Friday, October 2, 2015

A story of Hitschmann, Kansas - a Dead Town in Barton County

Like many a town in the American west, Hitschmann popped up with the advent of the railroad.
According to a written record maintained by the Barton County Historical Society, Elfrieda Wydziak recounted how Hitschmann was born. It was 1917 and the Santa Fe Railroad wanted to lay a line from Little River to Galatia. 
Railroad officials started to contact all the farmers. But when they came to the first residence, J.A. Hitschmann, the farmer said he didn't want his land divided in two. 
Officials continued to meet with Hitschmann, according to Wydziak. Finally, they asked him if he would allow them to put the rail line across his land if they named the town for him in his memory.
He agreed.
The little town struggled in its early years. Frank and Bertha Hoffman took over the Hitschmann Cash Store in 1927 from Bertha's father, Veat Dolecheck, shortly after they married.
The first few years were hard, especially during the Great Depression, Frank Hoffman told The Hutchinson News in 1986 as he prepared to sell the entire town. But by the late 1930s, the oil boom augmented the business and Hitschmann.
The National Cooperative Refinery Association - or NCRA - began renting some of the Hoffmans' land and built small houses - or "shotgun shacks" as Wydziak put it - for its oilfield workers.
At one time, there was a lumberyard, two groceries, two elevators and a depot, according to Wydziak. Farmers could order baby chicks and pick the up when the train stopped through town.
There also was a stockyard. NCRA had an office in a Quonset hut.
And, during wheat harvest, Wydziak said that crews would work most of the day until it became too hot, then they would head to the Hoffmans' store where they played pool in the basement.
As the town expanded, the Hoffmans added on to their growing business - which sold groceries, clothing and other general store merchandise. They built on a dance floor. On weekends, folks would come in to dance to the jukebox.
Because no beer could be sold on a dance floor, according to the article in The News, Frank Hoffman cut a hole in the wall and sold beer through it.
"They always had ham sandwiches," Fred Swalley of Claflin, who used to haul water to town to fill the water tower, said of the store. "They were really good. Everyone drove from everywhere to eat those sandwiches. I ate a lot of them."
A school was built across the street from Hoffmans' store in 1948. Yager said his sister attended there, but his parents sent him and his brother to Holyrood because Hitschmann didn't have sports.