By TIM HORAN
The great grandchildren of Thomas and Anna Kirby were both saddened by the news of the fire that destroyed the Kirby House last week.
John ‘Jack’ Alexander lives in California, and Jan Savage, who lives in Arizona, have been to Abilene to visit the historic home where their father grew up.
Thomas and Anna Kirby, who built the home, had one daughter Gertrude, who married J. C. Alexander. Gertrude had one son, Walter Stephens Alexander, who married Maude Irene Whitehead, the parents of Jack and Jan.
Walter lived with Gertrude and Anna until high school age when he moved to California, probably in 1914 when the house was sold.
“My grandmother was Gertrude Kirby and I knew her pretty well,” Jack Alexander said. “I was five to 10 years old. She owned a home in California and she moved back and forth between those two (a home in Abilene and a home in California).
“The more I think about it, there’s little I know about Abilene,” he said. “Probably as a 10 year old, I may have stayed there a month. From there, I probably only stayed two or three days at a time. I didn’t really stay in there that much. I enjoyed it. I’ve been there enough times that I have good feelings about it.”
Alexander did say he asked his father about the little room at the top of the cupola in the Kirby House.
“I didn’t get too much out of him about it but I got the feeling it was place he liked to be alone at times,” he said. “He had that only-child syndrome and I think that was tough for him at times.”
Savage said her father grew up there with Gertrude and Anna.
“After a divorce, Gertrude went back to live with her parents Thomas and Anna,” she said. “He lived there until he ventured out to California.”
“From what I was told, several people from the Abilene area slowly moved toward the West Coast and Gertrude Alexander was one of those,” Jack Alexander said.
Savage said that her dad came back to Abilene on occasion and he ended up marrying her mother who was from the area.
“Life was pretty simple in those days, I think,” Savage said of the time Walter grew up in the house. “He did love the area and he loved being raised in that home. I’m so sad that that is gone. We have had dinner several times and it was a lovely place. The last time we had lunch there was about five years ago. It was just a lovely, lovely place.
“There were some pictures of my dad on his pony,” she said. “I don’t know if the two cement things in the front with round black rings are still there but that is where he tied his pony up.
“He was raised by two women, his mother and his grandmother, and he was a very proper man,” she added. “He was raised with very good ethics and manners. He loved living in that formal home. At that time, it was quite formal.
“He mentioned that he used to play with, not Ike Eisenhower, but his brother,” Savage said. “He loved Abilene. They both loved Abilene. His career, I guess you would call it today, kept him there. He was an engineer. They lived with Gertrude in California until her passing.”
Alexander said that Gertrude died at the age of 60.
Savage said she was disappointed when she visited Abilene in the early 1980s.
“I just know that when I went to Abilene as an adult, I was so disappointed in the house because at that time it was an apartment building,” she said. “I don’t know how they did that (made it into an apartment building) and how they brought it back to the Kirby House that it became. I just can’t imagine.”
Savage said that the Kirbys owned some land near Minneapolis and that was eventually passed down to her father.
“We would come here sometimes to check on the land. It was cattle land,” Savage said.