John S. Rhodes. Thousands of people who possess only a passing knowledge of Topeka, including the whereabouts of the State House and a few other important institutions, have a very definite acquaintance with a certain store on Kansas Avenue, the proprietor of which is John S. Rhodes.
Mr. Rhodes has been a resident of Topeka for thirty-six years. It is in no wise detrimental to his dignity to say that he has a “junk” shop. One visiting his establishment is reminded of the “old curiosity shop” of Dickens. His shop contains literally thousands of dollars worth of goods consisting of anything from a sewing needle to a gas engine. It is by no means an ordinary second-hand store. His customers are among the wealthiest people of the country, who go to him or write to him for anything rich and rare that may attract their fancy. Beautiful and costly bric-a-brac, books, works of art and works of practical usefulness, can be found in the Rhodes shop when they might not otherwise be found short of the biggest cities of the country.
Mr. Rhodes has lived in the capital city of Kansas since April, 1880. He is what is termed a “down easter,” having been reared in New England. However, he is a foreigner by birth, and as his father neglected to enroll himself as an American citizen the duty of naturalization devolved upon John S. Rhodes when he became old enough to exercise the privilege of franchise. He was born near Manchester in Yorkshire, England, January 29, 1848. His father, William S. Rhodes, a dyer by trade, had come alone to the United States in 1847, spending fifty-six days on an old-fashioned sailing vessel in crossing the Atlantic. In 1849 he sent for his family, and John S. was thus about eighteen months of age when he first saw his father. The maiden name of William S. Rhodes’ wife was Elizabeth Schofield. On coming to America the father’s first employment at his trade was in Branchville, Pennsylvania. About 1852 he moved to Potters Hill, in Rhode Island, and the family resided there until about 1866, when they removed to Yantic, Connecticut, four miles from Norwich. They finally took up their home in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where William S. Rhodes died December 25, 1885, and his widow on November 5, 1907. Of their eight children five are still living.
The eldest of the children, John S. Rhodes, spent most of his early life in Rhode Island and in Yantic, Connecticut. He was christened a member of the Established Church of England, as were also his brothers and sisters, but at the age of eighteen he joined the Baptist Church. Later as there was no church of that denomination in his home community and in order to keep up his church membership, he became a Methodist on probation.
As a boy he had little opportunity to gain an education such as comes from schools and books. He spent much of his time in the dye shop with his father, and those were years of rigid routine when the horizon of opportunity seemed to get further and further away. At the age of twenty-one he “took his time” and having concluded that there was something better than shop work in store for him, he bound himself out to learn the carpenter’s trade at Worcester, Massachusetts. His wages were $5 a week for the first year and $6 during the second year. He worked at his trade and also as a ship joiner in the great ship yards of Chester, Pennsylvania. Somewhat later he was given a contract by a shipbuilding concern to go to Panama and superintend the joining part of the construction of a ship. He completed this satisfactorily within a period of seven months.
Returning to the vicinity of Philadelphia Mr. Rhodes continued his work as a joiner in the surrounding towns, and while there he became acquainted with and on May 3, 1879, married Mrs. Anna (Hicks) Brown.
In April, 1880, Mr. Rhodes and his wife started west for Denver, acting upon Horace Greeley’s advice. En route he stopped off at Topeka for the purpose of looking around. The place pleased him, and he concluded to make it his future home and that resolution has been carried out strictly since he has lived there for more than thirty-six years. For a time Mr. Rhodes worked at the carpenter’s trade and among other jobs he helped build the west wing of the State Capitol. In 1883 he engaged in the grocery business at the corner of Fourth and Lake streets. That was his business headquarters until 1888, when he bought the southeast corner of Tenth Street and Kansas Avenue, No. 1000 Kansas Avenue, and in that location he has continued the activities which have made him so well known not only in Topeka but throughout the state. He continued the grocery business for some years, but in the meantime incidentally began the buying of second-hand goods. Gradually that business entirely usurped the grocery trade. At 1000 Kansas Avenue for many years Mr. Rhodes has conducted one of the most remarkable establishments in Kansas. He handles any and everything, and as a successful medium for the buying and selling of merchandise he has deservedly prospered. Mr. Rhodes is affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Knights and Ladies of Security.