• Last modified 434 days ago (May 20, 2020)



An Old Settlers Day float in 1954 passes by a section of downtown Marion that included a more robust assortment of retailers. Above the intersection of 3rd and Main Sts. was a vestige of law enforcement from a time before police radios — an old call light (right) that was used to summon the town marshal.

When parades pass us by

Marion’s business district had a very different composition 66 years ago when the 1954 edition of the Old Settlers Day parade passed by the north side of the 300 block of E. Main St.

The parade, which first went east to west then repeated west to east, included a multi-trailer float carrying what appeared to be most of the student body of Bown-Corby School, which continued teaching elementary students until 1992.

In the background as the float passed were two mainstays of a much stronger retail base downtown: the town’s J.C. Penney store, which closed two years later, and its just-opened Western Auto store.

Penney’s served Marion from 1929 to 1956 out of a storefront that was demolished along with the 1882 building just to its west (left in the photo) when Marion National Bank expanded and built a new building in 1979. Between 1956 and 1979, several clothing stores occupied the building.

Western Auto operated from 1954 to 1988 out of a building that now is home to Edward Jones Investments.

Originally, four identical storefronts — all part of the same original 1882 building — occupied this space. Nowadays, the only surviving piece of it is the third of those storefronts, which now houses Barely Makin’ It Antiques and in 1954 was the home of Beaston Market.

To the east (right) of Western Auto, in the now vacant 1887 Donaldson and Hosmer Building, was Coons Restaurant, which moved to the Elgin Hotel in 1959 and soon after was sold and renamed.

At the time of the parade, Marion was celebrating the first of a series of centennials — this one, the centennial of Kansas becoming a territory. The city celebrated its own centennial in 1960.

Perhaps the most iconic feature of the 1954 photo of Main St. is what appears to be a flashing caution or stop light hanging above the intersection of 3rd and Main Sts., which at the time were also US-50N and US-77 highways.

The signal was not a traffic light at all. It was a precursor to modern police radios.

When citizens needed to reach the town marshal, they would pick up a telephone — which did not convert to dial until 1961 — and inform a switchboard operator on the second floor of what’s now the vacant MacGregor’s building across the street from the bank.

The operator would switch the light on. A patrolling town marshal would see it while conducting his rounds and know to contact the operator to find out who needed him.

The light was used extensively by town marshal Ollie Wight, who served in that role from 1928 to 1946. The light was replaced by radios in 1949.

For more than a decade afterward, it remained as an unused vestige of earlier times until it finally was removed.

Last modified May 20, 2020