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A brief history of 716 South Kansas Avenue    

The lot where our building is located is part of the Original Town of the Topeka Township, which was founded on December 6, 1854. The surviving records for our location date as far back as 1860—the year Abraham Lincoln was elected as the sixteenth President of the United States. Guilford Dudley and the next owner of record, Hiram Higgins, had been two of the original 105 settlers to Topeka Township. At that time, Kansas Avenue was wild and unpaved, muddy from the horses and wagons that visited the modest pioneer storefronts that were slowly spreading south along Kansas Avenue from the river. It would be nine more years before the street would be paved.

Dudley was one of Topeka's most prominent early bankers, was deeply passionate about agricultural issues and an early proponent of using alfalfa for livestock feed. During Kansas' territorial period, he was mustered into the Topeka Guard and fought in Lawrence alongside John Brown. In 1864, he was appointed as the 4th Adjutant General to the State of Kansas.

It is uncertain when the earliest structure was erected on our lot, but we know that it was a single story building only large enough for one small store. In 1878, the first in a series of furniture dealers conducted business at this address. W. M. Dignon sold, repaired and reupholstered furniture for use in private residences, boarding houses, and hotels. Heavily carved furniture and marble tabletops were all the rage. Dignon had eleven employees, and did business out of three adjacent storefronts as seen in an early photo. Ours is the comparatively modest structure visible on the right side of the image.

historic photo

By 1880, ordinances overseeing construction were put in place, and suddenly permits were necessary for constructing everything from three-story hotels to backyard chicken coops. The twentieth building permit in the history of Topeka allowed for the expansion of our original building to one 25' wide and 60' deep, which allowed multiple businesses to operate out of the same address. A small merchant's apartment was situated at the rear.

During the 1880s-1890s dealers in second-hand goods, confectioners, and sewing machines did business here, next door to harness shops, cigar manufacturers and meat markets. In 1905, Charles H. Trapp printers, moved into the building to the north. You can see remnants of his painted advertisement on the second floor interior wall of our building. At the time, 716 was still a single story structure, and the sign would have been clearly visible from the street.

By 1909, Central Cycle and Supply had moved into 716, selling bicycles, motorcycles and gas appliances. Annie Trapp, Charles Trapp's wife, ran a small restaurant out of our location as well, only feet from the trolley route that ran down the center of Kansas Avenue. Prior to her marriage, Mrs. Trapp had been a successful insurance agent in Atchison. She continued to operate cafes in Topeka for many years.

In the fall of 1909, the city issued building permit #14547 to construct a new three-story stone and brick building at this site, while at the same time, the building to the south also underwent a major new construction. The two owners agreed to apply a single brick facade across both structures. While unusual today, the white glazed brick had been the height of fashion at that time, influenced by the design of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Another example can be seen at 5th and Kansas.

historic photo

Physicians and dentists were the first to move in, as was the contracting firm of Douglas & Evans, who was in the midst of what may have been their biggest and best-known construction, the Mills Building at 9th and Kansas, which is currently occupied by the Kansas Division of Water Resources.

Two years later, Douglas & Evans had moved on, replaced by the husband and wife chiropractic firm of Foy & Foy. Anna Foy would be instrumental in establishing the first law in the United States governing the practice of chiropractic medicine, as well as creating the first board of examiners.

From 1921-1934, our location returned to its earliest roots with the opening of William Connors Furniture Co. Mr. Connors had been a vice-president at Crosby Bros. prior to opening his own business. Around the time of Mr. Connors' retirement, The Cozy Theatre opened next door, featuring films starring Dick Powell, Mickey Rooney, and Bette Davis.

historic photo of cozy theatre

The Cozy Theatre (next door to what will become our building) advertises "continuous shows".

With World War II came a new tenant: Seeley Shoe Co. Private apartments and small service businesses like beauty shops and dressmakers occupied the second and third floors. By the 1950s, these small businesses had moved on, replaced by the Arthur Murray Dance Studio. A series of photography studios, too, took advantage of the second floor layout. Most recently, Stephen Smith operated Stephen's Portraits here until 1977. He continues to operate today as Stephen Smith Commercial & Portrait Images a few blocks to our south.

When White Lakes Mall opened in 1964, downtown lost its position as the retail heart of Topeka, but Brown's Shoe Fit Co. kept a strong foothold, operating at our address until 1998.
And then in 2007, Randy and Debra Clayton began the most extensive renovation of this structure in almost 100 years. In 2008 it became the new home of Clayton Financial Services, Inc.—one of the largest independent Registered Investment advisers in Kansas with over a quarter of a billion dollars under management.

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