Photo: The 1937 Joseph and Odett Brelsford house at 503 SW Merriam Court almost defies architectural classification, displaying an early Ranch form but also including spare Minimal Traditional eaves and a curved Art Moderne sunporch. Photographed by Brad Finch for the City of Topeka, Country Club Addition Neighborhood Historical Survey and Report. 2018.
The Country Club Place addition [†] was surveyed and platted in 1924 by the Central Trust Company of Topeka. The plat included 15 irregular blocks south of 24th Street, east of Union (now SW Western) Avenue, west of Kansas Avenue and north of 27th Street, except for the southwest corner, which ended at the lots south of Merriam Court. The Topeka City Planning Commission approved the survey on August 28, 1924 and by the Topeka Board of Commissioners on August 28, 1924.
The west portion of the Country Club Place subdivision retains much of its original configuration. Polk Terrace extending south of 24th Street was eventually closed. Many of the streets were renamed in 1938, according to city records. Circle Hill became SW Terrace Avenue, Grant Road became SW Granthurst Avenue and Union Avenue became SW Western Avenue.
The curvilinear streets and irregular lots, probably the work of a landscape designer, broke with earlier trends of neighborhood development along a regular street grid. J.C. Nichols developed similar layouts in Kansas City during the early 1900s. The layout of the Country Club development put few lots facing north winter winds and located most of the house sites facing in toward the new neighborhood. The blocks originally contained more and smaller lots than today. For example, Block 13, surrounded by SW Terrace Avenue, SW Western Avenue and SW Granthurst Avenue, was platted with 18 house sites but 11 houses were built. Block 14, bordered by SW Granthurst Avenue, SW Topeka Boulevard and SW Merriam Court, was platted with 22 lots but 15 houses were built.
The Country Club Place plat was signed by J.R. Burrow, president, and Chester Woodward, secretary, of the Central Trust Company. The Central Trust Company was chartered April 8, 1914 by several individuals who had a controlling interest in the Central National Bank and Trust Company. J.R. Burrow served as the President of both financial institutions. Burrow served as Kansas Secretary of State from 1903 to 1907. As a resident of Smith Center, he founded the First National Bank of Smith Center. He eventually served as president or on the board of many Kansas financial institutions, including banks in Agra, Bellaire, Osage City, Portis and Athis. Burrow died in 1931. Chester Woodward was a Topeka financier and philanthropist who established himself in the banking industry during the first decades of the 1900s. He entered the farm loan business in the early 1900s and in 1919 became the secretary of the Merriam Mortgage Company. When the Merriam Company merged with the Central National Bank and Trust Company of Topeka in 1920, he served as the company's vice-president until he resigned in 1928. He continued to serve as president of the Topeka Morris Plan Company, a national loan and investment company, until his death in 1940.
The surveyed area also includes eight houses on SW Western Avenue on the east edge of the Quinton and Steeles subdivision, most built between 1950 and 1968. Now referred to as the Quinton Heights Steele neighborhood, the area was historically named Quinton Heights. The boundaries were 21st Street on the north, 27th Street on the south, SW Washburn Avenue on the west and SW Western Avenue on the east. According to City of Topeka, Quinton Heights was platted in 1887 and annexed into the corporate limits in 1905. The neighborhood was touted in a 1909 article as one of southwest Topeka's new and desirable neighborhoods. "People are coming more and more to recognize this as one of the coming residence sections of Topeka. What was the first of the Topeka boom additions is rapidly becoming one of the nicest portions of Topeka." 18 The area's location near the Topeka Country Club likely contributed to its desirability. The article goes on to state, "Just south of Quinton Heights is the Country club, one of the most fashionable of Topeka's clubs. It is to the Country club that fashionable Topeka people go during the summer. The popularity of golf in Topeka is due to the Country club."19
The surveyed area contains one home that may predate the Country Club Place plat, 2425 SW Granthurst. A dwelling appears in the northeast corner of the area in the 1898 atlas as belonging to Mary Bradbury. E.H. and Mary Bradbury came to Topeka in 1873 and made their home south of the Shawnee County fairgrounds near Topeka Avenue. The house at 2425 SW Granthurst may be the Bradbury house. The house's style and construction are consistent with pre-1900 construction. An interview with Ruth Mohler makes note of "an old farmhouse" in the northeast portion of the Country Club addition. It first appears on a city map in 1935 and first appears in 1935-37 City Directories as 520 Circle Hill, home of Robert and Trissa Merrick.
The first new house built in the Country Club addition was the prominent J.C. and Ruth Mohler home near the entrance to the neighborhood at 2501 SW Granthurst Avenue, designed by architect W.E. Glover. The house was built in 1926 and, according the building permit, valued at $10,000. Jake Mohler served as secretary of the state board of agriculture and Ruth Mohler was a Topeka home builder. The Tudor Revival house, the sixth built by Mrs. Mohler in Topeka, featured an entrance surrounded by native stone, exterior rough-hewn half timbers and textured stucco. The interior included a south living room sunk two feet below the entrance, a south attached garage, north dining room, three bedrooms and a sleeping porch. The Mohlers initially offered the house for sale but instead kept it as their own home.
Ruth McClintock Mohler (1881-1956) grew up in Topeka as a daughter of a well-to-do couple, surgeon Dr. John McClintock and his wife, Ray. Ruth was educated at Bethany College. By the 1920s, she was settled into her domestic life, married to Jake Mohler and the mother of three children&mdasg;two sons in college and a 10-year-old daughter. She began building her business of developing property, building her first houses in Topeka in 1925 on land she purchased on the edge of town. She grew proficient in buying land and building, employing architects and foremen to fulfill her plans. She referred to her own Country Club house as designed in the English Country Cottage style, likely influenced by her travels abroad. The construction of the house served as a promotional springboard for her new business. She advertised a public open house at the Granthurst Avenue home that was attended by 2500 Topekans.
Mohler built 12 houses in the Country Club neighborhood between 1926 and 1940, including two houses for her sisters. For Gertrude Whitcomb, she built a brick Tudor Revival house at 810 SW Terrace Avenue in 1929 valued at $8.000. For Helen McClintock, she built a Spanish Eclectic house at 2421 SW Crestview Street in 1937, valued at $4,800.
Development was initially slow in the neighborhood, with only four houses built in the surveyed area before 1930. An advertisement from the Brosius Investment and Neiswanger Investment companies promoted home ownership in the area as a way to improve one's status and as affordable for "anyone who earns an average salary." The ad, which has a photograph of the neighborhood showing only the Mohler house, goes on to state, "The modest down payment and equally modest weekly or monthly sums are no barrier—if you have the determination to step out of the class of weaklings who claim they never can get anywhere." The advertisement may have indicated a shift from trying to appeal to upper-middle-class residents to reaching for those who wanted to be upper middle class.
Home construction all but declined or stopped across the country during the Great Depression and early 1940s, but 20 additional houses were built in the surveyed area before the onset of World War II in 1942. At least one of these homes, 2504 SW Granthurst, was probably built on speculation. The home appeared in an advertisement in the Topeka Daily State Journal in May 1930 but first appears in the 1933 City Directory as occupied by Robert and Marjoire Owthwaite
The former Florence Crittenton Home was built in 1930 at 2601 SW Western Avenue. The first Crittenton Agency was established in Topeka in 1900 on Jewell Street. A home was located in the Quinton Heights neighborhood by 1909. The Florence Crittenton Home is listed at this location in City Directories as early as 1921. Notice of the construction of a new home appeared in Kansas Construction News in 1930. The article stated that the three-story brick and concrete building would cost $26,000. The Florence Crittenton home provided residential services to pregnant or troubled teenage girls. It offered health care, educational services and counseling. The facility was licensed to care for 20 girls: 15 troubled teens ages 13 to 17 and five pregnant girls. The house served as Crittenton Home until 2003.
An aerial photograph taken for the City of Topeka in 1942 shows houses on about half of the lots on the inner streets of the surveyed area. No construction occurred in the area between 1943 and 1948. The 1950 Sanborn map shows little change in the neighborhood's density.
The number of houses in the surveyed area nearly doubled between 1948 and 1959. Two houses were built in 1948, two in 1949, and 17 in the 1950s. The neighborhood's location just two miles from downtown and near the Topeka Country Club likely proved to be an attraction for new homeowners. The curving streets and maturing landscaping could also have drawn in buyers who were looking for a developed setting for their new homes.
The 1950s also brought new houses to two unoccupied streets within the surveyed area—SW Topeka Avenue and SW Western Avenue. Four of the five west lots in the 2500 block of Topeka Avenue were built on in the early 1950s. The first house, a Ranch at 2535 SW Topeka, was built in 1950. Three houses were built in 1955 at 2517, 2525 and 2535. The final house was built in 1966 at 2521. The location on a busy thoroughfare may have initially been unattractive to homeowners. The 1950s Topeka Avenue houses were smaller and simpler than most of those located in the neighborhood's interior, indicating perhaps a lower sale price for the lots.
Five of the seven historic houses on SW Western Avenue were built in the 1950s. According to Gerald Graves, who grew up in the area and recently purchased a house on the street, African Americans were not allowed to buy homes in the Country Club Place addition in the 1950s. Western Avenue, located in the Quinton Heights plat, was available to upper- and middle-class black families. The street was desirable, he states, for affluent African Americans who wanted to live very close to one of Topeka's most desirable neighborhoods. A sampling of the street's initial owner occupations—clergy, DuPont employee, owner of an electric company—provides evidence of this. The last historic house built in the surveyed area was the substantial 1968 Ranch home of Donald and Earlene Redmon at 2519 SW Western Avenue. After serving in the Korean War, Donald Redmon began working with his father, Fred, building houses. He became Topeka's first licensed African-American electrical contractor and went on to build several commercial buildings.
Just five houses were built on vacant lots in the surveyed area in the 1960s. Two were small houses built at 701 and 555 SW Merriam Court in 1962 and 1963. A substantial Ranch house was built for John and Ruthie Arthur at 2520 SW Granthurst in 1965. In 1966, the last house was added to those facing SW Topeka Avenue at 2521. In 1968, Donald and Earlene Redmon built the neighborhood's last historic home at 2519 SW Western. Three houses were built in the surveyed area after 1968: 815 SW Terrace in 1976, 605 SW 24th Street in 1978 and 2501 SW Western in 1998.
The first residents of the surveyed area worked in middle- to upper-middle-class professions. Occupations listed in city directories identify initial and later homeowners as a mix of management positions, attorneys, company owners, professionals and employees of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The stability of these jobs almost certainly contributed to the excellent maintenance of the neighborhood's historic homes.
All of the surveyed houses, except for the Florence Crittenton Home, were constructed as single dwellings and all are single-family homes today. The development of the neighborhood is clearly reflected in architectural styles from the five decades of the 1920s through the 1960s, beginning with homes built in Revival styles and ending with Ranch houses. Materials were traditional. Most houses were of frame construction with siding of wood, brick or stone. A handful of houses have stucco or concrete siding. Surveyed ancillary structures included 23 detached garages or sheds.
Three of the four earliest houses were built before 1930 in Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival, styles quite popular in the 1920s. The neighborhood also has one Craftsman home, a slightly old fashioned style for the time.
Revival styles dominated the pre-World War II era, especially the symmetrical Colonial Revival style. Eight Colonial Revival homes were built in the surveyed area during this time, including the 1932 James and Freda Lippitt house at 2432 SW Granthurst and the 1936 H. Bernard and Jane Fink house at 711 SW Merriam Court, designed by T.R. Griest and built by Ruth Mohler.
Three Tudor Revival homes, such as the 1930 Earl and Kathryn Jones house at 801 SW Terrace joined the earlier houses in this style with their prominent front gables, multi-paned windows and use of decorative stone. Construction during this time also included examples of combined styles, such as the Milton and Montie Fuller house at 807 SW Terrace, with a two-story Neoclassical porch but with a clear Colonial Revival form. The Helen McClintock home built in 1937 has a Spanish Eclectic appearance but a form that nods to Tudor Revival. The 1936 Forest and Helen Loveland residence, 2526 SW Granthurst, displays a steep French Eclectic roof and arched wall dormers, but retains the symmetry of the Colonial Revival style. The 1937 Joseph and Odett Brelsford house at 503 SW Merriam Court almost defies architectural classification, displaying an early Ranch form but also including spare Minimal Traditional eaves and a curved Art Moderne sunporch.
Two examples of modern house styles that later dominated the neighborhood were built before World War II. The area's first Ranch house was built at 515 SW Merriam Court in 1941 and a Minimal Traditional house was built in 1942 at 2435 SW Granthurst Avenue. Both are early examples of forms that would become very popular in the Country Club neighborhood, as well as across the country.
After World War II, the modern Minimal Traditional and Ranch styles multiplied throughout the surveyed area. In all, 10 houses were built in the Minimal Traditional style and 22 houses were built in the Ranch style in the neighborhood. The forms clearly diverged from historic designs. Both styles were readily available in pattern books and were easily built due to their use of building materials with standard measurements.
The compact Minimal Traditional house promoted simplicity, giving the owner plenty of interior space with the appearance of a small house. The 1955 George and Isabel Wells house at 2413 SW Western is a late example of style with a tidy appearance. No Minimal Traditional houses were built in the area after 1955.
The sprawling Ranch style was clearly a modern look that accommodated the family automobile with an attached garage. The Ranch could be modest, like the house at 515 Merriam Court, or much grander. The surveyed area has two examples of outstanding Ranch homes. Willis and Dorothy Lundgren's 1955 house at 2415 SW Crestview was designed by architect William Suerk and built by Mr. Lundgren's company, J.A. Lundgren & Son Construction Company.
The last historic house built in the surveyed area is the impressive 1968 Ranch home of Donald and Earlene Redmon at 2519 SW Western. The house features a center courtyard behind a front tile screen, casement windows with diamond panes and red stone siding. The house remained with the Redmon family until 2017.
† Susan Jezak Ford for the City of Topeka, Country Club Addition Neighborhood Historical Survey and Report, www.kshw.org, accessed August, 2022.
24th Street SW • Crestview Street SW • Merriam Court SW • Terrace Avenue SW • Topeka Boulevard SW • Western Avenue SW