Thursday, December 23, 2010

Castleton, KS - A Reno County ghost tow

For a fleeting moment, this little town was touched by the silver screen.

It was 1951, Francie White Grilliot recalls. She and her grade-school friends were excited to be part of the background in a Hollywood motion picture being shot on location in their hometown of Castleton - a film to be called "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie." A wardrobe of old-time clothing was kept at the high school, and her mother, a seamstress, was charged to make it fit the extras. 

The film crew transformed little Castleton into Sevillinois, Ill., a town set in 1905. They built a fire station, barber shop, livery stable and other period pieces that were situated around the already existing post office and Santa Fe depot. And for about two weeks, Castleton boomed with activity.

But then the crew packed up and headed west, and the tiny town of Castleton, already well amid rural decline, continued its downward spiral.

The post office closed in 1957, and the red brick depot, which had attracted the eye of the Hollywood producer, was razed in the early 1960s.

"There's not much left," Francie said from the kitchen table in the farmhouse where she grew up.

Castleton, Kansas.

A view of the elevators, which are owned by Mid Kansas Cooperative

Like all towns, Castleton founders had dreams for the stagecoach stop platted by C.C. Hutchinson in 1872. Hutchinson already had founded the city of Hutchinson, which eventually would secure the county seat of Reno County. He named Castleton after his new bride's hometown in Vermont.

Much of what is left can be seen from Tom Grilliot's lane: the tall bins of the cooperative elevator, a few dozen houses and a community church. There's a dozen or two homes, as well

A faded sign on the two-story township building still reads "Sam Eichenbarger, General Merchandise," which, according to a 1970 story in The News, was seen in the film. The basic plot in "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie" centers on a man who moves to a small town and sets up a barber shop, Tom Grilliot said, adding the movie has highs and lows for its characters.
It starred David Wayne, Hugh Marlowe and Jean Peters as Nellie. Peters was Howard Hughes' girlfriend at the time, and Hughes had hired a chaperone to make sure Peters didn't stray. Fresh roses from Hughes arrived at her room at the Bisonte Hotel in Hutchinson every morning, according to News editor Stuart Awbrey's column from the 1960s.
Awbrey said he was traveling west after the Castleton filming, so he stopped in to see the director, Henry King, who was putting finishing touches on the film.
"King was using the studio's biggest sound stage, and on it was a re-creation of what had been at Castleton a few weeks before," Awbrey wrote. "The railroad station seemed to have been rebuilt, stick for stick, and rubbed to the same dilapidated look. And, of course, the barber shop, firehouse and such might have been moved directly form central Reno County. I was stunned."
"What was that bit about getting authenticity in Kansas?" Awbrey asked.
"Well, we salvaged some scenes from our trip," King said. "But after we saw the runs out here, we decided on some script changes. And I wasn't too happy about the lighting we got in Kansas."
Thus, how much of Nellie's release was actually filmed in Castleton is anyone's guess, it seems, although Francie Grilliot says she thinks she saw herself in the film.

The town grew to 450 people. It had two blacksmiths, a livery, a depot, meat market, groceries, hotel, restaurants, hardware and a creamer, the article stated.
Then came the death dealer, Charlie Hornbaker, the unofficial mayor, told The News when the post office close.
"The auto not only ruined our town, but others," he said. "We can now go to Hutchinson in the time it took to hitch up the horses. But who'd want to go back to the horse and buggy days?"

"Like a condemned man marking time on the wall, Castleton chalks up another loss when its weather-beaten, 85-year-old post office closes its doors for the last time Friday - no longer a necessary part of the postal system, wrote News reporter Jim Banman. "The village will mark the passing, as it did the closing of the Santa Fe depot, by digging a few scoops of loam, making a mound and placing a few flowers on it."

,A memorial was erected in the 1950s to those who served their country.

The high school closed in the 1950s and the grade school a decade or so later. In 1955, the Santa Fe ran its last Doodle Bug train, and Hornbaker bought tickets so all Castleton youngsters could have the last ride to Hutchinson.
The post office closed in June 1957, and in the early 1970s moved to Great Bend. It's still on display at a museum.


  1. Is there any historical society that knows about the history of Castleton or its township by the same name? My Hawkins ancestors were originally from Castleton, Rutland County, Vermont whicn the town and township were named after. However, I understand that the Hawkins were homesteading in Center township (near Partridge, Kansas) which is diagonally to the northwest of Castleton township. I'm thinking that there has to be some kind of connection. Many of the Rutland County residents of Vermont did end up in Michigan in Eaton County Michigan after leaving Rutland including some of the Hawkins.

    1. You might try the Pretty Prairie Library - There also is a Reno County Genealogical Society. Here's the website. - Amy

  2. Hi. My name is Zach and I live in Topeka.

    I've read your posts about extinct towns in Kansas and I really have enjoyed what I'd been reading. I worked for the State of Kansas, Department of Health and Environment back in the late Seventies and there are a lot of towns you mention that some of my co-workers had told me about. Such as Pretty Prairie and Castleton.

    I have a copy of "Wait Until The Sun Shines, Nellie" that was filmed there. I understand Castleton is still on the maps but very few people still live within its boundaries.

    I'd like to hear stories (or possibly see old pictures) of towns such as Darlow, Cruppers Corner, Elmer, Yaggy and the like. I've seen what they currently look like on Google Maps, but to see how they appeared before everything was either razed or moved away would be nice.

    I've also heard of a community within Reno County that was called Peacecreek (near Sylvia). Is this community still around?

    When you can, please drop me a line, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks for listening and take care.


    1. Hello Zach! I just posted something on Elmer and Darlow. I need to dig through my stories to find info on Yaggy. If you think of other towns, do let me know. I need to do some research on Cruppers. Glad you enjoy the series! I'll post those other towns when I find them. I have a fairly detailed listing in the Dead Towns book.

  3. Hi, my great grand uncle last lived in Castleton Township in 1920, his name was Harry O Moreland and I cannot find when he died as his wife in the 1930 census in in California, remarried. But I cannot locate him beyond 1920 and he was a farmer in this area and owned his home, per the 1920 census. His wife was Lucy and they helped raise her nephew, King W Ellis.