Friday, May 24, 2013

Go West Young Man - Greeley County ghost towns

It has been more than 150 years since the New York newspaperman told easterners to "Go West." Yet, in Greeley County, Horace Greeley's name lives on.

The county seat is named after his newspaper. The county and a town both carry his name. There are ghost towns, as well, influenced by the New York Tribune publisher, including the communities of Whitelaw and Reid - named after an editor - and Hector, after his dog.

In 1841, Greeley established the Tribune, which became the leading national newspaper of its time. He helped form the Republican Party and, as an abolitionist, he fought for Kansas' entry into the Union as a free state. Greeley ran against Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 for the presidency, but lost, dying before the votes were even counted.

Still, Greeley's devotees named towns, streets and counties after him. That included W.C. Gerard. Gerard founded Tribune in 1885, which was originally known as Chappaqua and located a mile north of present-day Tribune. But the name changed shortly after its founding.

"He was never out here," Nadine Cheney, curator of the Horace Greeley Museum, said of the county's namesake. Yet people like Gerard coming from the east were largely influenced by Greeley and his newspaper.

Hector - four miles north of Horace there was Hector, named after Horace Greeley's dog. In April 1886, C.T. Thompson began publishing the Hector Echo, Cheney said. Hector also had had two hotels, two stage lines, a lumberyard, hardware store, a land-and-loan company and good water.

In December 1885, it got a post office. A newspaper chronicling the blizzard of 1886 reported that newly named postmaster George Chapman didn't assume his post, as he died in the blizzard.

Even with all of these new businesses, in the summer and fall of 1886 the town of Hector declined and was transplanted to Tribune.

It became the first ghost town in Greeley County as a result, according to Fort Hays State University.

Greeley Center  -- a town north and west of present-day Horace, was the county's second ghost town. Named after Horace Greeley, the Greeley Town Co. formed in October 1885, according to Fort Hays.

It had a newspaper, the Greeley County Gazette, edited by the Wilbe brothers from Hutchinson, Cheney said. The town had the Greeley House Hotel, a livery stable, a grocery store, blacksmith, general store, lumberyard and drugstore.

Cheney said the newspaper reported 75 new arrivals in one day's time, but, in June 1887, the boom ended.

Others had already started the town of Horace in 1886 and Greeley Center lost a significant number of businesses to Horace, Fort Hays reported. By June 1887, the Denver, Memphis and Atlantic Railroad put tracks through Horace and left Greeley Center unable to continue its growth.

"The last remnants of Greeley Center were plowed and cleared away by 1894, never to be seen again," according to Fort Hays. "A lot of the buildings moved to Horace, all planning on being by the railroad tracks. But they did not come through Hector and they did not come through Greeley Center."

Colokan - on the Colorado/Kansas line - Colokan didn't have a tie to Horace Greeley, it was settled by those seeking land to the east. It was located just off the Colorado/Kansas border, not far from the Colorado community of Towner.

According to Fort Hays, Civil War veterans from Illinois came and settled in Greeley County, forming what was known as a soldiers' colony. In 1887, the colony merged with the United Presbyterian colony, forming Colokan Town Co.

The first issue of the newspaper, the Colokan Graphic, edited by O.Q. McNeil, was published in October 1887, Cheney said. It advertised Robert Rockwell's new hotel and restaurant with meals at any hour. Colokan had a real estate office, notary public, a grocery and a blacksmith. The Denver, Memphis and Atlantic Railroad went through the town and the town of Towner. However, when Towner got the depot instead of Colokan, the latter folded.

Whitelaw - Reid Whitelaw Reid was an editor at the New York Tribune and a close friend to Greeley. He was on Republican incumbent Benjamin Harrison's presidential ticket as the vice president, although the duo lost. Thus, two towns are named after the man - Whitelaw and Reid.

Whitelaw had a post office from 1888 to 1890, according to the Kansas State Historical Society. And Cheney said it had an elevator and a few houses.

Residents at Reid, however, had bigger dreams.

Thinking it would be the county seat, the newspaper in Tribune moved to the newly formed town of Reid in 1887. The railroad line went 2 1/2 miles west of Greeley Center, which ultimately became the site of Reid. The town had 50 residents in June 1887.

Old Tribune, before the county seat election, eventually moved a mile south to catch the railroad, helping secure its place in the present day. In November 1888, Tribune was declared the county seat over Horace and Reid, with 420 votes in favor of Tribune, 202 votes in favor of Horace, and only 2 votes going to Reid.

When Tribune became the county seat, all the businesses from the different towns began to move their stores to Tribune, Cheney said. The moving of these businesses ultimately led to the demise of Reid.

In 1891, there were 26 people living in Reid, now called Astor by those residents. By 1897, the town became a ghost town and the town company eventually sold the land for $35.01 in 1901 to pay the back taxes on it.

Locals probably named Astor after John Jacob Astor, one of the richest men in the 19th century. Horace Greeley was a critic of the New Yorker, and a Greeley County illustrated map from 1897 depicts a man with dollar signs on his head.

"Reid/Astor faded into the Kansas background just like so many other settlements of the time period," Fort Hays reported.

Other towns tried to start, as well, including Ainsworth, Thelma, Locust, Youngsville, Hurt and Sidney. Each had a post office, but none of the towns lasted much past the 20th century.

Except for Horace and Tribune, the county's only incorporated cities, nothing remains of any of these ghost towns, Cheney said.

Cheney has trekked through every town site in the county, finding only fragments of life.

There are a few foundations at Astor. She has found broken glass, pieces of concrete and square nails.

"Wherever man goes, he leaves trash," she said.

Moreover, the county never saw the populations it did when these towns were thriving.

The 1890 census shows the county population at more than 2,600 inhabitants in 1887, according to "Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History." It is unclear whether the county actually had that many people. Census numbers show dramatic drops after that, including just 1,200 people in 1890, and the population in 1900 dipped below 500 people.

In 2009, the U.S. Census estimated the county had 1,200 people - the smallest in Kansas.

It didn't take long for early-day farmers to realize that growing crops in the semiarid terrain wasn't easy. Some moved to Holly, Colo., Cheney said. Others went elsewhere.

"Some of them left for the Oklahoma (land) run," she said. "Many times they couldn't find water in Greeley County, and they seemed to move on."

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