Leavenworth County Historical Society Celebrates 60 Years!

IMG_1763The tradition of celebrating a 60th anniversary came into popularity after Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee.  The color associated with the 60th anniversary is diamond white.  “Diamond” comes from the Greek word “adamas” which means unconquerable and enduring.

The Leavenworth County Historical Society was established 60 years ago in the Centennial year of the founding of the City of Leavenworth, back in 1954.  The impetus for the formation of an historical society was the realization that many historically significant buildings and sites were gradually disappearing from the landscape.  The thought of forming a historical society in Leavenworth, however, was not a new one.

A 1905 article appeared in The Leavenworth Post, lamenting the razing of the trading post of Major Robert Wilson, built in 1844,  out in Salt Creek Valley.  It was noted that on June 10, 1854, the first squatters’ meeting in the territory of Kansas was held in that structure.

“There is no county in the state that possesses more historical associations and landmarks.  Almost every day there is being obliterated some old landmark or relic that should have been preserved as mementoes of the earliest period in our county’s history.  Almost every day some old settler is passing away and taking with him to the grave a fund of valuable reminiscence that could have been preserved for posterity and the future historian.”

Of course, the suggestion was not immediately heeded, for reasons unknown, until the “seed” was again planted by Robert Nebrig, Director of the Leavenworth Parks and Recreation Dept., when in July, 1951, he announced his hope to establish a group of citizens, representing area organizations, who could eventually form a “Greater Leavenworth Historical Society”.  He and his department were attempting to gather information listing sites with historical importance in Leavenworth.   “We hope that the historical society, if we can establish it, will later see fit to identify historical locations here with markers.”

Three years later, Nebrig’s vision began to materialize when the Kiwanis Club, of which Nebrig was a member, announced their sponsorship of a historic essay contest in order to garner public interest in the organization of a historical society for Leavenworth.  Well before the contest deadline, the Leavenworth County Historical Society was organized, on December 6, 1954, in the Municipal Hall Court Room, on the second floor of City Hall.  A slate of officers was elected and a constitution adopted.  Forty-four members signed on that night and by the end of 1955, charter memberships numbered 115.  The roster contained names familiar as contributors to local history:  D.R. Anthony III, editor and owner of The Leavenworth Times; Miss Mary Ellen Everhard, photographer; Nettie Hartnett, for whom the school was named; and others representing old Leavenworth families:  Baum, Catlin, Collard, Cory, Crancer, Feller, Lange, Tullock, and our own Miss Ella Carroll. 

The original statement of purpose of the Society was “to discover and preserve for posterity as much accurate information as possible about Leavenworth City and County, to encourage pride in the achievements of Leavenworth pioneers who made significant contributions to the conquest  of the west and the building of a united nation, to stimulate loyalty on the part of present citizens of the community and its potential progress, and to advertise the City and County of Leavenworth in such a way as to create national and international interest in the most significant region of Kansas.”

Nebrig’s dream of marking historical locations was also taking place in Leavenworth County as Society quarterly meetings were held at City Hall.    However, it was quickly realized that in order to “discover and preserve” it naturally follows that a place is needed to store collected information and artifacts.  It became the primary focus of the Society, early on, to seek a proper location for a museum.  Members searched, in earnest over the next several years.  The public library, then located at the Carnegie, offered use of their auditorium on the second floor as well as a small workroom and limited space for displays and storage of Society gifts and property.  The offer was accepted and the Society held quarterly meetings there, until it was decided to expand the gatherings by including dinner, usually at the new Cody Hotel.

In 1959 the Society was invited to set up displays of rooms typical of the first fifty years of pioneer life in Leavenworth, within the expanded Fort Leavenworth Museum.  Five rooms were assembled in the west section of Andrews Hall and included a country store, a bedroom, kitchen, school room, and a parlor.  Committees, made up of representatives from various service organizations in Leavenworth, under the direction of the Society, furnished the rooms. This venture proved to be very popular and continued for five years, until Ella Carroll announced, on June 16, 1964, the munificent gift of her 16-room Victorian home to the Society for use as a museum. 

Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014 marks the actual 60th anniversary date of the Leavenworth County Historical Society.   The membership and invited dignitaries will mark this signifcant milestone with a reception at the museum, on December 6th, from 5 to 7pm, at which time a Proclamation will be read from Mayor Priesinger, proclaiming the date as Leavenworth County Historical Society Day.  The Society also marked  their 50th year of their ownership of the Edward Carroll House, earlier this year.   The house is listed on the National and State of Kansas Historic Registry.

The public is encouraged to share memories and memorabilia of Leavenworth County people and places with the Society, who continues to discover, collect, preserve, and share the rich history of our community.  An invitation is also extended to visit the Carroll Mansion Museum which, in itself, is a noteworthy piece of Leavenworth history, set in a Victorian atmosphere at 1128 Fifth Avenue.  Hours are 10:30am to 4:30pm Tuesday through Saturday and closed major holidays and during inclement weather. For the Christmas holidays, the museum will be closed from December 21, to reopen on January Tuesday, January 6, 2015.  Membership in the Society is open to the public.   Phone: 682-7759, email: leavenworthhistory@kc.twcbc.com; Web:  http://www.leavenworthhistory.org

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2014 Leavenworth Candlelight Vintage Homes Tour


The 23rd Annual Leavenworth Candlelight Vintage Homes Tour is scheduled for Sunday, December 14, 2014 from 1pm to 7pm.   As in past years, the tour headquarters will be at the Carroll Mansion Museum, 1128 Fifth Avenue, home of the Leavenworth County Historical Society. The museum will open at 11am for tour goers to pick up their tickets and view the house, decorated for the holidays and which features a special WWI exhibit this year. The museum’s Victorian Gift Shoppe will also be open; holiday breads will be available for sale in the kitchen and live entertainment is scheduled throughout the day.

Carroll Mansion by Zohner

While Leavenworth history abounds in each of the stops on this year’s tour, the Christmas theme is always the highlight.   From the very grand mansions to a simple cottage for a Leavenworth laborer, the tour goer will enjoy a cross-section of vintage Leavenworth homes dressed in holiday luxury. Six private residences are on the tour as well as the First Missionary Baptist Church at 800 W. 7th St. and the Leavenworth High School, 2012 Tenth Avenue, both of which are celebrating milestone anniversaries. The charter for the church was granted in 1874, one hundred forty years ago, which established it as the First Missionary Baptist and now oldest Baptist church in the state of Kansas.


Leavenworth High School commemorates the 150th anniversary since their founding. An early superintendent’s report noted that the high school was begun as an experiment but had no graduates. Examinations were held and many students were graded lower than expected, prompting a general displeasure among students and parents with the faculty, who subsequently found themselves unemployed. Finally, by 1871, Leavenworth High graduated a class of students, the first in Kansas. The high school open house will be from 11am to 1:30pm on tour day.

LHS south

Nathan & Mae Holman were once owners of the home at 2304 Maple Avenue. Nathan was a member of the Holman Family Nursery, whose custom was to deliver Christmas trees to city and Fort Leavenworth homes on Christmas Eve, first with a team of mules and wagon and later by fuel powered vehicles. The current owner of the home cleverly weaves her antique collections into her Christmas décor.


A picturesque piece of Leavenworth history at 122 Spruce Street tastefully blends the ambience of the past with the present. Located one block west of Esplanade Street, the two story simple Victorian is situated on a corner lot on the fringe of the Historical District, in the Clark and Rees Addition. Built in 1885 by Benjamin F. Taxler, a grain commissioner, the home has undergone extensive remodeling, bringing back the quiet simplicity and beauty of the old house.


A stucco Italianate at 1021 S. 5th Street was built in 1859, where one of the more famous residents of Leavenworth lived, H. Miles Moore, one of the founders of Leavenworth and author of the “History of Early Leavenworth City and County” in 1907.


In the Arch Street Historic District, the Tudor style home at 211 Arch Street was built by E.P. Willson, founder of the Great Western Stove Company. Later, during the residence of long-time Leavenworth physician, Dr. Ralph G. Combs and his wife, Helen Schott, a tree planted at the birth of their first grandchild, as was the German tradition, was always decorated at Christmas time. Today, the home is undergoing a major renovation and serves as the “before” in the process.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A number of residents, whose occupations ranged from tailors and bookkeepers to painters and firefighters called 918 Sherman Avenue home over the years.  Some worked in a family business while others were employed by the Great Western Stove Company in Leavenworth.


The vintage homes tour would not be complete without a home on Leavenworth’s once famed “millionaires row”. Built in the Romanesque Classical Revival style the spacious residence at 307 North Broadway is a true delight during the holiday season. With a distinct French chateau flavor, current owners have incorporated pieces acquired in their world travels into the décor.


The homes tour is organized by the Leavenworth Vintage Homes Society in cooperation with the historical society, the beneficiary. The Society celebrates its 60th year of existence as a non-profit organization for the collection and preservation of Leavenworth County history. The Carroll Mansion, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, has been their home for 50 years. For ticket information, call the museum: 913-682-7759 or e-mail: leavenworthhistory@kc.twcbc.com. Homes are pictured on the website at www.leavenworthhistory.org. For a donation of $12, advance tickets may be secured. On tour day, the donation is $17.

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SughrueWhen word was out that the Carroll Mansion Museum planned a special WWI exhibit centered around those who served from Leavenworth County, several members of the Historical Society offered their contributions for the display. The exhibit, which opened in August and runs through December 20, highlights more than 100 photographs of soldiers from Leavenworth County as well as an array of war relics, including those on loan from local collectors, John Reichley and Jason Claire. Aside from presentation flags, medals, uniforms, discharge papers, war posters, and scrapbooks it is somehow the personal letters exchanged during those years that strike a chord.

Contained within the current exhibit are a few letters written by soldiers to their families back home. Alex Sughrue addressed fancy postcards picked up in France to send short notes to his sister, Mrs. Mary Wahler, at 1218 Kiowa street. On December 2, 1918, he wrote:
“Dear Sister, I thought I would drop you a little Xmas card to remind you of the day and also that I am thinking of it too and I wished that I could be there to enjoy it with you. But there is a better time coming and it is not very far off. I am well at present and feel pretty good. Well good by from your ever thoughtful brother Alex.”
A collection of these postcards, donated by Sughrue’s daughter and LCHS volunteer, Joan Cooper, can be viewed in the exhibit.

On loan from Ed Wettig are newspapers with haunting war images carrying headlines such as, “American troops lacked training in World War, but not heroism” and “From all walks of life flower of American youth went into battle.” Ed’s father, Edward F. Wettig, was a self-employed book binder prior to his enlistment in 1917. He served in France after training at Camp Funston in Kansas. In a note to his mother he wrote, “Just a few lines to let (you) known we have just arrived safe and now I am somewhere in England. I am feeling fine and now we are about to go to the training camp. I can’t say much on account of the censor. Didn’t get sick once while on the ocean. Will write more later on. Write me soon. I remain your loving son, Edward”

While letters to and from the folks back home were certainly eagerly anticipated, an unusual and probably unexpected letter from the war times is that written by King George to the U.S. soldier upon debarkation in England. Every soldier was given an envelope with these words, “A Message to You from His Majesty King George.” Inside the envelope was a sheet of paper with the royal arms engraved on it. A facsimile of the hand-written message was, “Soldiers of the United States, the people of the British Isles welcome you on your way to take your stand beside the Armies of many Nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom. The Allies will gain new heart and spirit in your company. I wish that I could shake the hand of each one of you and bid you God speed in your mission.” For those who have World War I memorabilia, these letters have become treasured as one of the most valuable souvenirs of the war.

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“My Brother, William F. Cody” to be Presented during Buffalo Bill Days!

CodyOver the years, Betty Ludwig has often portrayed a Harvey Girl or Ida Stover Eisenhower, Dwight’s mother, to audiences around Leavenworth. But, on Saturday, August 16th, she will be visiting the Carroll Mansion Museum at 1128 Fifth Avenue, as Julia Cody Goodman, one of the sisters of William F. Cody.

The year is 1926 and Julia is on her way to visit her son in Hawaii, first stopping in Leavenworth to call on old friends and acquaintances. This long-awaited portrayal will be a recollection of the days when the Cody family resided on what is known as Cody Hill in Leavenworth County. William F. Cody had four older sisters, two of whom wrote about their younger brother who eventually became internationally known as Buffalo Bill Cody.

The Codys were early settlers in the Salt Creek Valley and weathered the days of Bleeding Kansas. Mrs. Mary Cody was determined not to be driven off their land in pre-Civil War days, when her husband, Isaac was stabbed by a Kickapoo Ranger as he voiced his anti-slavery sentiments. The duties of farm chores, caring for their parents and the running of the Cody tavern and hotel, while young Bill was out finding whatever jobs he could to help support the family, often fell to Julia and her sisters.

But Julia would fondly remember the white-covered prairie schooners moving across the Salt Creek Valley like “land locked sail boats”, stagecoaches pulling six Missouri mules with eight heavily-armed men on each, and the view of the expansive valley they had from atop their “hill”.

Julia attended school briefly in Leavenworth and became friends with Molly Delahay, daughter of the famed lawyer who brought Abe Lincoln to speak in Leavenworth in 1859, prior to his election as United States President.

Described as “a beautiful young girl with flashing brown eyes and perfect peaches and cream complexion,” Julia attracted even the likes of Bill Hickok, well before he became “Wild Bill”. But, it was Al Goodman, a farmer in Kickapoo Township, she would marry and raise a large family with. They made their home here and in the Valley Falls area to later manage her father’s “Scout’s Rest Ranch” in North Platte, Nebraska.

The Saturday presentation is free and open to the public and scheduled for 10:30 am, August 16. A small Cody Family exhibit will be available for viewing and “The Cody Family in Leavenworth County” book for sale in the gift shop. Seating is limited. For more information, contact the museum at 682-7759 or e-mail: leavenworthhistory@kc.twcbc.com

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Victorian Herb Garden Vic Herb Garden Herb & heirloom garden

Victorian Rose, Herb & Heirloom Gardens at the Carroll Mansion Museum


Many local residents have probably toured the Carroll Mansion Museum at 1128 Fifth Avenue and taken a step back in time to the Victorian era of Leavenworth. But, how many have thought to walk about the spacious lawn of this historic property and discover another treasure lovingly cared for on the grounds?                                                                           

Tucked back in the northwest corner of the museum grounds, the inquisitive visitor will be rewarded with the delightful sight of the Herb & Heirloom Gardens, constructed by the Leavenworth County Master Gardeners. Planned in 1997, the gardens were completed in 2008 and received the 2009 “Search for Excellence” state award from the Kansas State University Research and Extension office.

Featuring kitchen herbs as well as heirloom flowers and vegetables, the garden resembles the spokes of a wagon wheel, reminiscent of the wagons that once rolled through Leavenworth on their way westward. Paths here are then outlined with 4,436 bricks recycled from the streets of Leavenworth. Specialty gardens within the spaces between the wheel spokes contain kitchen, cottage, salad, fragrance, tea, medicinal, butterfly, shade and heirloom plant varieties. Placed strategically throughout the garden are horticultural vignettes utilizing statues, garden art, arbors, benches, a water fountain, and an espalier apple tree.

The Ella Carroll Memorial Rose Garden is also tended by the Master Gardeners. Located in the oval center of the circular brick driveway on the south side of the museum beside the peony garden, memorial rose bushes can be purchased in the memory of a loved one.

Master gardeners have devoted countless hours in nurturing these lovely gardens. This past weekend they opened the gardens for viewing but due to the downpour Saturday morning, not many ventured out to take advantage of their guided tour and plant sale. Before the heat of the summer takes its toll, why not take a little time out from your busy day and drop by to see for yourself. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm for tours and the gardens are free for viewing. Come sit on one of the benches and revel in the magnificence of these Victorian gardens!

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June 8, 2014 · 8:57 pm

History Mystery Solved!

history mystery003On the evening of May 19, 1960, a tornado leveled the home of George & Gladys Stein of rural Leavenworth, leaving the couple without their home furnishings including a collection of family photos. George was the caretaker of the Mt. Zion Jewish Cemetery for 48 years, taking up the work from his father, Otto Stein, a son of German immigrant pioneers of Leavenworth County. Use of the home and adjoining 40 acres of land was essentially his payment. Stein had also been clerk of Kickapoo Township, held office as road overseer, was appointed a special deputy sheriff for Kickapoo as well as being named game warden.  He had married Gladys, a daughter of Agnes Bonskowski Cook Stanley (1892-1965) in 1930.

The Steins were the parents of five children. A son, Joseph Charles Stein and his wife Sharon, currently reside in rurual Leavenworth County. Both are now retired after being employed at Fort Leavenworth and are faithful readers of the Leavenworth Times. When Joseph finishes reading the paper, he passes it to Sharon. So, imagine Sharon’s surprise when she recognized a “History Mystery” photo, submitted by the Leavenworth County Historical Society, to be her husband’s grandparents, exclaiming to Joe: “Here’s a picture of NaNa and Punsa!” Joe had not recognized the couple pictured as Agnes M. Bonskowski and Joseph Charles Stanley, his namesake, but Sharon remembered the flower on the dress of Agnes from another photo she had seen in an album of photos gathered by family members following the 1960 tornado. Sharon called Joe’s only living sibling, Florence Rodgers, also a Times subscriber, who resides on the Stein Family Farm, and she readily agreed. The photo had been taken on the wedding day of Agnes to Joseph Charles Stanley, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army at Fort Leavenworth, on January 29, 1928.

As fate would have it however, another Times subscriber, Robert Holt, now a resident of Niagara Falls, Ontario Canada, thought he recognized his great-grandmother in the “History Mystery” photo and contacted the museum. Robert’s mother, Agnes Marie “Sissy” Stein Holt (1938-1990), was a daughter of George & Gladys Stein, and therefore a granddaughter of Agnes Bonskowsky Stanley, her namesake. Yet another interesting connection is that Robert Holt was the administrator for the Carroll Mansion Museum, home of the historical society, for ten years in the 1990s and was instrumental in obtaining the Everhard Glass Plate Negative Collection for the museum. The collection is comprised of nearly 30,000 portraits, taken by early day photographers of residents in the first 100 years of Leavenworth’s existence.

With the solving of this particular “History Mystery”, a little piece of Leavenworth history has been saved for not only future generations of historians and researchers but also for a Leavenworth County pioneer family.   Watch the Times for more “History Mystery” photos that remain unidentified in the photo collections of the Leavenworth County Historical Society at the Carroll Mansion Museum, 1128 Fifth Ave. The Society celebrates its 60th year of service in the discovery and preservation of the rich history we enjoy here in Leavenworth County. For more information, contact the museum at 682-7759, email: leavenworthhistory@sbcglobal.net or visit their website: http://leavenworthhistory.org

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Voices From the Past Provide a Link to the Present


The Leavenworth County Historical Society, at the Carroll Mansion Museum, is a repository for collections of photographs, stories, and memorabilia of past and present residents of Leavenworth County.  Last year, the museum received a donation of an early 1940s scrapbook, assembled in memory of Bertha Mayer Renensland, a Kickapoo resident.  The donation was unusual, in that the scrapbook had somehow made its way to Louisiana, among the contents of a hope chest that had been purchased at an estate sale in Leavenworth.  Luckily, the new owner realized the historical value of the book to Leavenworth and contacted us!  

Within the fragile, brittle pages of the scrapbook were newspaper clippings, unidentified old photos, school programs, and greeting cards sent to Mrs. Renensland for every occasion.  As with many items that are donated to the museum, research was initiated in order to learn more about this Leavenworth County individual.  Within the museum’s vertical files the Renensland family was immediately located and ancestry.com filled in an extensive family chart.  Bertha Mayer had married, in 1897,  John Renensland, whose parents had settled in Leavenworth County in the early settlement days. They made their home in Kickapoo, just north of Leavenworth, on forty acres of land, where John made his home his entire life as a farmer and stock raiser.   Eleven boys and five girls were born of this union, out of which twelve survived to adulthood.  One of those children, Gilbert Renensland, was the caretaker of the Kickapoo Cemetery for many years, as noted in the March 22, 2014 Times article, “Q5: Respect and Resurrect”.    John Renensland served as clerk of the Kickapoo district school board for more than 50 years and as treasurer of Kickapoo Township for 35.  

Luella Baker, another Kickapoo native, who lived to the age of 101, fondly recalled the large Renensland family   . . . They would bake 40 large loaves of bread a week, and many pans of cinnamon rolls.  At one meal they would consume about 4 of those large loaves of bread, 2 gallons of coffee, a peck of potatoes (mashed), a half of a ham.  In their smoke house they usually had 20 hams and 20 shoulders hanging, along with 40 sides of home cured bacon.  They canned between five and six thousand quarts of tomatoes, fruit of all kinds, jams and jellies.  They always made 4 or 5 copper kettles full of apple butter every fall in the yard.  In addition, they stored Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, and buried cabbage and carrots and beets.  They were about the only family that raised their own navy beans in the Kickapoo community.  They made their own ketchup.  One winter they had 600 quarts of tomatoes and 200 quarts of strawberries…..the land that their grandfather homesteaded in the 1840s remains the last property in the area which has never been bought or sold, but has always been in the possession of the family from the time it was homesteaded. Their home was a haven for many people who came from a distance to the community.  When they came to clean off their graves at the cemetery, they knew there was a good meal at the Renensland home and that they would be welcome . . . . 

A drive out to Kickapoo reveals a Renensland road sign, regrettably misspelled, and at the curve in the road, a stand of trees is all that remains, marking the location of the old homestead.

Discovered in the museum vertical files is a 1980 news clipping from the Leavenworth Times noting a recent visit by Howard Renensland, in the home of his parents, Howard and Shirley Renensland at 1230 Spruce Street.  A “Google” search on the internet revealed the Renensland grandson’s current whereabouts so we were able to get in touch with him to not only secure the identification of the numerous photos we had acquired within the family scrapbook, but additional family information as well.   Having been a 1966 graduate of Leavenworth High, some may be aware of Mr. Renensland’s television and stage fame.  From a biography furnished by Mr. Renensland:  

Howard Renensland, President and Founder of [with]tv, is a career professional actor. He is a member of Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and Actors Equity Association. Mr. Renensland has appeared in over 400 television commercials, numerous radio ads, and hundreds of print ads as well. He has appeared on and Off Broadway, on National Tours and Summer Stock as well as with The Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, The Missouri Repertory Theatre, The Cleveland Playhouse and The Dallas Theatre Center among others.On television he has been seen in Hill Street Blues, The Ted Knight Show, Family Ties, We Got It Maid, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, a number of Daytime Dramas and in the films Black Beauty, Batteries Not Included, The Wandering Muse of Artemeus Flagg, co-starring with Burgess Meredith and Friendly Persuasion with Richard Kiley and Shirley Knight . He was a Guest Professional Artist at Kansas University, Clark College, Case Western Reserve University, and Park College.  He earned a B.A. from Washburn University and an M.A. from Trinity University in San Antonio, TX.  In 2008 he was honored  as a Leavenworth High School Graduate of Outstanding Artistic Achievement by the LHS Alumni Association.Since the birth of Renensland’s first child Victoria, who is a person with disabilities, he has actively advocated for her inclusion. He has written and spoken extensively on the issue of inclusion of students with disabilities from preschool through college. Most recently he and his daughter Victoria were invited by The Circles Network to travel to Great Britain for a two week engagement speaking to parents and educators. He has written a variety of plays and is at work on a memoir of his life with his daughter, INCLUDING VICTORIA. He currently resides in New York City with his wife Kathleen and daughter Victoria. His other daughter Olivia, is a graduate of The University of Chicago and is completing her program at Duke Law School. Upon graduation she will be working at the NYC Law Firm Cleary Cottleib.

Mr. Renensland informs us that he is always happy to talk about [with]tv and encourages all who are interested to follow and “friend” [with]tv on Facebook ad Twitter as “we will soon have a KickStarter Project to launch the project and put dozens of people with disabilities, and others, to work on the web and in Film & TV.”   


In visiting Howard’s website at http://with-tv.com/index.html, it becomes immediately apparent that the human kindness found in the Renensland family of old Kickapoo, lives on in their descendants.  

With a mission to gather, collect, and preserve Leavenworth history, the Carroll Mansion Museum is often a place where researchers of family or Leavenworth history visit to explore the extensive information gathered over the past sixty years since the founding of the Society.  Plan to visit the museum at 1128 Fifth Avenue, just south of Cushing Hospital or call 913-682-7759. Website:  www.leavenworthhistory.org  “Like” us on Facebook  under Leavenworth County Historical Society.


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