ELLINWOOD — The connection between antique dealers Bill Starr and Richard Casagrande saved “Little Germany.”
Starr told Casagrande, a San Antonio antique leader, about an opportunity to buy the Dick historical building that houses Ellinwood’s underground tunnels.
Casagrande is a longtime antique trader who carries an affinity for artifacts and their history. The underground tunnels are rich with stories, from dial telephones in 1899 to a lower level that contained a barber shop, harness shop, a bath house, saloons and storefronts which sold goods of every type.
Dozens of out-of-town visitors took advantage to tour the underground tunnels Saturday during the annual Ellinwood After Harvest Festival. Ellinwood residents and visitors discovered a myriad of eating and entertainment options, starting with a downtown parade Saturday.
The underground tours were attended by visitors who had never viewed the underground tunnels, which are well lit and spacious enough to move around.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is under the Dick building, visitors can see to the city sidewalks through holes in several manhole covers.
Casagrande is well versed on the town’s history after his longtime friendship with Starr and doing his own personal research.
“I really enjoy telling stories about the history,” Casagrande said.
Ellinwood developed as a trading stop along the Santa Fe Trail in the 1870s. Eventually, Bavarian Germans migrated to Ellinwood for free land and the false promise of promising weather.
The underground businesses developed for male-related businesses, frequented by traders, workers and travelers. Businesses featured Jung’s Barber Shop, Thomas Drake’s harness shop, Wolitz Shoe Shop, John Wever’s Sample Room, Petz Meat Storage, and a Drummer’s Sample Room under the Wolf Hotel.
Leather harnesses and fly nets which protected Belgian horses are seen in the harness shop. Jung’s Barber Shop shows original flooring, wallpaper, and a barber’s mirror and equipment.
“About 90 percent of the harness equipment are original to this space,” Casagrande said. “Tom Drake worked down here until 1920. He left all of his tools and work benches down here. Automobiles had replaced horses.”
The underground tunnels had been preserved by Ellinwood’s Adrianna Dierolf, who began showing the tunnels in 1981. She sold the property in 1992 to the Ellinwood Museum Association. Dierolf’s grandfather Matt Dick constructed the Dick and Mangelsdorf buildings and other structures in Ellinwood.
Many of the tunnels were blocked and filled with sand in 1982 after new sidewalks were built.
“When Adrianna came down here for the first time, she was shocked,” he said. “But it peaked her interest in history. She got the building listed on the State Historic Register. That gave her clout to save the building.”
Under the Wolf building, more tunnels are found.
Wolf building owner Chris McCord carries the same respect for history. McCord grew up in Ellinwood and has helped renovate the Wolf building that has developed into part of the Ellinwood underground tour. The former Bank of Ellinwood and former antique store features masterfully restored space.
The Sunflower Dining Room was housed in the basement and later was home for the Ellinwood Public Library.
McCord enjoys learning about the history of the myths and history of the building and city. McCord said there are several ghost stories attached to the tunnels including that of a man who was shot down in the street and then left in the boiler room under the hotel to die. Another story tells of the building being haunted by a young girl who has appeared in photos. Tales of strange sounds, being touched and eerie whispers have added to the story.
The hotel has featured ghost hunts and classic mystery dinners. The Historic Wolf Hotel features the Victorian, Double Queen and Wedding rooms for overnight stays in the bed and breakfast. A historic Sunflower Dining Room opened on Easter Sunday in 1924 with a live orchestra, accented with the original terrazzo floor.
The front part of the building is used for church services.