Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wilburton, Kansas - a Morton County Dead Town



A stone at the Wilburton, Kansas cemetery. The stone says the cemetery was established in 1916.


Stones in the cemetery.


The first burial was Katherine Hesston Leake, who died in 1916. She was 30.

A few old outbuildings at Wilburton.




An abandoned bus

As several populated the area, a town was formed in 1912 halfway between Elkhart and Rolla. They named it Tice, the name of a high official of the Santa Fe Railroad. They platted out lots on 20 acres along what would eventually be the Santa Fe track.
But when a post office was built in 1913 by Mrs. Nellie D. Wilbur, the town became known as Wilburton, according to the history book.
At first, the train at Wilburton never stopped. The outgoing mail was hung on a high post near the track. When the train passed, the incoming mail was pushed out of the train and the out-going mail was grabbed from the pole.
Eventually, when area residents began to ship cream, hides and other products, the train would stop. The depot was an old boxcar that sat besides the tracks, the name Wilburton on a board across the top.
It didn’t take long for the little town to bustle with residents and commerce. Wilburton boasted two dry-good stores, two groceries, a church, garage, grain elevators, a feed yard, bank, lumberyard and florist. There also was a stockyard, boarding house, shoe repair shop and telephone exchange. The grade school and high schools had more than 100 students.
“The population of the town for many years was in the hundreds,” the book states. 

This Kansas Memory photo shows a dust storm passing through Morton County in the 1930s. Morton County, in the southwest corner of the state, was among the hardest hit areas during the Dust Bowl. Dust storms, such as the one depicted here, could blow for a full day, coating everything in their path with a layer of dirt.


When 2-year-old Rena Coen died of dust pneumonia, the closest cemetery was covered in drifts of dirt.
So the Morton County farm family with seven sons buried their only girl in the Rolla Cemetery – just one of several causalities of the Dirty Thirties.
Her brother, Dale, now 91, recalls those days well, remembering how as a teen he would watch the billowing clouds of dust roll in, darkening the sky and leaving dust covering almost every foot of the family farmstead – a dust that was easily inhaled deep into the lungs.
It also blanketed the Wilburton cemetery.
“It was blowed under from the dust,” he said, adding the cemetery wasn’t well-kept, either. “A bunch of us boys, four or five of us, dug it out, got the markers dug out so the graves wouldn’t be lost.”
Wilburton, too, didn’t survive through the dust storms and the Great Depression. Today, only a few homes dot the prairie landscape where a thriving community was stood.

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