Kansas Rail Towns and Little House on the Prairie

October 31, 2015  •  1 Comment

Augusta, KS - SunriseAugusta, KS - SunriseA beautiful way to start the day in Kansas Our journey home to Missouri, from Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita, was planned with an eye on Kansas ghost towns, near ghost towns, and a quick stop at the Little House on the Prairie Museum.  What we found were a lot of towns established with the anticipation of the railroad in the 1880's. There were a lot of photo opportunities as well, and between the two of us, Kathy wound up with over 2,500 to choose from. So she's spent the last week going through and loading up additions to our Kansas galleries. This blog will cover only a portion of the trip home, but you'll get the idea of what you see in this part of the Land of Ahh's. 

After a gorgeous Kansas sunrise, we left our campsite at Santa Fe Lake, and headed East. Along the way, just outside of Augusta, we made a quick stop at Henry's Sculpture Hill.

Artist Frank Jensen bought "the Hill" in 1986, just outside of Augusta, as a place to work on his cast iron art, made out of old farm machinery.  He named his place "Henry's Sculpture Hill" in honor of famed author David Thoreau who wrote in Walden, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer." Indeed, Jensen does have a different beat than most, and it was a great stop (although we didn't catch them open, and were only able to get some shots from outside the fence).  [Note: click on a photo to go to its gallery. Click on links in the content to go to more information about that subject]

Augusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - HouseAugusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - HouseCast Iron art from old farm machinery sits in front of artist Frank Jensen's place just outside of Augusta.
Artist Frank Jensen bought "the Hill" in 1986 as a place to work on his cast iron art. He named his place "Henry's Sculpture Hill" in honor of famed author David Thoreau who wrote in Walden, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."

Augusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - BuffaloAugusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - BuffaloBuffalo (2004)
Artist Frank Jensen bought "the Hill" in 1986, just outside of Augusta, as a place to work on his cast iron art. He named his place "Henry's Sculpture Hill" in honor of famed author David Thoreau who wrote in Walden, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."

Augusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - Going to Town on SaturdayAugusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - Going to Town on SaturdayGoing to Town on Saturday (2004)
Artist Frank Jensen bought "the Hill" in 1986, just outside of Augusta, as a place to work on his cast iron art. He named his place "Henry's Sculpture Hill" in honor of famed author David Thoreau who wrote in Walden, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."

Augusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - Operating a Dump RakeAugusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - Operating a Dump RakeOperating a Dump Rake (2005)
Artist Frank Jensen bought "the Hill" in 1986, just outside of Augusta, as a place to work on his cast iron art. He named his place "Henry's Sculpture Hill" in honor of famed author David Thoreau who wrote in Walden, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."

Augusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - RedboneAugusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - RedboneRedbone - The Running Bison
Artist Frank Jensen bought "the Hill" in 1986, just outside of Augusta, as a place to work on his cast iron art. He named his place "Henry's Sculpture Hill" in honor of famed author David Thoreau who wrote in Walden, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."
Augusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - Riding to the MeadowAugusta, KS - Henry's Sculpture Hill - Riding to the MeadowRiding to the Meadow (2005)
Artist Frank Jensen bought "the Hill" in 1986, just outside of Augusta, as a place to work on his cast iron art. He named his place "Henry's Sculpture Hill" in honor of famed author David Thoreau who wrote in Walden, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."
After gandering at the iron through the barbwire fence, we pushed on with travel trailer in tow for some photo ops of towns that have seen their better days. We turned off the main highway (US-400) at Leon and headed south on a county road toward US 160, running through the small town of Atlanta Kansas along the way.  Population less than 200 today, this town got its first post office in 1885. 

AtlantaKSPostOfficeAtlanta, KS- Post OfficeThe post office here was established in 1885. This building of the 1921 High School in Atlanta continues to stand

Atlanta, KS - 1921 High SchoolAtlanta, KS - 1921 High SchoolThe 1921 High School (Gym?) still stands in Atlanta, Kansas. Surely this is the gathering spot for the small number of residence here.

AtlantaKSCafeAtlanta, KS Cafe

South of Atlanta and almost to Burden, we caught this Flag with our lens, seemingly in need of some care but still standing tall. This was one of those "hard to miss" flags, as it really stuck out on the landscape. 

Burden, KS - Large Flag North Of TownBurden, KS - Large Flag North Of TownA large flag, on a hill in Kansas, is definitely hard to miss. This one looks like it could use some care. We were seeing a theme with most of the towns in this area.  All seemed to start in the late 1870's, early 1880's. First called Burdenville, this railroad town was established in 1879 and changed to "Burden" in 1884 when the post office came. The town became a station and shipping point on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Although it's population was never high, the small city still supports just over 500 residents. It's named after Robert F. Burden, who was part of the company that surveyed and laid out the town in anticipation of the railroad.

Burden, KS - Main StreetBurden, KS - Main StreetFirst called Burdenville, this railroad town was established in 1879 and changed to "Burden" in 1884 when the post office came. The town became a station and shipping point on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Although it's population was never high, the small city still supports just over 500 residents. It's named after Robert F. Burden, who was part of the company that surveyed and laid out the town in anticipation of the railroad.

Burden, KS -Old City HallBurden, KS -Old City HallFirst called Burdenville, this railroad town was established in 1879 and changed to "Burden" in 1884 when the post office came. The town became a station and shipping point on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Although it's population was never high, the small city still supports just over 500 residents. It's named after Robert F. Burden, who was part of the company that surveyed and laid out the town in anticipation of the railroad.

Burden, KS - BankBurden, KS - BankFirst called Burdenville, this railroad town was established in 1879 and changed to "Burden" in 1884 when the post office came. The town became a station and shipping point on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Although it's population was never high, the small city still supports just over 500 residents. It's named after Robert F. Burden, who was part of the company that surveyed and laid out the town in anticipation of the railroad.

Yet another railroad town just East on US 160 is Cambridge, named after the the University in England.  Cambridge was established as a railroad town in 1880. It suffered through some major fires in the 1920's and early 1930's which destroyed most of the original buildings.  The Stockman's Cafe was established in the 1980's, but we read one description that says it's the longest continually operating Cafe under one name of its kind in Kansas. Obviously the building is much older.

Cambridge, KS - Stockman's CafeCambridge, KS - Stockman's CafeCambridge was established as a railroad town in 1880. It suffered through some major fires in the 1920's and early 1930's which destroyed most of the original buildings.
The Stockman's Cafe was established in the 1980's, but we read one description that says it's the longest continually operating Cafe under one name of its kind in Kansas. Obviously the building is much older.

After quick passes through Grenola and Moline, both rail towns established in the late 1870's, early 1880's, we pushed on to Elk Falls, once touted as the world's largest living ghost town. 

The first settler to locate upon the town site was a man by the name of R. H. Nichols in February, 1870.  Soon after, the enterprise of establishing a town site was conceived, and Nichols, with six other businessmen, formed a town site company laying out lots and making plans for the new settlement. Nichols built a small house, which also served as a loan and real estate office, a general store was built, a drug store and blacksmith shop opened, the post office was established and school was taught to 25 pupils by Miss Dora Simmons at her father’s residence.

By 1871, the site was named Elk Falls, deriving its name from a nearby waterfall on the Elk River. In order to create a water supply for severe droughts that often plagued the area, several dams were built along the Elk River, from logs, lumber, and timbers, but one after another they were destroyed by high waters during floods. Finally, a man by the name of Jo Johansen, a Swede from Minnesota, built the present dam, made of sandstone rocks cemented together, which has withstood the floods more than a century.

Elk Falls, KS - Elk River FallsElk Falls, KS - Elk River FallsPhoto by Dave Alexander.

The same year, a school building was erected in a small one-story frame house, where services for the Methodist Episcopal Church were also held.

Elk Falls, KS - One Room SchoolElk Falls, KS - One Room School

In 1879 a Baptist Church was built and in the following year a Methodist Episcopal Church was built.

Elk Falls, KS - Calvary ChapelElk Falls, KS - Calvary Chapel Elk Falls, KS - Methodist ChurchElk Falls, KS - Methodist ChurchThe Methodist Church in Elk Falls, Kansas was built in 1880 and still serves a congregation today.

Elk Falls' population peaked in 1880 at 513 people. By 1883 the new and rising town had attracted many prospects and numerous improvements had been made, with much of the population being children, as the school included more than 200 students.
 
On November 15, 1892, the board of Elk County Commissioners, voted to build an iron truss bridge over Elk River, connecting the dirt roads into the main thoroughfare leading into Elk Falls from the northeast. Built at a cost of $2,000, it was completed in 1893. Pratt Truss Bridge, as it is called, was unique for its type since expansion joints were made from rollers, rather than wheels. The bridge still stands today and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Elk Falls, KS - Iron Truss BridgeElk Falls, KS - Iron Truss Bridge

It also touts itself as the "Outhouse Capital of the World", and even has an annual Outhouse Tour held on the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving. In addition to some creative outhouses, visitors enjoy live music, handcrafts, food, and more.. Though we didn't get to take the tour, we got the gist. 

Elk Falls, KS - Outhouse - 6Elk Falls, KS - Outhouse - 6 Elk Falls, KS - Outhouse - 2Elk Falls, KS - Outhouse - 2

Elk Falls, KS - OuthouseElk Falls, KS - Outhouse Elk Falls, KS - Outhouse - 5Elk Falls, KS - Outhouse - 5

Elk Falls, KS - Outhouse - 8Elk Falls, KS - Outhouse - 8 Elk Falls, KS - Outhouse - 9Elk Falls, KS - Outhouse - 9

This town really got our Goat

Elk Falls, KS - GoatsElk Falls, KS - GoatsPhoto by Dave Alexander. You can read more about Elk Falls here

Continuing east on US 160, we tootled through Longton, established in 1870, and considered a sister city to Elk Falls. The town has seen its glory days pass, but still holds on as a sleepy farming community.  We read that some residents are alarmed by the rate of decline here, pointing out old buildings that are being demolished instead of repaired, the decline of businesses, and lack of interest in historical preservation in general.  Here's some of what we saw coming through Longton.

Longton, KS - Business BuildingsLongton, KS - Business Buildings

Longton, KS - Post OfficeLongton, KS - Post Office Longton, KS - Building - 2Longton, KS - Building - 2 Longton, KS - Building - 3Longton, KS - Building - 3 You can see more of our Elk County photos here.

Elk City is in Montgomery County, one we've been too before, and includes historic Cherryvale and Coffeyville.  Not needing to revisit those, we concentrated on Elk City, which itself is historic. 

Elk City, KS - Old TruckElk City, KS - Old TruckPhoto by Dave Alexander, 2015. Elk City began as a trading post established by John Kappell in early 1868 when the area was still part of the Diminished Reserve of the Osage Indians. It's population peaked at just shy of 800 in 1890.  By 1910, the town boasted a brick and tile manufacturing works, a flour mill, a weekly newspaper, two banks, express and telegraph offices, a post office with six rural routes, and a population of 659 people.

Elk City, KS - Old Building - 2Elk City, KS - Old Building - 2Photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2015. Elk City, KS - Building Ruins - 2Elk City, KS - Building Ruins - 2Photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2015. After 1940, Elk City's population began to drop each decade. As more and more people continued to leave, businesses began to close one by one. The high school continued to serve students until 1970 when it graduated its last class. Sometime along the way, the grade school also closed. Elk City's High School remained standing and silent for more than four decades until it was engulfed by fire and today only the rubble remains.

Elk City, KS - High School Ruins - 2Elk City, KS - High School Ruins - 2Photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2015. Elk City, KS - High School Ruins - 3Elk City, KS - High School Ruins - 3Photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2015. Today, Elk City is called home to just a little over 300 people. Students attend school in Independence, about 15 miles to the southeast. The town still boasts a post office, a bank, and a tavern amongst its many vacant business buildings. Unfortunately, Elk City lost another historic building in May, 2015 when the 1900 historic 1st Christian Church was destroyed by fire. You can read more about its history on our Legends of Kansas website here.  Also see more photos from Montgomery County here.

Our final stop before heading off to our next RV Park was the Little House on the Prairie Museum about 15 miles outside of Independence, Kansas, not far off Highway 75.  This is the location of the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, famed author of the Little House on the Prairie book series. The only structure originally located here is the hand dug well made by her father Charles Ingalls, but the site now exhibits a replica of the Kansas Homestead of the Ingalls family (1869-1871), where Carrie Ingalls was born, along with historic buildings which have been moved here, including Sunny Side School, which operated from 1872-1948, and the Wayside Post Office (1885-1977).  

Independence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - SignIndependence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - SignThe original hand dug well built by Charles Ingalls, and the location of the childhood home of famed author Laura Ingalls from 1869-1871 is located around 15 miles outside of Independence, Kansas. The museum features a recreation of the Ingalls cabin, as well as other historic buildings from the 1800's that have been relocated to the museum grounds. The well was crucial to finding the actual location of the Ingalls family homestead, which was discovered by Margaret Clements in 1969, on the Horton Farm. 

Independence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - WellIndependence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - WellThis is the actual hand dug well created by Charles Ingalls for his family. Famed author Laura Ingalls lived here as a child from 1869-71, with her younger sister Carrie being born here. The Ingalls family home was built by Charles as a stopgap until he could make enough to build Caroline the home of her dreams. This recreated cabin, based on Laura's own descriptions, is open certain hours for tours and gives you an idea of the tiny quarters the family lived in at the time. 

Independence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - Cabin and WagonIndependence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - Cabin and WagonThe childhood home (1869-71) for famed author Laura Ingalls was a one room cabin as depicted here in this recreation at the cabins original location. Added to the museum grounds is this donated Hitching Post from the home of Captain J.E. Stone in Caney, KS. Stone was the first Sheriff of Montgomery County, after the Ingalls left, and was a witness at Appomattox during the famous surrender ending the Civil War in 1865.

Independence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - Hitching PostIndependence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - Hitching PostAdded to the museum grounds is this donated Hitching Post from the home of Captain J.E. Stone in Caney, KS. Stone was the first Sheriff of Montgomery County, after the Ingalls left, and was a witness at Appomattox during the famous surrender ending the Civil War in 1865. Next to the Ingalls Homestead, the Museum also features a couple of other historic structures from the region that were moved here in 1977 to preserve them for future generations, including the historic 1885 Wayside Post Office, and 1871 Sunnyside one room schoolhouse, which was originally four and half miles from the Ingalls home, though the Ingalls sisters were too young to attend school during their time in Kansas. 

Independence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - Wayside Post OfficeIndependence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - Wayside Post OfficeThe historic 1885 Wayside Post Office served residents until the US Postal Service consolidated services. It was moved to the Little House on the Prairie Museum site in 1977 to save it from destruction and preserve it for future generations. Independence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - Sunnyside SchoolhouseIndependence, KS - Little House on the Prairie Museum - Sunnyside SchoolhouseBuilt in 1871, about four and a half miles from the Ingall's homestead, the Sunnyside one room schoolhouse was moved to the museum grounds when it opened in 1977. The Ingall sisters were too young to go to school during their time in Kansas. We were there on a weekday and didn't get a chance to tour the but they do offer tours. Find out more by visiting the Little House on the Prairie Museum website here.  

It was a great way to wrap up our adventure in this part of Kansas, although Kathy did have me going on back roads all the way to the RV Park in Oswego, and we had to turn around more than once when running into dead ends.  Kathy's famous for saying "This road is going the direction we need to go, just keep going."  That's part of finding the bonuses though, and I'm sure there are a few that will get added up to our Kansas galleries, including the Montgomery County Gallery here.

 

About the RV Park we stayed at during this portion of our journey: 

Hillside RV Park, Oswego, KS - This RV park is part of a larger area of Trailer homes, but was very nice.  Management was laid back and Kansas friendly. We had our choice of pull throughs with full hookups and sewer.  Only stayed one night, but would stay longer. I will say they may need some better signage to the office, as we pulled up to another building at first, not realizing the office was just up the road a few feet. Well worth the price for this Passport America holder. We camped here in a 22 foot KZ Sportsman Classic. 

 


Comments

Avis Deck (Charboneau)(non-registered)
My grandmother, Mamie Shaffer, lived in Elk City until she married Charles Close and moved to Quincy, KS., Greenwood County where my mother Muriel Close was born and married. That is also where my 8 siblings and I were born. Quincy is one of those "sorta" ghost towns. I really enjoy your emails regarding Ghost Towns.

Thank you.
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