Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
Circuses are on the move now, thanks to warmer weather. It is interesting to know that Great Bend was at one time home to a very colorful circus promoter. In fact, the May 21, 1967 edition of The Great Bend Tribune featured a story about Mr. Charles Andress entitled, “Charlie Andress: Who Brought Elephants And Camels Where The Deer And Antelope Played!” by James Fugate, area editor at the time. While much was written about Charles Andress’ circus and his theaters, there is an undertold part of the story.
Walking along the streets of Great Bend, you pass a landscape filled with a rich history. Each home has a story — about the people who lived there, the reasons they chose to live there, and the happening inside these homes. Some, granted, are more exciting than others. Two neighboring homes in Great Bend have a particularly interesting history associated with them.
The story mentioned Mrs. Andress living in a house at 1306 Baker Street. This, we learned, was a typographical error, according to her son, Charles Andress Jr. She actually lived at 1309 Baker Street. Next door, to the south, was the property that Mr. Andress had built for his retirement.
Bachelor pad and gentlemen’s club
According to Charles Jr., the house at 1305 Baker St. contained two apartments plus the living quarters of Mr. Andress. Mr. Andress had his personal apartment on the first floor. On the lower level was the informal Andress gentlemen’s club. Behind the house, there was what Charles Jr. described as a “bungalow rental house” which still stands today. In the courtyard area between the house and the bungalow is where Andress had his lighted croquet course which was available for the public to use.
The Barton County Historical Society Museum has on file a document in which Andress describes the opening of his sunbathing parlor and a public croquet course. According to Charles Jr., the former was built atop the three car garage built along the alley, and the latter was in the courtyard between the main house and the bungalow rental house.
“My father had the idea to operate a sunbathing parlor, which he thought would be popular at that time,” Charles Jr. said.
Always cutting edge, his idea was ahead of the times and it didn’t take off like he’d hoped. Later, it was turned into an additional apartment.
Andress and his young wife welcomed Charles Jr. to the world in 1931, and a year later began construction of a neighboring house at 1309 Baker St. Before it was completed, Andress died. His widow and son moved into the new house shortly after.
At 1305 Baker, the club was converted into an additional apartment and Andress’s apartment was also rented out, which provided a living for Mrs. Andress and her son. She continued to manage it for many years before finally selling it. It has since changed hands a few times, Charles Jr. said.
Passing on a legacy
The family stored aways countless boxes of memorabilia, photos, posters and mementos from Andress’ long career in the circus. During a trip to Circus World in Baraboo, Wis. sometime in the 1990s, Charles Jr. was urged to donate these items to the museum and research library there.
“I introduced myself, and the people there actually knew more about me and my father than I was aware of myself,” he said. He got to know the staff of 3-4 people who were very knowledgeable about circuses and circus life.
In fact, the museum, which is located at what was once the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. Circus before they merged with Barnum and Bailey and moved to Connecticut in 1917. It was created with the express purpose of archiving information concerning the American Circus experience. He spoke to his mother and they decided they would be happy passing everything on to them, he said.
He sorted through it all, setting aside duplicates for himself. Researchers at the museum were able to identify most of the performers and management in the photos, and today everything is archived and cross referenced there.
And it’s a good thing, because Charles Jr. took the duplicates home with him to Greensburg. He had moved there to work for Production Credit Association, helping to put together agricultural loans.
He stored his treasures in a second story office at his personal residence. That home was leveled by the Greensburg tornado in May, 2007.
“I had scrapbooks of photographs, duplicate posters and newspaper clippings,” he said. “Very little was found.”
He survived the storm in the basement. His son, John Andress, lives south of Great Bend. He went straight to Greensburg to help his father as soon as he received word. Because of the destruction, there were no points of reference, and his son searched through the night to find his father. They found each other in the morning. But most everything else was gone.
Charles Jr., a widower, now had to decide what to do next. He chose to move back to the Great Bend area where he built his new home. His wife passed away years earlier. His son lives on the adjoining property.
Back to “Andressville”
The land was purchased by his father over a century before. Andress decided to make Great Bend the permanent home of his circus, and eventually he purchased a 1/2 section nine miles south of Great Bend where he sent his animals to after the sale of his circus. He referred to it as “Andressville”. The Barton County Historical Society Museum has on hand a lithograph of his vision for Andressville in their permanent collection. However, he did not live there, not preferring the solitary life of the country. His brother and his family eventually took up residence on the farm.
“Andress sold his circus, which had a bad winter and spring in the South, but kept a few of the best animals and to everyone’s surprise, sent them to his farm south of Great Bend, with their trainer, to be taken care of.
“Needless to say, the surrounding countryside was delighted at having such exotic beasts — an elephant, two camels, monkeys and trained dogs and horses that performed on a see-saw! For a time, shows were put on at the farm by the trainer every Sunday afternoon in a small arena. The admission was a dime, and the crowds flocked out from town to see their own local circus.” — Fugate.
Charles Jr. said the shows were short-lived, and a few years later his father sold the animals. His uncle who came from Chicago also determined he was not a farmer.
But the family continued to hold the land. There was a rather showy barn and some sheds on the property where he believes the elephant and other exotics were kept so many years ago. Sadly, it was also destroyed in the same storm system that leveled his Greensburg home.
Today, Charles Jr. enjoys the peace and solitude of the country in the home he designed to his own specifications. Moving back to Great Bend, he picked up where he left off with many of his past friendships and feels very content to be home again.
His mother lived at 1309 Baker for over 60 years until finally being moved to a rest home shortly before passing away in 1995. Charles Jr. sold it about a year later.
There is a story in a past issue of The Great Bend Tribune, which we could not locate by press time, written by then editor Will Townsley, about a visit by the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus to Great Bend. Charles Jr. told of a copy of the news clipping among remaining mementos.
Andress put on a big dinner at the Andress Club for circus management and top performers. Andress still has a duplicate of the picture of that event. Researchers at Baraboo helped identify the people in the photo that was taken before dinner in the front of the house. The photo was featured in a Billboard magazine story. Charles Jr. said at the time, Billboard was the top promoter of circus and other outdoor entertainment in the country.
He recalls that local women prepared the banquet, and high school girls, including a neighbor, Ruth Ely and her sister, served the meal. A lot of publicity was generated from the event, as was the style of Andress.
Andress Jr. never really got to know his father, who died when he was two and a half years old. Most of what he knows come from the stories he was told over the years by his mother and family and friends, as well as newspaper articles from the papers.
Isaac Pritchard reveled in the experience of getting to know who was who in a world much different from his everyday life. He continued to maintain an ongoing relationship with that end of the business. As the shows came in, Charles Jr. too became immersed in the circus world.
“I was exposed to it all,” he said. “Circus people, including Ringling show people, would stop by and say hello. They always made reference to my father and grandfather.” As he grew older, he continued to make contact with circus people to catch up and say hello.
After his father’s death, he spent a lot of time visiting his grandparents who continued to live on the land they routinely rented to circuses and traveling carnivals and entertainment. The land, in fact, was called the Pritchard Showgrounds. The 20 acre pasture was located on the north side of the Arkansas River, between the river and the railroad tracks. Main Street and the river bridge were along the eastern border of the property.
After his grandfather died, his grandmother sold the land to the Tiess brothers who owned the sale barn at the west side of the property. Over the years, the brothers sold off the land piece by piece. Andress Jr. believes the Co-op purchased the property sometime in the 1960s or 70s while he was gone. Today, the Co-op filling station is located on those grounds.