Friday, September 27, 2013

Langley, Kansas, an Ellsworth County dead town

On a cool, crisp fall day, I found Langley.
There wasn't much left of this once vibrant stop in the road.


Only a few homes dot the once bustling main drags, which are separated by an overgrown railroad bed. A woman works around her mailbox and barking dogs greet the few passing cars.
Down a dirt road, at what would have been the outskirts to town, is the cemetery.
I stopped by Marquette's hardware store, where owner Max Buffington recalled  to me his first trip to the elevator hauling a pickup truckload of grain in the early 1950s.
“I was 9 years old,” Buffington said, noting he was a little small to drive a truck, but the elevator man helped him get stopped.
Langley is no longer the vibrant town of his childhood, he said, nor is it even a fragment of its size when his great-grandfather, George Buffington, first settled the area in 1898, establishing a cattle ranch.

Pappy Helms' old store. It was used in a scene for the movie Ace Eli and Roger of the Skies filmed in the 1970s starring Cliff Robertson.


The 1880s were a prosperous time in Kansas history as more pioneers moved west and towns began to form along the unplowed landscape. Langley was like many prairie towns. The Missouri Pacific Railroad was building thousands of miles of track through Kansas and needed water stations or tank stops every 10 miles for the engines.
A man named Langley and another man named McCracken decided to invest in land, hoping to cash in on the area they thought might someday be a important shipping point.
They formed Langley on 38 acres of land purchased from area farmer Job Fowler, a homesteader who had first come to the country in 1873.
According to one account documented at the Ellsworth County Historical Society, Langley soon realized he wasn’t going to get rich quick. He learned the railroad, the Union Pacific, was going to go through Kanopolis instead.
“All they got out of it was to have a town named after them,” Langley’s daughter, Jane Langley Board, wrote in a letter to the Langley City Council in the 1950s or 1960s, although the town was never incorporated or had a city council.
Langley, however, would become a train pit stop, forming about 1886 when the Missouri Pacific Railroad passed through southeast Ellsworth County, according to an article by Judy Lily for a local newspaper.
At first, the town was just a depot and two dugouts. A post office was established in April 1887 with Joseph Byrne as the first postmaster, according to the Kansas State Historical Society.
The town soon began to grow. There was a general store owned by J.R. Adams. It was destroyed by fire in 1902, according to a transcript of a talk given by John Hughes in 1984, a man who was raised in the Langley area.
Hughes reported that Job Fowler then built a large two-story building with an upstairs hall for entertainment, as well as groceries. A locker plant was later added on the building.
Phillip Fredrick operated a hardware and lumber store, which also had a full line of cured meats, coal, farm machinery, along with lumber and hardware, Hughes said.
The Methodist Church was built in 1894 and a cemetery was established. There also were stockyards and a blacksmith. A milling company in Marquette had an elevator.
Another historical account from the Ellsworth Historical Society states Langley had a hotel, two garages, a livery stable, creamery and barber shop.
Buffington said he remembers a man named Pappy Helms running a small grocery and filling station on the northeast edge of town.
And, while unincorporated, Langley, at one time, had more than 300 residents, according to the county historical society documentation.

The Langley Cemetery still reminds folks the name of the area.

A few stone remnants - not sure what was once in this location.

A view from one of the main streets of Langley. A few homes are on the left side of the photo. To the right is the old railroad bed.

Max Buffington holds wood from the old Langley hardware and lumber.

Wood from the Langley Lumber

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