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.