Our museum is located at:
502 N Washington, Wellington, KS  67152
Directly across from the Sumner County Courthouse
Give us a call at 620.326.3820
Admission:  Free - Donations are appreciated!
Hours of Operation:  1-5 PM
Open Weekends in May and November
Open Daily  June thru October
Closed Tuesdays
Closed for the season December thru April
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Sellers Park - Who knew? I didn't!

Jim Bales

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

As a student, I didn't care much for history, it was just another class in school. Later on as I got older I got interested in family history, and I talked more with my parents about days of old, I became more interested in history. Now it seems like I can't get enough of it. 

I grew up in the same house my parents still live in, up on East 8th Street, just past the football field.  I remember in the mid 60’s I would walk to town passing through Sellers Park and the building that now houses Perry Wiley’s The Panhandle Railroad Museum. At the time it was the Rec Center and was painted with murals of Crusader helmets. Later in the 70’s the Wellington Art Association occupied it and used it as a Gallery.  I knew that it was an old building but didn’t give it much thought. I also didn’t know much about Sellers Park. It had always been just Sellers Park to me.

I was volunteering down at the museum a couple weeks ago. I eventually ended up in the library room and was enjoying myself looking through some of the old books of local history.  I came across a wonderful binder booklet written by Mrs. Marie VanDeventer, one of our museum’s past presidents. The book was about Sellers Park. I was blown away. I know not all of you've been able to volunteer, so thought I'd include a few interesting tidbits that you might enjoy. Some of you may know all this and more, but it’s news to me, so just bear with me. 

According to Mrs. VanDeventer, the original building was part of the old gas works that provided gas lighting for Wellington prior to turn of the century and electric lights. In 1913 it was abandoned and had fallen into disrepair.  The area was overgrown with weeds and had a dangerous and stagnant pit 52 feet across by 28 feet deep that was the old gas holding tank. A local literary woman's club at the time called the Cary Circle decided a park needed to be built to beautify Wellington and provide a safe playground for the children. They formed a committee headed by an influential lady at the time by the name of Mrs. Cordelia Herrick, which decided this property needed to be made into a park. Women had recently been given the right to vote so these resourceful ladies pressured the city fathers into buying the abandoned gasworks for their park by tactfully suggesting (threatening) a change in the outcome of the next city election.  They got the park in 1913 and went about cleaning up the overgrown weeds and trees. They had to fill the pit so they had a cleaning day much like the city wide cleaning days today that Sherry Wiley is instrumental in. (Ironic, eh?) All of the garbage that was collected during the cleaning days, stoves, iron beds, worn out furniture, whatever, was put into the pit. It took two years but the pit was no longer dangerous.

By 1915 they were ready for the building phase of the park but sadly Mrs. Herrick health began to fail and passed away April 13th, 1915 of cancer. Another energetic member of the Cary Circle stepped up and took charge.  This was Mrs. Lulu Sellers. She and her husband owned and operated a jewelry store downtown.  On April 9th of 1915, The Wellington City Commission appointed Mrs. Sellers as Park Superintendent, but she was usually referred to as the Park Commissioner.  She served faithfully without pay.  A park committee was formed and rules and regulations were drafted including a regulation to “oppose use of the park for political gatherings of any character”.  A naming contest was held with the prize being a 10 dollar gold piece.  The winning prize was shared by 4 individuals who came up with the name “Community Park”. The building was refurbished with a new roof and some appliances inside. It was turned into a community hall that became known as the “Park Building” and was used for social gatherings, picnics, community events. They had several well attended community fundraising programs, band concerts, plays, and performances to raise money. (This was before TV’s and Nintendo’s). The Cary Club even submitted and got passed a bill allowing small towns in Kansas to allot some tax money for parks. A playground supervisor was planned with activities for children including, basketry and sewing for girls, birdhouse building for boys as well as swimming lessons and trail hikes. A total of 56 boys and 70 girls were enrolled for daily programs for July and August.  More money and land was donated to the park project to build a bandstand and “Rustic”  bridges over to a playground on the west side of Hargis Creek. At that time, the natural path of Hargis Creek was back-and-forth across the property, most of what is probably the football field today. To utilize the property the creek was straightened. Mind you this is 1917 so it was probably a lot of manual labor to straighten the creek to its present course. With the creek straightened there was more space, so double tennis courts, volleyball and basketball courts were added to the north end of the park at 9th street. The park even had a decorative water fountain and wading pool for kids.

During World War I the Red Cross had a building next to the Santa Fe Railroad tracks that served as a refreshment and reception house for soldiers riding the train called the Red Cross Canteen.  After the war was over the building was not used anymore and in 1919 it was moved to the park and used for a recreation building for the playground.

Baseball has always been a big part of Wellington. In the 1890’s Wellington had a baseball team known as the “Wellington Reds” that was part of the “Kansas State League”.  Later a city “Twilight Baseball League” was formed and was permitted to use the north portion of the park in 1916.  Our mayor, Mr. Stallbaumer was telling me of a room upstairs in the old Glasco Drug/Smith building with wooden lockers and a mural with “Wellington Baseball” “1913” painted on the wall.  I got a chance to view it the other night during the ghost tours. I wonder if this was the clubhouse for the “Wellington Reds”. Maybe one of you might know something about this. After more fundraisers and band concerts in 1919, there was enough money raised to build the baseball park and stadium. Construction was started in 1920.  In 1921 a pageant was presented at the stadium celebrating Wellingtons Golden Anniversary of 50 years. In 1971 I was 15 and participated in a pageant held celebrating Wellington’s 100 year anniversary, also held at the stadium.

In 1919, the west park, or Woods Park as we know it, was acquired. After 2 years Mrs. Sellers found the responsibilities and added duties were too much.  She resigned in 1921. A Park Board was formed to replace her containing 5 members; one member was always to be the mayor or a commissioner.  Mrs. Sellers was given the honor of picking the board members.  Over the years she stayed involved in the parks development and in 1938 the City Commission voted to change the name of the “Community Park” to “The Sellers Park” in her honor.

Now when I pass the building that was once the Gas Works, the Park Building, the Recreation Center, the Wellington Art Association Gallery, and the Panhandle Rail Road Museum, I will think about how well that building has served the community.  I would like to have met Mrs. VanDeventer.  She did a very good job putting this book together. It has several pictures of Mrs. Herrick, Mrs. Sellers, the old buildings, and fountain, as well as appendices in the back containing more pictures, Maps, Newspaper articles and copies of city ordinances. If you get a chance to volunteer, or happen to be visiting the museum, look for it in the library.