Courthouses Designed By J. C. Holland

Geary County Courthouse

There are many grand courthouses still in use in Kansas.  Over the years I’ve traveled to most County seats across the state and apart from the Chase County Courthouse in Cottonwood Falls, I’d say that Clay County (Clay Center), Geary County (Junction City), Riley County (Manhattan) and Mitchell County (Beloit) have 4 of the greatest example of Romanesque Courthouses in the State.  These inspiring structures help define the downtown and communities they reside in.  The Mitchell and Clay courthouses sit in the middle of a prominent town square lined on all sides with business and community activities.  Riley’s courthouse sits at the western edge of what is the remaining historic downtown of Manhattan right on Poyntz Avenue next to the Wareham Hotel and Harry’s Uptown Restaurant. 

Mitchell County Courthouse

In some ways, Geary County’s courthouse is disconnected from downtown since it is neither in a town square nor on the main downtown thoroughfare, however, it is a prominent feature of the towns skyline from Interstate 70.

If you’ve visited more that one of these stone buildings, you may notice common architectural themes in the buildings symmetry around a central gothic tower.  Indeed, these courthouses and several others in Kansas were designed by the same architect…. James Clinton Holland.  YES, he is a relation of mine. 

Riley County Courthouse

I have done a fair amount of genealogical research and several years ago found out that this prominent Topeka architect and one time State Architect was grandson of Thomas and Lorena Cahill Holland who are my GGGGGGrandparents.  Here’s a biographical sketch I put together several years ago.


James Clinton(3) Holland (Barton Andrew2, Thomas1)

James Clinton Holland

was born in a log cabin in Lima, Ohio on April 2, 1853.  He attended public school in Lima, Ohio and as a young man enrolled in the Northern Ohio Normal School (Ohio Northern University) in Ada, Ohio to study architecture.  After two years at the Normal School, James attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York to study architecture for two years.  Upon returning to Ohio from New York, James was offered and accepted a teaching position and the Chairmanship of the Architecture program at the Northern Ohio Normal School.  Later he worked with his brother in-law James M. McKinney, who was a prominent building contractor in Lima.  James worked for a year as an architect for the firm of Rumbaugh & Bacon in Toledo, Ohio and in 1877 started a construction firm in Ada.       

Clay County Courthouse

It was at this time that he married Elizabeth Baker on September 14, 1882.  Elizabeth was the daughter of Anthony and Julie Baker.  Around 1883, James met with a severe accident, which kept him under a physicians care.  The accident left the family nearly penniless.  In 1885, the family borrowed $110 and set out for Topeka, Kansas with their first child, Barton, being an infant.  James quickly became a partner of Hopkins & Holland an architect firm in Topeka.  This partnership lasted until 1889, when James began his own firm.  He was on his own until 1903 when he partnered with Frank Squires in the firm Holland & Squires.  Later James partnered with son, Barton in the firm Holland & Son.  He served as the State Architect of Kansas from 1895 to 1897, a time period during which the current State Capital Building was being built.  He was also the special projects architect for the Santa Fe Railroad Company in 1897 and 1898.

James Clinton Holland’s work can be found throughout Kansas.  Most of the public buildings built around 1900 were designed by James.  Among these include: the old county jail, the Mills building, the Masonic Temple, Capper Publications building, the Warren M. Crosby building, the Berkson Brothers building, the Central National Bank building, Stormont Vail Hospital, the Throop Hotel, the First Methodist Church, the Central Congregational Church, The Topeka City Auditorium, the Y.M.C.A building, and most of the Topeka Public School buildings.  He designed numerous Kansas county courthouses including: Clay, Geary, Marion, Mitchell, Ness, Osbourne, Rice, Riley, Shawnee, and Thomas.  His greatest residential designs occurred on the “Governor’s Row”, on Buchanan Street in Topeka.  These are the most distinguished homes in Topeka.     

James and Lizzie had three children: Barton, Frank, and Lydia.  James died on May 28, 1919 in Topeka, Kansas, at 66 years of age.


Most of us have to go to the courthouse at least once a year to renew our automobile tags or pay our property taxes.  Courthouses typically include the following offices, which serve many legal functions such as: District Court, County Appraiser, Register of Deeds, County Clerk and Treasurer.  In encourage you to become familiar with what these offices do and how they are involved in the legal facilitation of your ownership in real estate.  Perhaps the next time you visit one of the courthouses, you’ll search for the memorial construction plaque or cornerstone and find the name J. C. Holland, Architect.

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Fly By Night Contractors… Be A Responsible Customer

I reckon the past 2 weeks have been a strong reminder that we will in Kansas.  Old men love to talk about the weather, but as of late everyone has been talking about the weather.  On a personal note, we lost one of our large trees during a rain and wind storm 2 weeks ago and sustained significant vehicle and roof damage as a result of softball sized hail that fell from the sky a week ago.  The non-harmonic wail of storm sirens comes as no surprise this time of year.  It’s times like these that remind us of the not so pleasant side of property ownership.

Large Hail Stone From Abilene - photo by Kerri Gugler

A swamp of out-of-town roof, gutter, tree trimming and auto body repair pickups buzz the streets and from door to door.  An ephemeral harvest of yard signs follow, including one I hadn’t seen from an insurance company touting that “My Claim is Settled”, inferring that prompt service is the key to storm recovery.  While there are a lot of very honest and hardworking folks out there helping put things back together, you should be on the lookout for contractors who hope to rush in and bite off way more than they can chew or appear to be of questionable character. 

As in any other purchase, you should be a savvy customer and ask lots of questions to weed out the predators from the quality firms.  Here are just a handful of ways to determine, which company to go with.

Hail Damage To Roof

Local Licensure – Many of the larger communities in Central-Kansas will require either a license or registration of roofers, electricians, plumbers and other contractors authorized to work in your community.  Last year Abilene instituted such a roofer registration due to poor roofing work done after the ice storm of 2007.

Bonded and Insured – All reputable contractors will be bonded and carry insurance to protect the homeowner from damage caused by the company or for faulty work.

Vehicle Damage

Deductible Questions – If a contractor inquires regarding your deductible and says that they will work directly with your insurance company, be leery of their services.  One of the real estate professionals in Abilene witnessed a roofer doing this warned other realtors to be on the lookout for this practice.  Odds are the contractor will try to inflate their price to take advantage of the insurance company, which may ultimately be reflected in higher premiums in the future.

References – Ask the company for local references or ask your local insurance agent if they have worked with the contractor before.  Selecting a contractor your insurance company has a good relationship with.

Estimates – Get at least 3 estimates from different contractors.  Some insurance companies will require you to submit a number of estimates.  Regardless, you should shop around unless the situation is an emergency.

Money Up Front – Most reputable roofing companies will not ask for payment up front.

Being an engaged, informed and selective customer is a basic skill everyone should possess and exercise.  As a homeowner, you want to be vigilant when selecting a contractor after a natural disaster of any proportions.  Look out for your neighbors and share your conversations with contractors with others.  Once again, there are lots of very good tradesmen who will help you with storm recovery with as little aggravation as possible.  If you get a good one, thank them for a job well done.

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Chapman… Rebuilding the Irish

Founded in 1871 on the confluence of Chapman Creek and the Smoky Hill River in eastern Dickinson County, Chapman is a proud Kansas community with a stable future.  Located at Exit 286 on Interstate 70, approximately 10 miles east of Abilene and 10 miles west of Junction City, Chapman is more than a bedroom community located between two employment centers.  Chapman is the home of the “FIGHTING IRISH”. 

The heart of the city lies about a mile south of I-70.  The 8 block downtown (2 blocks  south of the railroad tracks and 6 month) has a solid concentration of business and civic organizations that occupy most of the historic commercial buildings.  The most


notable destinations downtown include City Hall, Astra Bank, Londeen’s Hardware, the post office, Fansler Family Music and the Shamrock Café.  The City park lies on 2 blocks just north of downtown.  Nearly all of your daily needs can be met by a business in Chapman with the glaring and often locally lamented lack of a grocery store.  However, there are 2 convenience stores and plans for a car wash.  There are few significant employers with the exception being the pride of Chapman, the public school system (USD #473). 

New Elementary School Entrance

In recent years, the story of Chapman has been about disaster and investment.  On the evening of June 11, 2008, a tornado ripped through the historic neighborhood west and north of downtown – killing one, destroying over 60 homes, churches and all public school  buildings.  The events that followed are a testament to the community’s tenacity and willingness to make tough choices.  Although there are hundreds of individual stories that shape the rebuilding of Chapman, I will only mention a few major community actions.

New Replacement Homes Built After the Tornado

After clean up and a Federal disaster declaration, the community began navigating through a maze of legal, financial and electoral processes.  I first became acquainted with Chapman after the 1993 flood, when I was involved in a grant program to repair flood damaged homes.  Many of the buildings destroyed by the tornado were in the 100-year floodplain.  This led to a very tumultuous environment between property owners, floodplain regulators, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and insurance companies regarding insurance claims, loss appraisal and the legal authority to rebuild on dozens of sites.  The

St. Michael’s Church

elementary, middle and high schools had to be removed and new facilities built.  In order to accomplish this, the school district community, which includes large areas of rural Dickinson County, had to supplement tax revenues and an $8.2M bond issue was approved by the voters.  The new schools were opened during the 2010-2011 school year.  Recently a new superintendent of schools was hired and the City of Chapman has invested in a City Manager and Building Inspector.  Continued investment in professional management of public facilities and construction standards will ensure quality public facilities, services and the long-term value of private construction.

The rebuilding of Chapman requires private investment in business and home construction.

Irish Acres Sign

The most significant residential development is several decades has been the Irish Acres Subdivision.  Irish Acres is located on the north end of town and features high-quality homes built on a hill with excellent views of the Chapman Creek valley.  Some of the existing homes come on the market every year and new construction and vacant lots are available.  The new elementary school is located onone of the highest spots in town, just west of Irish Acres.  In addition, there are several residential infill lots north of downtown.  There are several new homes that replaced those destroyed by the tornado.

New Home Construction

Chapman is rebuilding.  The new schools stand as a symbol of community pride, tenacityand willingness to invest in the future.  With the constant flow of opportunity afforded by the interstate and its short distance to Abilene and Junction City, Chapman will have a stable and family-friendly future.

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Home Improvements… Why Wait Till You’re Selling

Baseball season is upon us and with it our television gets a little more time on than normal given my daily appetite to see the Royals hanging in there…. Well, at least until the middle of May.  It also seems that Sabrina and I have spent time watching the Home and Garden Channel (HGTV).  We have a couple of observations regarding HGTV and the cast of characters featured there.  It seems that they feature a real estate market that is very different from the one in central-Kansas and the clientele seem a bit on the (how shall I politely put this) haughty or pernickety side.  It also seems that sellers have no problem making significant improvements to their homes right before putting them on the market to make the home an easy sell.  Sabrina, being an interior decorator, usually shakes her head and says, “Why didn’t they make these improvements before they are selling the house.  They could have enjoyed the improvements themselves.” 

This is a good question.  Given our Midwestern values, our local market and limited budgets, we don’t see a lot of people investing heavily in their home right before putting it on the market.  However, there are a number of people who “flip” homes, although not as many as we saw 5 years ago.  If you are going to make improvements to your home right before selling, there are thousands of resources giving advice on which projects will return the most for your investment.  “TOP 5 IMPROVEMENTS TO SELL”, “7 BEST RETURNS ON INVESTMENT”, “8 HOME IMPROVEMENTS THAT PAY OFF”.  Some of these advice articles include “staging” techniques in with actually improvements.  So filtering out “staging” techniques, what appear to be the improvements that make the most sense in central-Kansas?  Everyone will have an opinion and a laundry list.  Here is a short list of basic improvements that add value and reduce time on the market.

New Roof

Replace the Roof – Odds are that if you need the roof replaced it’s going to be a contingency on the sale, so get it done up front and highlight it in the listing.  The kitchen and master bath may be stunning, but if the roof leaks no one will care.


Replace Siding or Paint Exterior – The inside of the house may look like a palace, but it’s the exterior that gives it curb appeal and vital first impression. 

Add an Extra Bedroom – Finishing out a legal bedroom in either the attic or basement will increase the marketability of the property thereby adding value in terms of sale price and reduced time on the market, particularly if the house goes from 2 to 3 bedrooms.  In most places, basement bedrooms require an egress window or other exterior exit to be legal.

Landscaping – CURB APPEAL.  It is amazing how many people put their property on the

New Landscaping

market without cleaning up the yard, not to mention adding landscaping, trimming bushes, painting fences, planting flower beds, repairing the sidewalks and other yard improvements.  A little investment in time and money can really pay off with increased curb appeal, which draws people through the front door. 

Interior Paint – Strip the wallpaper from the 70’s and 80’s and paint the rooms.  Paint color is very important – and if you’re like me and don’t have a great eye for matching colors and creating moods, ask someone with a good eye.  Once again, a little effort and investment can pay off and the freshly painted smell is similar to that new car smell.   

OK, so there’s my top 5, but here’s a list of other commonly cited improvements that add value.

  • Kitchen improvements;
  • Master bath improvements;
  • Additional closets;
  • Decks and patios; and
  • New windows.

All of these are great improvements, but once again I ask the questions.  Why not make these improvements 3 to 5 years in advance of selling?  You will get to enjoy them and the value they add to your home will not have depreciated by the time you get ready to sell.

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Abilene’s Budding Music Scene

I believe there is something very primeval about music.  Making and enjoying music is as much a part of being human as walking upright, curiosity of the unknown and personal hygiene.  Everyone likes some type of music and some like numerous genres of music.  I definitely fall into the latter category.  My dad is a banjo player and although I had a somewhat normal childhood, we would travel to bluegrass festivals or my brother and I would hang out at his band’s (Joshua Stone) shows in Phoenix.  Most of my adolescences was spent in England where we would go to half a dozen venues from the Hammersmith Odeon and The Marquee Club in London (on Wardour Street), The Cambridge Corn Exchange and the Monsters of Rock shows in Castle Donington.  Through all of the festivals, concerts and jam sessions I’ve witnessed (I’m a front porch banjo hack), I acquired a love for music and deep respect for those who can play.

Crowd at the 4th Annual Downtown Abilene Bluegrass Concert

A few years back, I was picking the banjo on my porch in Abilene and from time to time people would just show up to see if we could at least play chords together in time.  My neighbor across the street played a little guitar and we started playing a few bluegrass staples.  At the same time there were a number of rock bands filtering through the high school, the occasional church choir concert and the Municipal Band (the oldest municipal band in the state).  We have wonderful band leaders in our

Mountain Sprout at the 4th Annual Downtown Abilene Bluegrass Concert

schools.  I’m sure that local musicians had been coming together in living rooms, garages, basements and backyards for years, but it seemed that these hidden gems of talent were rarely shared with others and certainly never complete strangers.

There are many parts and components to what seems to be a budding interest in music in Abilene but I will write about 2 of them.  Back in early 2007, an idea was hatched to have a free bluegrass concert at the downtown parking lot (3rd and Spruce) to promote downtown as a place for live events in order to generate traffic downtown and spin off benefits to businesses city-wide.  The concert has been held on the 2nd Saturday of September, right before the Walnut Valley (Winfield) Festival.  The Arts Council of Dickinson County and Abilene Downtown Association were involved in fund raising (it takes monetary resources to pay talented bands) and organizing vendors.  The City of Abilene provides gratis the stage, sound system, trash cans, bleachers and other support.  Ron Shivers Realty provides the port-a-johns, which should never be overlooked.  With the support of local businesses and some individual donors, the bluegrass concert has entertained growing crowds for 4 years running.  Bands that have played Abilene in the past include: The Prairie Acre, Pastense, Elexa Dawson and the Hitchhikers, Deadman Flats, The Brushy Creek Boys, The Tallgrass Express String Band and Mountain Sprout.  While we hope to have a 5th Annual Downtown Bluegrass Concert, it will not occur without community support.  We’ll see how things shape up in the coming months.

The Two Man Gentleman Band at the Great Plains Theatre

With the growing crowds, there seemed to be people who would attend live music in Abilene on a more frequent basis than once a year, so Bonebrake Promotions was created to bring professional live music to Abilene.  There are hundreds of musical acts

that cross Kansas on I-70 every year and Abilene is geographically positioned to host off-night shows.  Started in December 2009, Bonebrake

Promotions with the support of The Great Plains Theatre and a few underwriting local merchants brought several diverse musical acts to Abilene in 2010.  The musical acts that played in the Bonebrake Concert Series include bluegrass, jazz,

The Prairie Acre at the first Bonebrake Concert Series show

folk, country, swing and a blend of all of these genres.  The following bands have played in the series since April 2010: The Prairie Acre , The Wiseacres, The Ready Brothers, , The Skirts, Truckstop Honeymoon, The Two Man Gentlemen Band, The New Familiars, The Defibulators and Christabel and the Jons.  On May 6th, Piper Leigh and the Smoking Section will be performing.  Among musical circles, Abilene is becoming known as a great place to play with a wonderful venue, great people and a pre-show meal cooked by yours truly.  In fact, The Prairie Acre told me yesterday that they wish Lawrence has a venue like The Great Plains Theatre to host their new CD release party.  Now that’s a great affirmation.  All of these great shows would not be possible without support from our local merchants, attendees and The Great Plains Theatre.

Poster for the Omitama Benefit Concert

The Abilene music scene got a healthy boost in early 2011 due to the efforts of one man.  Tim Nolan came to town and after becoming acquainted with some local musicians decided to organize an Abilene Acoustic Stage Night at The Great Plains Theatre.  This monthly event (1st Friday of each month) provides local and regional artists the opportunity to perform before an audience… for some it’s been their first time on stage.  These shows feature 6 to 8 acts playing “un-plugged”.  This event is free and starts at 7:00 p.m. at The Great Plains Theatre.  There will be a special Abilene Acoustic Stage Night on April 10th to raise funds to support recovery efforts in Abilene’s Sister City, Omitama, Japan.                    

The survival and growth of the Abilene music scene is dependent on community support.  Venue time, equipment and artists have been readily available, but continued growth of Abilene’s

Performers at the Abilene Acoustic Stage Night

budding reputation as a great place for live music is at an important juncture.  For it to be sustainable and grow to benefit the entire community, the folks of Abilene and central-Kansas simply need to show up, be entertained and bring along a friend.  Individuals, businesses and organizations that are interested in supporting live music in Abilene have dozens of large, medium and small ways to help music to become a thriving art form for all generations to enjoy.  When Christabel and the Jons played last

Christabel and the Jons at the Great Plains Theatre

month, I was very pleased to see approximately 15 attendees under the age of 18.  They were experiencing live music that was reminiscent of 1920’s and 30’s swing and jazz.  I hope these events release them from the blind opinion that all music has to be glossy, overproduced and over commercialized to be worthwhile.

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Neighborhood Revitalization – Property Tax Rebates

During my experience as the Community Development Director in Abilene, one of the most effective and supported development incentives offered by the City was and is the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Rebate Program.  When the program was first adopted there was widespread misunderstanding regarding the eligibility, procedure, financial benefits associated with the program.  However, over time through the efforts of the Community Development staff, builders, real estate investors and elected officials, the program gained popularity and has been widely used.  There are many communities in our region (SalinaJunction City, etc…) that provide tax rebates through these programs.  However, there are far more communities that haven’t taken advantage of this inexpensive, simple and win-win program.

In short, revitalization tax rebate programs offer rebates on the increased property taxes generated by investments in real estate in blighted areas of town.  In some cases, tax rebates of 100% may be available for 10 years on the increased taxable value of the improved primary structure.  For instance, in Abilene a vacant lot in a distressed neighborhood had a new home built on it.  Since the entire value of the new structure was added taxable value, 100% of the City, County and School District property taxes were rebated for the first 5 years after completion and 50% for the second year.  In many cases, the amount of tax rebate for new construction may equal a mortgage payment each year for the first 5 years.  This is definitely an incentive to build in areas where there are no special assessments (infrastructure already exists) and land is more affordable.  Lenders see tax rebates help homeowner cash flow and thus reduces the risk of the mortgage loan.  In the case of Abilene, approximately 15 infill homes were built over the past 7 years along with a dozen residential and commercial rehabilitation projects. 

Since the tax rebate is on the increase in taxable value, the City, County and School Districts do not lose any tax dollars, they only defer retention of future tax revenues.  It is a WIN-WIN for local governments, property owners, investors and the neighborhood in general.  Without incentives for the use of vacant lots, the lots tend to become collection points for trash, vermin, delinquent behavior and a cost of the taxpayers to keep them mowed. 

I am currently working with the City of Abilene to make amendments to the current program and would welcome the opportunity to bring this program to small communities that don’t currently have a program.  The tax payer investment is minimal and the benefits to the housing, construction industry and neighborhood livablility can be significant.  If you are looking into buying an older home, you may want to find out if the home is in a neighborhood revitalization area.  If you plan on investing in the property over time, applying for neighborhood revitalization tax rebates may save you thousands over the next 10 years. 

If you’d like more information on existing or creating a program, contact me at or call (913) 522-6021.  I’d be glad to visit with you.

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Solomon… A Modern Day Company Town

The City of Solomon recently approached me regarding their need for professional development review services for a proposed commercial development located at the Solomon interchange on Interstate 70 (Exit 266).  I first visited Solomon shortly after the 1993 flood to secure funding for rehabilitation of houses.  The most memorable building to me at the time was the Montezuma Hotel, which was owned an eccentric female character who was “interesting” to work with.  The Montezuma Hotel was an 1880’s style downtown hotel that sat at the west end of downtown.  WOW, if those walls could have talked.

Historic Downtown Solomon (Montezuma Hotel)

Downtown Buildings

The Montezuma Hotel was raised within the last 6 years and the community has made significant improvements to the downtown streetscape and many of the building facades in the downtown.  The angled parking, curb bulb-outs, brick inlay and wide ADA compliant sidewalks look wonderful and are very functional.  Although I don’t know all of the details, I understand that the downtown improvements were largely spearheaded by two private businesses: Solomon State Bank and Solomon Corporation.  DS&O Rural Electric Cooperative may have also been involved since their headquarters is located downtown.  Solomon State Bank is a

Water Tower

family-run hometown bank with branches in Solomon, Abilene and Salina.  The bank is located downtown and they likely own a number of buildings downtown. 

Solomon Corporation is one of the most significant employers in Dickinson County and are also a family-run business.  Solomon Corporation recycles and rebuilds electrical transformers and other heavy utility equipment.  Their clients are

City Hall

nationwide and they recently expanded their operation by adding a metal and chemical recycling plant, which is licensed to handle a number of chemicals for which few plants are designed to handle.  Around 2004, Solomon Corporation also completed a significant expansion to their paint, warehouse and loading facilities.  Solomon Corporation is one of the most successful industrial businesses located in a rural Kansas community. 

Located just east of Solomon on Old Highway 40, Abilene Machine is a used agriculture machinery and equipment parts rebuilder and supplier.  Abilene Machine has upwards of 110

Solomon State Bank

employees and facilities in South Carolina, California and Iowa.  They supply parts to domestic and foreign customers.  The great folks at Abilene Machine have given me a tour of their approximately 120 acre salvage yard and facilities a couple times over the years.  The first time was shortly after a substantial fire (there is an interesting story regarding the fire) in 2004, which destroyed a warehouse and part of the corporate offices.  They have since built a new warehouse, shipping and corporate office which includes a show room type entryway.  The new building is highly visible with access off of Old Highway 40 while the old building was accessed from a side gravel road.  I imagine this new investment has been profitable in many ways.

Solomon has an affordable housing market with a mix of pre- and post-World War II homes along with some modern homes.  Bush’s Market is a small town grocery store with at least 1 of everything and freshly butchered meat.  There’s a post office, bank, senior center, gas station and city park.  Solomon is also home of the Solomon (Gorillas) school district (USD 393).  Solomon is located approximately 14 miles from Salina, which is the major regional shopping hub.  It is also 30 miles from Junction City.

If you have a mechanical or corporate background, there may be more job opportunities in Solomon than any other small town in the region.  If you like affordable small town living with easy access to the interstate, you should look into Solomon.

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