Willis A. Colman was born on March 15, 1855 in Lawrence, Kansas and is believed to have been the first Caucasian boy born in Douglas County. Colman’s father, Ezekiel A. Colman, came from Concord, Massachusetts in 1854 as a member of the Third Immigrant Aid party. In 1858, Ezekiel moved his family to a new farmstead in Kanwaka Township. As an ardent abolitionist, his home soon became known as “Colman’s Retreat” because of the many slaves he aided. It was on this farm that Willis A. Colman was reared as one of 14 children (six of whom died at birth).
Willis A. Colman bought the 200-acre John Kelly farm in 1902. The 1905 census lists the estimated value of the farm at $5,000 and the value of the buildings at $2,000. The farm consisted of 80 rods of stone fence, 320 rods of hedges, and 100 rods of barbed wire fence. It was at this time that Colman’s son, Merle, engraved his name on the southern facade of the stone building: “Merle Colman 1902 Nov“.
In 1928, Colman lost his leg in a farming accident and ceased farming the land. Soon after the accident he moved into Lawrence. While living in town, he built a modest barn behind his home to shelter his horse and carriage. His land in Kanwaka was farmed by various people who rented the land from Colman. When he moved back to the farm in 1932, Colman divided the barn into sections and brought it with him to Kanwaka. The barn still stands today and is the southernmost structure of the farm. Colman died in 1934 and the farm was divided among his children. The children farmed the land collectively until 1940 when his son, Willis Ray Colman, bought out the remaining heirs and became sole owner of the property.
Willis Ray Colman was born in Kanwaka on November 30, 1895. When he bought the farm in 1940, a modest seven-room home stood at the site. It was the third house that had existed on the farm. On March 5, 1951, Willis Ray’s home burned and many of the early pictures and records of the farm were lost. During this time, Willis Ray built the small house that sits just north of the stone building. The Colmans lived in this house for the remainder of their lives. Willis Ray died July 18, 1960.
During his time on the farm, Willis Ray built an equipment shed near the hay shed. This building still stands on the farm today. Following Willis Ray’s death, his wife, Nellie Colman, continued to operate the farm, assisted by her daughter, Waneta, and son-in-law, Harold Willits.*
*information taken from Matthew Miller’s “Stone Building, Kanwaka Township, Douglas County, Kansas,” May 11, 1995