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MEMORIES IN FOCUS:   A pioneer in old-fashioned hospitality

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

Proud of his new 1916 Ford Model T, Lewis Riggs and family pose outside their 1902 ranch house, Shady Nook, along Middle Creek near the Marion-Chase county line. His old car, he told the Record at the time, had been driven enough miles to have circumnavigated the globe.

One of Marion’s oldest settlers, Lewis E. Riggs (1855-1927), also was one its most welcoming hosts.

In the 1910s, barely a week went by without multiple groups from Marion stopping by his ranch, campgrounds, and meeting space along Middle Creek near Elk, not far from the location of today’s Country Dreams Bed and Breakfast.

Riggs came to Marion with his parents, Mahlon and Eliza, in 1864.

Lewis, just 9 years old, rode a saddle pony behind his father’s covered wagon and ox team for the entire journey.

The family camped one night on the present site of Kansas City and almost decided to settle there but instead ventured farther west, settling a mile north of what was then known as Marion Centre.

They later homesteaded in a log cabin northwest of what’s now Florence.

With few settlers in the county, buffalo and antelope roamed the prairie, deer grazed along streams, and Native Americans could be seen crossing the plains in war or hunting parties.

Settlers depended on each other for protection, and Lewis retained his hospitable neighborliness as an adult.

In 1877, he married the former Jennie E. Linn, and the couple moved to Middle Creek, near what’s now the ghost town of Elk on the Marion-Chase county line, northwest of Elmdale and northeast of Youngtown.

Their ranch became a showplace, and in 1902 the couple built a new house, complete with internal plumbing run by a gasoline engine.

Adjacent to the house, which they named Shady Nook, were a meandering steam, a campground, and a meeting place, all frequented by visitors from Marion and other communities.

A veritable “Who’s Who” of local residents would spend days, weeks, or entire vacations there — all, apparently, at no charge.

As the Record reported after his death in 1927: “The open hospitality of their home was known far and wide. They entertained without stint or price, and strangers were always as welcome as friends.”

All three of the couple’s children were born there: Maude Riggs (1878-1953), Edith Riggs Thie (1882-1937) of Burlington, Iowa, and Frances Riggs Hoffman (1888-1958) of Hoswell, Colorado.

Described as an ideal husband and a kind and indulgent father, Riggs was a Mason and a Christian Scientist who never refused to help those in need.

A leading rancher, he was regarded as honest, trustworthy, and considerate in his business dealings. He even was an early investor in the Marion Review, which later merged with the Record after relocating to Marion from Lincolnville, where it had been known as the Lance.

“Many have testified that no better man ever lived than Lewis Riggs,” the Record wrote in his obituary. “His life has been eminently worthwhile, and his going will create a loss that will be keenly felt by all who knew his worth.”

Riggs’s parents are buried in Florence, where they remained after settling there. He and his entire family are buried at Marion Cemetery.

Last modified May 9, 2019

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