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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: Father of the Elgin's long-lost little sister years ago

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

Whether stone or wood, many of Marion’s most historic buildings have one thing in common: contractor Henry Kable.

“Henry Kable is not only one of the best carpenters in the state,” the Marion Record wrote in 1891, “but he is also an accomplished architect and draughtsman.”

Kable, who had a steam-powered workshop on Sante Fe St. between 1st and Walnut Sts., was contractor for the Elgin Hotel and its adjoining historic structure, the now-promised-to-be-restored Bowron Building.

He also built the also-awaiting-restoration Donaldson and Hosmer Building, the A.E. Case building that was destroyed in the Duckwalls fire in the 1960s, and the YMCA building that also was destroyed by fire in the 1950s.

He also was contractor in 1893 for St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen.

“The notable thing about the transaction,” the Record wrote at the time, “is the elegant plans and specifications drawn by Mr. Kable. He can do the whole job for you, from the picture to the building complete, and do it as good as anybody.”

Among the dozens of other structures he built throughout the county were the 1880s Carter residence (shown here), just west of the Elgin.

In the 1900s it became known as the Wheelock Rooming House and continued as an apartment building until being demolished a couple of decades ago to create a parking lot.

At various times, the house and the Elgin were operated together or separately by relatives and successor owners of the two establishments. At one point there was even a skywalk between the Elgin and the A.E. Case Building, where “sample rooms” were maintained on the second floor.

Kable, born in 1849 in Pennsylvania, moved to Marion in 1870 and lived here until shortly before his death in 1918.

His shop’s steam-powered buzz saw in 1887 was a must-see attraction, and he assisted many other businesses in establishing steam power — including the Record with its new, steam-powered printing press.

“Mr. Kable is splendidly prepared to handle a large part of Marion’s building boom,” the Record wrote at the time. “He is one of the finest workmen in Kansas and has erected many monuments to his technical skills.”

Among his many contracts was to build an 1891 county jail. Despite his accomplishments, county commissioners needed to be convinced to sign off on the project.

The Record described the final meeting with commissioners this way:

“Henry, understanding human nature pretty well, loaded himself down with oranges, bananas, and cigars, and marched over to the Courthouse, thinking no doubt that he could melt the hearts of our stern board and thereby induce an amicable settlement.

“But by the time Billy Evans and his second, Billy Church, got in their work on the generous donation of contractor Kable, there was mighty little left to influence anybody.

“However, the session passed pleasantly, the new jail accepted by the commissioners as a first-class job, and Mr. Kable, the architect and builder, sent on his way, rejoicing.”

At his death, the Marion Review, which later merged with the Record, wrote:

“Mr. Kable was one of Marion County’s good pioneers. He was one of the most kind-hearted men. He was genial, jolly, and a practical joker. He was a great lover of children and manifested great interest in the doings of the little folks.

“Mr. Kable is one of the finest mechanics in the West, and many of the best homes and public buildings bear witness of his splendid workmanship. He was among the best contractors and builders and ever took great pride in his work.”

Kable’s remains are buried at Marion Cemetery alongside those of his wife, the former “Mattie” Whipple, who died 11 years later.

Last modified March 27, 2019

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