the bank and moved to Omaha, Nebraska. This home has a gable roof with bracketed cornice and iron railing. The gable ends have ornate lace trim and the windows have half semi-circular shutters. Image: - 60K.
  11. 700 Shawnee. - Harvey Hart, a native of Brown County, from near Reserve, built this home in 1906 and moved in with his wife Martha. The weatherboard home has gable extensions and a high hip roof. The windows in the gable faces are projected and have ornate headers. The first floor southeast corner is rounded with a curved glass window which has sidelights and a transom. The wraparound porch has a rounded corner and weatherboard pedestals that curve into balustrade with curved balusters. Image: - 64K.
  12. 210 North 7th. - This wood framehouse was home to one of Hiawatha's most famous residents. John and Sarah Davis purchased this home after retiring from the farm in 1915. After his wife's death in 1930 he began erecting what is now known as the Davis Memorial. Image: - 72K.
  13. 301 North 5th Street. - In 1875, $15,000 in bonds were voted for construction of a new school house. The structure was built that year for $13,000. Steam heat was added in 1881-1882 and thus, Washington School served the city until the spring of 1919. At that time, Ewing Herbert, publisher of the Hiawatha Daily World, purchased and converted the building into his home. At the time of the conversion, the front of the building faced Shawnee Street but the gable roofed porch with columns were added to the center bay and the entrance was changed to face 5th Street. Image: - 81K.
  14. 124 North 6th Street. - John Pottenger, a native of Ohio, born in 1825, came to Brown County in 1869 and to Hiawatha in 1871. He became one of the town's first druggists. He was a member of Hiawatha's first City Council and active in the economic development of the city. Pottenger died in 1903 and in 1911 his widow built this home for herself and spinster daughter. Image: - 71K.

Information for this article came from:
Hiawatha Convention And Visitors Bureau
413 Oregon 913-742-7136

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