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.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A listing of Reno County dead towns

Elmer, Kansas elevator still stands

Reno County's Sego - nothing but a graveyard.
Sego Graveyard

Old building at lerado.



Reno County had nearly 75 ghost towns that dotted the landscape. Here are just a few of them reported on in the publication "Early Ghost Towns, Post Offices and Hamlets in Reno County, Kansas" by Bert Newton. Avery (Highland Park) - Once called Highland Park, the town had a store and blacksmith shop. It also had a post office from 1885 to 1901. It was located 20 miles northwest of Hutchinson on Peace Creek.

Baxterville - It had a steam plow, mason, plasterer, shoemaker and preacher.

Bland - It had a store. The post office was in operation from 1900 to 1905. There were at least 95 people being supplied mail at one time.

Bone Springs - The town was southwest of Arlington. The post office opened in 1874 and closed in 1902, according to the historical society. There was also a school.

Buffalo - Around 1873, the town had a store, a doctor, small drugstore, livery and a post office, although the Kansas State Historical Society doesn't show a post office with the name Buffalo. There also was a wind-powered flour and grist mill and a dressmaker.

Christopher - First having Pony as a suggested name, the town's post office ran from 1882 to 1892.

Dean - The post office was established in 1881 and closed in1886.

Desire - The post office opened in 1877 and closed in 1878.

Germantown - Four miles east and two miles north of Yoder, it was said to have one of the best schools in Reno County. Locals also attended church. There was a carpenter, blacksmith and a hide dealer, as well as a ball club.

Huntsville - It had a post office from 1878 to 1905. It also had a store, a Methodist church, dance hall, pool hall, blacksmith, hotel, doctor and two country stores. There also was a school.

Jordan Springs - Located about two miles west and one mile south of Langdon, or 30 miles southwest of Hutchinson, Jordan Springs had a school, a store and a beauty shop. The post office opened in 1875 and closed in 1887.

Kent - In 1882, at least 25 people were living in Kent, located seven miles east of Hutchinson. It had a school and the railroad went close by it. The post office opened in 1882, closed in 1901 and reopened in 1902, only to close again in 1904.

Leonville - The short-lived town had a post office in 1873, but it closed less than six months later. The town was six miles west of Partridge.

Leslie - Located 1.5 miles east of present-day Medora, the town had a post office that opened in 1874 and closed for three months in 1880. After it reopened, it closed in 1887.

Loda Center - This town was between Lerado and Pretty Prairie, at the intersection of Pretty Prairie Road and Hodge Road. It had a school with an enrollment of 34 in the early 1900s.

Marietta - The post office opened in 1878 and closed in 1887.

Mona - This town, a German Mennonite settlement, was on the Ninnescah River about five miles west of Ost, or St. Joe. The post office opened in 1879 and closed in 1901.

Mount Liberty - It was located on the south side of the Arkansas River, four miles northeast of Yoder. The post office opened in 1873. There also were two general stores and a school. There also were two other schools, Laurel and Olive, in the area. The post office closed in 1886.

Myton - This town was 25 miles northwest of Hutchinson on Peace Creek. There also was a school in the area.

New Boston - In 1879, a family looking for a suitable place to live bought land at the site of this town. Soon, there were eight homes on the south side of the section. But the families who lived there became discouraged and moved away. The town was 18 miles west of Hutchinson.

New Haven - The town's name was actually spelled New Heaven on its application for a post office. The town, three miles west and five miles north of Ost, or St. Joe, got its post office in 1877. It closed in 1887.

New London - The town was part of Rice County until the county line changed and it became part of Reno County. The post office opened in 1873 and closed in 1881.

Noblesville - It was founded in April 1930 by N.M. Begeman, who ran a filling station and grocery store. The Noblesville station, often still called the Huntsville Station, was converted into a private dwelling.

Og - Ten miles west of Castleton, it was named for a biblical giant who lived during the time of Moses. The post office opened in 1880 and closed in 1882.

Olcott - Six miles southwest of Lerado, the town was once called Dresden when it was in Kingman County, but when the Reno County boundary moved south, Dresden became part of Reno County and its name was changed to Olcott. The post office opened in 1887 and closed in 1903. It reopened again in 1904 and closed in 1907.

The population in 1910 was 53. It was an important stop for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, because it was a coal and water station for the old steam locomotives. It had a depot, telegraph and express office, hotel, grocery store, Methodist church, grain elevator and a school. It even had a newspaper at one time, called the Weekly Press.

Ost - The town, typically known as St. Joe today, still has St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Back in the 1870s and 1880s, the town had a blacksmith, a barber and nearly 150 people.

Purity - It was located 22 miles south of Hutchinson, or about eight miles from Castleton. Locals talked a local couple into starting a country store and a post office. Neighbors hauled lumber to build the store free of charge. The name chosen for the post office was Therry Grove, but it was rejected. A local woman then chose the name Purity. The store opened in 1879 and the post office opened in 1880. There also was a blacksmith shop and a gristmill. An 1883 edition of The Hutchinson News stated, "Purity is booming." However, the post office closed in 1893.

Red Rock - This town was two miles southwest of present-day Plevna. It didn't have a post office, but it had an active Grange.

Riverside - Riverside was platted on the bank of the north fork of the Ninnescah River, one mile east of the old town of Arlington, by a young Julian E. Eaton in the early 1880s. He was sure the Rock Island would go through his town. He had streets named Parade, Ninnescah, Look Out Avenue and Highland Avenue. The town died, and Eaton went to Arlington, where he became the first mayor of the town at age 23.

Riverton - The post office opened in 1875 and closed in 1890.

Yaggy (Salem, Bath, Fruit Valley) - Situated on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, it was known as Salem when it was settled in 1872 and as Bath, Fruit Valley and Yaggy later. It is believed that the Santa Fe Railroad changed the name to Bath following a bad train wreck in the area on Oct. 2, 1882. The mail train ran onto a sidetrack at Salem, waiting for the Cannon Ball to pass, but the switch was incorrectly turned and, with the Cannon Ball "tearing along at the rate of forty miles an hour," crashed into the mail train. The town later became Fruit Valley and, by 1900, it was called Yaggy.

According to an Oct. 30, 1988, story in The News, Levi Walter Yaggy, a Chicago publisher, came to the area in 1884 to hunt geese. On his way back, he and his hunting friends saw a man digging for water about five miles northwest of Hutchinson. He asked how far down it would take to hit water and the man said 8 feet. Yaggy's hunting partners went back to Chicago and Yaggy purchased 1,500 acres of land and planted 400 acres of catalpa tress and 80,000 apple trees before returning to Chicago. Son Edward Yaggy came to the area in 1897 for a three-month stay, while his father was in Europe. He stayed 40 years.

In 1915, Yaggy sold 210,000 bushels of apples and added cowpeas, potatoes and sweet potatoes to the offerings. Yaggy Station soon became the largest shipping point for fruit between the Missouri River and California. A drought in 1930 killed the apple trees. They weren't replanted, with the farm instead growing more traditional crops.

Yaggy is near Willowbrook.

Reno County had 75 towns

LERADO - A lonely wind blows the cotton from the trees that have grown up in front of Lerado's dilapidated lodge hall and opera house. The metal awning is rusted and dented, the windows boarded and the once widely used sidewalk chipped and cracked.

For those not looking, they'd never realize it was there, or that this stop in the middle of the road was ever a promising metropolis.

More than a century ago, town leaders here had dreams: of houses and business, of people. They dreamed of the railroad.

But the railroad never came.

The two-story brick structure is one of just a few remaining buildings of the Reno County town.

A blackboard still graces the inside of a former school turned community center - the shuffleboard lines still stenciled in the wooden floor. The merry-go-round sits in the front lawn - the wooden seats broken. Meanwhile, just across the road is a little white church with a bell tower, the grass knee-high except for a path that leads to the church's front steps.

Remains of a couple of broken-down buildings rest in the trees. A cemetery is just a half-mile away.

This is Lerado today, one of nearly 75 ghost towns across Reno County - towns where residents had big aspirations. Now the former booming cities have been nearly forgotten with time.

They had names like Og and Bones Springs, Sego and Ocoee, said Hutchinson resident Bert Newton, who, in 2004, chronicled the towns in the publication "Early Ghost Towns, Post Offices and Hamlets in Reno County, Kansas."

"That's one of the things I loved - the titles of them," she said.

And all of them, she added, had a story.

Dust in the wind Most of the 75 towns that dot the Reno County landscape are just memories. Square nails or a piece of concrete might be all that is left if searchers even know where to look.

Take Fernie, a town on the old railroad line located about three miles south of Hutchinson. There once was a wind-powered elevator and grinder near the Fernie brothers' house. People from the surrounding area would bring their grain to be ground into feed or livestock. These days, just the ghost railroad line still is visible.

Any remains of Sego aren't visible from the roadway, except for a graveyard not far off Sego Road. It had a post office from 1874 to 1905, according to the Kansas State Historical Society. There also was a school, church, general store, constable and creamery. However, by 1910, there were only 16 people living in Sego.

Now there is nothing.

Ocoee - pronounced Oh'KOH-ee, according to Newton - means place where the passionflower is found in Cherokee.

It had a school. The post office ran from 1879 to 1881, according to the historical society.

The town didn't grow or spread like passionflowers, however, Newton said.

Newton said she spent a lot of time researching Woodbury, which was in southeast Reno County, wondering if the town ever had been named Antioch after the school and cemetery. The town's post office operated from 1878 to 1887.

Meanwhile, not much, except a home, remains of Pekin, located 15 miles west of Hutchinson and five miles north of Abbyville. It was named for a suburb of Peoria, Ill., and had a population of 40 in 1910, says Newton. A post office opened in 1897 but closed in 1905. There was a store, a creamery, an icehouse and a butcher shop, along with a town hall, church and school.

Pekin even had a chief of police and its own telephone company, with nearly 300 phones in the system.

First towns Thomas Grove was Reno County's first settlement, according to Newton. The John Wesley Thomas family arrived in Reno County in November 1870. They were on their way from Iowa to California by covered wagon when they stopped in the county for the winter. They named the area Thomas Grove, built a sod house and lived in it and the covered wagon.

They never left.

Others arrived a year later, including one with a herd of longhorns. They built a school in 1886 and a new school in 1956. It closed in 1960.

Meanwhile, the first post office was in Queen City, or Queen Valley.

According to the Reno County Historical Society, William Caldwell heard that the Santa Fe Railroad was going to go through where Cow Creek and the Arkansas River meet. He set up a little town with a post office. The sign on the office said "Queen City." Other references call it "Queen Valley."

He had dreams of it becoming a major metropolis.

According to the 1917 publication "History of Reno County," residents agreed to haul mail without cost to the government in exchange for the establishment. It also said that in addition to his duties as postmaster, Caldwell ran an inn built of prairie sod.

Queen City never had a chance to become the Reno County seat. The post office opened in July 1871. It closed Feb. 2, 1872 - about the time Hutchinson incorporated. Meanwhile, the railroad bypassed Queen City for the future county seat.

A few remnants Only a few of the ghost towns of the county have remains - some more than others.

Medora, for instance, still has a few businesses - Polk's Market and Becker's Bunkhouse. There's a church and the old school still stands.

Nonpareil, also spelled Nonpariel, still has the old house that served as the post office. The post office opened as Idaville in 1875, according to the Kansas State Historical Society. Eventually the name was changed, although the post office permanently closed in 1881.

There was a school, Newton says. When it disbanded in 1897, students went to nearby Abbyville.

Sharon Covert, who lives at the former town of Darlow, six miles south of Hutchinson, said the town once had a blacksmith, a lumberyard, two elevators, a depot, grocery and a school.

"It was a booming little town," she said. "Now there are just a few residents."

She lives in the home where her husband's grandfather, Lloyd Jacques - an early settler - once resided. Just a few doors down is the former post office turned home.

The town began as Booth, according to Newton. The post office opened in 1890.

In 1910, there were 75 residents. However, by 1935, the post office closed and what was left of the little town began to decline even more.

Not far away is Elmer, which still has a metal elevator and a road sign marking its presence.

It's where Evert Eash has lived the past 24 years - in one of only two homes that still grace the actual town site, he said.

The post office at Elmer was called Bernal, Newton said. But the railroad called the town Elmer. The town was platted in 1875. South Hutch founder Ben Blanchard even frequented the town. He was trying to sell lots in Hutchinson and tried drilling for oil. Instead he found salt and decided to "salt his well with real oil" in an effort to develop a bustling city.

He stored his supply of oil at Elmer.

Newton reported that during Prohibition some Hutchinson residents used the Elmer Station to receive liquor, with whisky shipped to the town in five-gallon lots.

Lerado's storied past Lerado has its own unique ghostly presence. Only one house is near the city limits and, on a recent afternoon, the only person frequenting the town was a cemetery sexton.

It also has one of the more colorful tales.

According to a Hutchinson News article from 2009, a doctor named John Brady was optimistic for the city, which included building a women's college named after him - Brady University - once the railroad went through it. Dr. Brady and the townsfolk prepared for trains by building a $24,000, 100-room hotel and a brickyard operation. At one time, there was a bank, a newspaper, a school, a church, a drugstore, a meat market, a town hall, the lodge and opera house and four livery barns.

The town had everything except a railroad, and the railroad never came.

The railroad wasn't impressed with Lerado's growth, Newton said. They wanted 51 percent of the Lerado Town Co. Brady refused and the railroad built their tracks through Turon.

People left. Some moved their buildings and homes to the new town of Turon.

Now, the former town on Pretty Prairie and Lerado roads is just another bump in the road.