The Hardman Lumber Company and its affliated corporations, once operating in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado, was one of the largest businesses of its kind in the Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska area. It owes its origins to the activities of Marion Willford Hardman, who was not only a leader in the lumber industry but in political and municipal affairs and in the Masonic world. Though the business is today headquartered at Osborne, Mr. Hardman centered his activities at Phillipsburg, a city which he served as Mayor.
“Billy” Hardman was born August 25, 1868, in Rochester, Iowa, and was the oldest of seven children born to Nathaniel and Ellen (Willford) Hardman. The family moved to Kansas in 1871, taking homesteads near Jamestown in Cloud County. Eight years later they moved to Downs, where Nathaniel Hardman opened the Pioneer Store with a line of general merchandise and drugs. In 1882 he was killed in an accident in the railroad yards and Billy had to go to work full-time at the Howell Lumber Company to provide for his mother and siblings. He was fourteen years old.
In 1887 Billy went to Sheridan Lake, Colorado, and spent two years managing a lumberyard. He then returned to Downs and worked for the E. P. Craney Lumber Company. In 1892 he formed a partnership with Henry Welty and W. H. Noll known as the Central Lumber Company. On February 6, 1895, Billy married Geme Edick in Phillipsburg, Kansas. They had three children, Dwight, Marian, and Mary. The Hardmans lived in Phillipsburg while Billy managed the local lumberyard. By l903 the Central Lumber Company partnership had dissolved and Billy was left with three lumberyards in Osborne, WaKeeney, and Phillipsburg.
Joined by his brothers, Claude and Arthur Hardman, Marion Hardman established a chain of lumber yards in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado. He became president of the board of directors of this company. In 1903 the company headquarters was located in Phillipsburg, Kansas, with Marion Hardman as company president. He was also a director of the State Bank of Downs and the Glen Elder State Bank. At Phillipsburg, Mr. Hardman achieved such prominence as to be elected mayor.
Billy’s leadership in the fraternal world made him one of Kansas’ best known Masons. A Master Mason, he joined the Downs Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, on August 23, 1890, and was the first member to recieve the fifty-year service button. He held all offices in the Phillipsburg Commandery, Knights Templar; was advanced to the thirty-second degree in the Topeka Consistory, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite; became a Noble of Isis Temple, Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Salina, and served as patron of the Downs chapter, Order of the Eastern Star. He also belonged to the Concordia Lodge, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
In 1917 Billy moved his family to Downs, where the company was headquartered until 1947, when it relocated to Osborne. In forty-five years the Hardman Lumber Company had expanded from its original three yards to forty-two yards scattered across Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska. The company also owned a fir mill in Oregon, a red shingle mill in Washington, and timberlands in British Columbia.
Straightforward and honest, the editor of the Downs News once summed up Marion’s character in one word: “gentleman.” Marion died March 22, 1945, in Downs and was laid to rest in the Downs Cemetery. A vast business which helped and continues to help in the development of the West and the Middle West is his legacy to the nation.