Francis M. Whitlaw was born in Ireland in March of 1852 and married Medora M. Ames. Medora was a native of Ohio. Francis was a farmer and by 1881 owned a farm south of Enterprise, Kansas on Carrie Creek. He grew corn and wheat. The couple would have four children: Edward, Zulema, Emmet, and Fosdick.
In August of 1883, the Whitlaw’s decided to sell the farm, which encompassed a six room farmhouse and 160 acres. In October the farm and their household goods were sold at auction. Following the sale the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio for a year before returning to Dickinson County. While in Cincinnati, Francis was severely injured in an elevator accident while moving products between floors in a warehouse. They purchased ground 3 miles east of Abilene and built a new home. Francis returned to planting corn, wheat, and onions.
In the spring of 1889, the Whitlaw’s purchased the Clyde James McDivitt home at 501 NW. 3rd Street. They kept the farm east of town. It was at this point that Francis decided to open a grocery store. At the time the firm of Hawk & Shelton dry goods was located at 214 N. Cedar Street (current location of Black & Company Realtors) and dissolving. Francis partnered with H. C. Shelton, who had considerable mercantile experience. The new firm of H. C. Shelton & F. M. Whitlaw opened on January 1, 1890. George Loyd was their managing employee.
The Firm of Shelton & Whitlaw was dissolved after 6 months with Francis buying his partner’s interest with the new firm being named
F. M. Whitlaw and Company. Mr. Shelton stayed with the firm as a manager and buyer. George Loyd and John Eagle were also employed by the firm. Over the next year, the dry goods portion of the business was liquidated. The Rescue store, which was located at 312 N. Broadway (currently the north half of The Other Jones Store), purchased Whitlaw’s shoe inventory and the remaining dry goods and millinery items were sold at a bankruptcy sale in the spring of 1891.
The firm’s finances were restructured and reincorporated as M. M. Whitlaw, which was strictly a grocery store. George Loyd continued as the manager and the store remained on Cedar Street. Francis attended the World’s Fair for three days in 1893 and shortly thereafter elected to do transactions on a cash basis only, so credit was not extended to purchasers. At this time, Francis was involved in the Abilene Commercial Club, which later became the Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce.
In December 1893, the space at 206 N. Cedar (most recently J & I Ceramics) was being remodeled and the firm moved from 214 N. Cedar to the newly remodeled space the following month. In late 1895, Jacob Isaac Gish’s meat market moved into the Whitlaw grocery store. The following year, the grocery store and meat market moved to 211-213 N. Broadway (currently the USD 435 Administrative Offices) and opened on February 25, 1896. The grocery store was on the corner of NW. 3rd and Broadway (213) and was connected to the butcher shop (211) by an arched opening in the wall. George Loyd in partnership with Fred Johntz decided to leave the firm and opened a grocery store in the space vacated by Whitlaw’s at 206 N. Cedar.
Several businesses shuffled their locations in early-1898, including Whitlaw’s shop which moved from Broadway Street to 209 N. Cedar Street (currently the south half of Xpressions). The new location was remodeled prior to the move. Francis continued to invest in his farming operations with his purchase of the old Cuthbert 100-acre farm, which was located on the Smoky Hill River bottom land two miles east and one mile south of Abilene.
Due to Francis’ poor health, the Whitlaw’s decided to close the grocery store and in the December of 1900 the J. B. Case Company purchased the entire grocery stock. Herman Hassler purchased the butcher shop and moved it to Enterprise. Francis continued to farm even though his health was failing. He traveled to Topeka for medical treatments in 1903. That same year they decided to sell the farm and their house at 501 NW. 3rd Street.
The family remained in Abilene until July of 1904 when they moved to Cherryvale, Kansas, where Francis opened a grocery store. In Cherryvale, they lived at 223 N. Neosho Street. During this time, Francis decided to invest in a hotel in Kansas City. He sold his first hotel in Kansas City in 1905 and then purchased the White House hotel at 744 Oak Street in Kansas City. In 1906, he sold the grocery store in Cherryvale and went to Kansas City to manage the Royal Hotel. The Royal Hotel was located at 800 E. 12th Street. Today, the hotel site is a parking lot.
In October 1908, Francis lost his job as the manager of the Royal Hotel. This loss was devastating to Francis. On November 22, 1908, Francis committed suicide in his room at the Royal Hotel by ingesting rat poison. He was discovered in his room and taken to an emergency hospital where he died. His funeral was held at the Freeman and Marshall Funeral Home at 3015 Main Street in Kansas City. He is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City. His widow would continue living in Kansas City and died in December of 1934. She is buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Kansas City.