Wherry, Kansas. Once a promising community, it's now a Rice County ghost town. Nothing remains but this railroad right-of-way.
Memories still linger for Rice town that died
By Amy Bickel - The Hutchinson News - firstname.lastname@example.orgWHERRY - Growing up in the 1960s, Jim Arwood watched as this ghost town disappeared completely, not only from its location off a rural country road in Rice County, but also from the map and most people's memory.
The remnants of Wherry, Kansas, are marked only by an overgrown railroad bed and maybe a few chunks of concrete, along with a clump of cottonwood trees.
"It seems over the years that between our visits a little bit of the town would disappear - torn down, blown down or burned down - I don't exactly recall the reasons," Arwood said, noting his mother would sometimes stop at the abandoned ghost town on the way from Lyons to visit his grandparents in Hutchinson.
In February 1967, what remained of Wherry went up in smoke.
This is the story of a town that grew, then died in less than 40 years. Wherry is a town that, after death, maybe became even more popular as a place to explore - including by youth on Halloween night.
These days, the traffic passing Wherry are just farmers traipsing back in forth in their pickups to farm fields. And only a few old-timers can recall the town whose heyday peaked in the 1910s before it began to dwindle to nothingness.
A town with a dream
The railroad town started as a post office on April 17, 1888, closing, ironically, on Halloween of 1923, according to the Kansas State Historical Society.
It once had a store, a hotel, lumberyard, railroad station, grain elevators and houses. In fact, at one time, the town and its vicinity had 300 people, said Gary Battey, who was helping cut soybeans just a few miles north of Wherry's location. He remembers an old house that he once ventured into - maybe the hotel. The inside had a Wild West look with its balcony - just the type used as backdrops in the old western movies.
According to Daniel Fitzgerald, the author of several Kansas ghost town books, it's not clear why Wherry was called Wherry. Most of the buildings were built between 1910 and 1915 as the town boomed with the location next to the railroad.
Joe and Al Hauschild built the lumberyard, hardware and machinery store. Farmers would travel to town to visit with Jonas Neun. Another popular spot was the home of Steve Thompson, the first person in town to own a phonograph. He would bring the machine outside and folks would set up chairs to listen to the music.
Wherry's prosperity began to decline in the 1920s, however. The general store and post office closed and residents began to travel to bigger cities for goods.
The final demise, however, came during two separate events in February 1967, when, according to The Hutchinson News, the general store, followed by an old Hauschild home, were destroyed by fire, "blamed on trysting neckers who perhaps were careless while smoking."
Joe Hedrick, Nickerson, who owns part of the section that butts up to the old town site, said little, if anything remains. Maybe a few concrete pieces, he said - if the remains haven't been buried by dirt work.
Yet for Jim Arwood and his sister, Sally Beydler, memories remain.
Beydler, who lives in Hutchinson, said their mother, Jenny Arwood, now in her 90s, recalls square dancing on a roof in the town in the 1930s. Jenny Arwood was the adventurous type and loved to take her children on a journey during their weekly trips to Hutchinson.
Arwood says he remembers the hotel the most - a two-story building that he loved because it looked like something out of the television show "Gunsmoke."
"I also remember the bank, and there were several other abandoned homes," he said.
The youngest of five children, he was a bit scared of going inside but would watch his mother, along with his four sisters, disappear through the doorways of the worn-down structures.
"I was sure there were ghosts on the inside," he said.
Arwood, who now lives in Phoenix, said he visits Kansas a couple times a year, taking his own family to the stops that were a large part of his past.
"It is definitely a fond memory from my childhood," Arwood said. "It is amazing that something as simple as an old abandoned building … could have been the highlight of a journey. But I guess during those days, kids were more interested in their surroundings. We didn't have iPods to keep us entertained. Instead of asking 'are we there yet?' we wanted to stop and see something."
Jim Arwood: My family lived in Lyons and my grandparents lived in Hutchinson. We would make weekly trips to visit them, usually on Saturday. Plus, milk was a nickel cheaper in Hutch.
Our mother was pretty adventuresome and always liked to take us on little side trips, at our urging of course. She could make any journey exciting that way. One of our favorites side trips was visiting the ghost town of Wherry. We usually combined that with another favorite -- the back road from Nickerson to Hutch because it was the “highway” our grandfather “Bud” Davies built. It was a brick highway back then. Both were only slightly out of the way. But together they would stretch a 30 minute drive to Hutch to more than an hour -- if we could convince our mom to take a detour or two. That was never a very difficult as she was easy that way.
In fact even today, she is 96, she makes a point of pointing out landmarks whenever she makes the trip. Motorcycle Hill, where to pick sand hill plums, Rattlesnake Road – she has a lot points of interest that a lot of people may not see.
I was the youngest so I was also the most scared. I don’t remember a whole lot of the inside of the buildings, that is probably cause I stayed outside most of the time. My sisters Nancy, Sue, Polly and Sally always accompanied my mother (Jenny Arwood) inside. Our mother was fearless, or at least that is how I viewed her as she disappeared through the doorways of the abandoned buildings. I was sure there were ghosts on the inside.
I remember the hotel the most. It was two-stories and was probably my favorite because it looked like something you would have seen on Gunsmoke. I also remember what I called the “bank”. And then there were several other abandoned homes. It seems over the years that between our visits a little bit of the town would disappear – torn down, blown down or burned down – I don’t exactly recall the reasons. But, throughout my early childhood in the 1960s I watched as this ghost town completely disappeared not only from its place on a country back road, but also from the map and most people’s memory.
It is definitely a fond memory from my childhood. It is amazing that something as simple as an old abandoned building or a highway could have been the highlight of a journey – but I guess during those days kids were more interested in their surroundings. We didn’t have iPods to keep us entertained. Instead of asking “are we there yet” we wanted to stop and see something.
The funny thing about Wherry is that I always thought its name was Weary. I didn’t know its correct spelling until recently. I had gone on-line several times to look it up but always had concentrated my search on “Weary”.
I moved to Phoenix in the 1970s and I make it back to Kansas a couple of times a year to visit. I like to take my family out to visit some of these places. The old Cottonwood tree – a landmark on the Santa Fe trail. The first school house in Rice County. The Buffalo Soldiers grave. The stone corral. I guess I am a lot like my mother that way – a 30 minute trip between Lyons and Hutch seems to take me 90 minutes.
The town may have existed toward the far trees in the lower picture.
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