Great Bend’s original social network site
By Karen P. Neuforth
Executive Director, Barton County Arts Council Inc.
Located in Great Bend’s oldest stone and masonry building, dating from the rough and tumble days of cowboys and cattle herds, the Barton County Arts Center is a treasury of history and culture.
It was 1875. A little spot on the "great bend" of the Arkansas River, incorporated as a town only three years earlier, had become one of the major railheads on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad for sending Texas longhorns back east.
Early on, A.S. Allen, one of numerous Civil War veterans seeking to make their marks, had come to this young city and opened a drug store. Indeed, for a while, it was the only drug store between Wichita and Denver. With the "cattle boom" and increasing settlement of the Kansas plains, Allen decided to replace his wood-framed store with a more substantial stone building.
As the town grew, so did Allen’s Drug Store, both in size and distinction. Located in the heart of the downtown business district, on the town’s main thoroughfare and across the street from the county courthouse, at various times Allen’s housed not only the drug store, but the first lending library, a bank, law offices, doctors’ offices, land offices and other businesses. Even the newspaper had space in the building. In the early days of Great Bend, if you wanted to know what was going on in town, you went down to Allen’s to find out — it was the local Facebook of the day.
After Mr. Allen retired, the building was remodeled for the use of the Citizen’s National Bank, then the First National Bank, and various retail fronts, including a succession of three shoe stores. Over the years, the original stone was covered by another layer of stone and, at least, one layer of brick. Beneath the metal awning and window coverings is still an early-20th Century Federal-style front.
In 2000, it became the Barton County Arts Center, home of the Barton County Arts Council Inc. This historic building is now the cultural center of Great Bend and Barton County — just as it was in the town’s early days. Featuring a consignment gallery where local and regional artists can market their works, it also houses a small performance space and provides room for everything from workshops to poetry and film festivals, from student exhibits to outreach classes and private events.
The Barton County Arts Center, housed at 1401 Main St. in Great Bend’s oldest stone and masonry building, is now listed in the "This Place Matters Community Challenge." Friends of the Arts Center are encouraging everyone to vote in the online challenge, where the winner will receive $25,000, said Karen Neuforth, executive director of the Barton County Arts Council Inc.
The "This Place Matters Community Challenge" is offered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and supported by Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company and National Trust Insurance Services, LLC. The website where people can vote for the Arts Center can be found at www.preservationnation.org. Click on "This Place Matters" and on that page find the link to the Community Map. The Arts Center icon is easy to find in central Kansas. The only other Kansas link is for Garden City’s Windsor Hotel.
The goal of the challenge is to rally as many people as possible around the grass-roots issues of preservation in our communities, Neuforth said. Participants can only vote for organization, one time, throughout the challenge which ends Sept. 15.
The website for the challenge went online Monday, the same day the Barton County Commission voted to cut funding previously promised to the Arts Council.
"Facing continuing funding cuts from county and state sources, the Arts Council has not been able to afford the renovations and restorations that this building deserves," Neuforth said in a news release. "But, this is a place that matters — matters because of its history and architecture — matters because of the role it plays in the great community — matters for our children and their children. After all, ART is in the heART of BARTon County."
There are 67 historic sites in the contest and by Tuesday more than 6,000 people nationwide had voted.