The Music-Filled Heart of Wichita: The Life and Legacy of Thomas Shaw

Thomas Shaw 11/24/1891
Courtesy: The Wichita Beacon

In the heart of Wichita, Kansas, a rich musical legacy was woven through the life and love of Thomas Shaw and his wife. The Thomas Shaw Music Store, nestled in downtown Wichita, not only provided musical instruments but also represented a cultural cornerstone for the community.

Thomas Shaw was born in Kendall County, Illinois on April 5, 1844. He married Sarah on July 2, 1869, and together they moved to Wichita on July 4, 1884. Shaw’s obituary said, “The next day Mr. Shaw called upon H.W. Kendall, who then had the only music store in the city at 113 E. Douglas, east of the old Eagle office. As a result of the visit, Mr. Kendall sold out.”

Shaw’s Music Store
Courtesy: Old Cowtown Museum

Two years later, Shaw moved his store to 129 N. Main, earning a reputation as one of the finest music stores in the West. Shaw wasn’t just a music merchant; he was also a pioneer in the Wichita music scene, establishing one of the city’s first orchestras. His passion for music earned him the title of the “Music Man of Wichita.”

Part of the display at Shaw’s Music Store
Courtesy: Old Cowtown Museum

The Shaws built a house at 811 S. Topeka. The house still stands although it has been broken up into several apartments.

The Shaw family’s love for Wichita extended beyond music. Sarah found joy in helping her husband organize the annual Thanksgiving dinners for underprivileged newsboys and bootblacks, providing them with a day of happiness.  Check out the extraordinary effort made by the Shaws.

Despite their contributions to Wichita’s cultural and philanthropic scenes, tragedy struck. Sarah underwent surgery to remove a massive tumor. According to the Wichita Eagle, on August 10, 1901, “She was operated upon by Drs. Shults and Thomas, and a twenty-six pound tumor was removed.”  Sadly, she passed away, leaving Thomas Shaw to carry on their shared legacy.

Part of the display at Shaw’s Music Store
Courtesy: Old Cowtown Museum

On October 8, 1913, Thomas Shaw, the veteran music dealer of the Southwest, succumbed to typhoid pneumonia at the age of 69. He had resided in Wichita for 29 years, leaving an indelible mark on the city. His music store was the oldest in the region, and he had been part of the oldest firm continuously in business on Main Street.

As the final note in the life of this musical pioneer played, the community came together to celebrate his life. Members of the Musicians Union and newsboys attended the funeral, a testament to the enduring impact of Thomas Shaw’s love for Wichita. The Shaws were both laid to rest at Maple Grove Cemetery.

In the heart of Wichita’s history, the legacy of Thomas and Sarah Shaw remains a testament to the power of music, community, and love, forever echoing through the streets of his beloved city.