Dr. Mary Kohn, director of the Chapman Center for Rural Studies at Kansas State University.
So a lot of times we think about history happening with big people, big names.
We learn presidents, we learn about wars.
But when we really want to learn about the history of our society, I think it's important to dig down into those individual stories of people who are making towns, creating towns and creating community in the process.
We see communities all over the U.S. facing new challenges, but sometimes these challenges are challenges we have seen before.
And understanding how communities approach challenges, what kinds of things make some communities thrive when other communities buckle and collapse?
That's critical for our communities now.
There are a lot of different reasons why people move towns.
It might have been that they wanted to get close to the railroad.
They might want to get close to the county seat.
They may have come out in the early years and they dug a well and had water, but the well went dry for the town.
And so then they would move to town where they found another water source.
Yeah, the actual location of how a town developed often moved a ways one way or another for maybe geographic regions or to avoid flooding or whatever.
Some other reasons were about competition.
There was a town two or three miles over that maybe just did better than yours for some reason or another.
So we hear of towns like Blackjack, Kansas that gets out competed by Junction City, right?
And so those communities either get folded in to a larger community or sort of dwindle out and disappear as people start to move to that larger hub.
But in the 1880s, when the big push or big boom was going on in western Kansas, all these small towns were being established and people were moving in.
There were more towns because you had more people and you needed more resources, everything to, I guess, serve an urban community because everybody had big dreams.
They were young people.
They were looking for the future.
The country was young with European settlement, and they were looking for the the future of building big towns and making big urban areas out of them.
Sometimes it had to do with infrastructure.
So the railroad didn't go quite where you thought it would, and so you thought you were going to be on a railroad line.
And all of the sudden the railroad line is five miles away, and that's no longer feasible for supporting your community.
So people go elsewhere.
Probably the biggest factor was the railroad.
Towns were started thinking they were going to get a railroad.
If they didn't get a railroad, if it came nearby, they usually moved.
Sheridan County, what Kenneth was the original town?
But the railroad came and everything moved to Hoxie.
In 1886, the building of the railroad, the Lincoln Colorado Railway, which was a subsidiary of Union Pacific, was going to miss Kenneth by about three miles, south of Kenneth, along the valley of a little stream called Sand Creek.
So the town of Kenneth moved.
Karen Lewis, director of the Sheridan County Historical Society.
We have a firsthand account of Eliza Russell.
In April, the work of moving began.
By going up the east side of us, we see a rather queer site.
Every individual house in Kenneth seemed to rise, move off the old ground and take the trip slowly down to Hoxie.
A regular mover of houses, took the job in hand and completed it to the satisfaction of all.
Notwithstanding, the prairie was, it was in poor condition for transporting heavy loads, being soft and wet from the melting snow and the spring rains which followed.
One of the interesting stories I think, is in Haskell County, Kansas.
There was a town in Haskell County called Santa Fe, which was on a branch of the original Santa Fe Trail, and it was a settlement that developed and they thought they were going to get a railroad.
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe built through, and they didn't go through the town of Santa Fe.
They established a new town of Sublette.
And so in a short period of time, almost everything that was at the town of Santa Fe had moved to Sublette.
Today, what was the town of Santa Fe as a cattle feed lot?
Yeah, these towns that were popping up and then moving, you know, a lot of them moved for example, there was Fagin.
He was the surveyor for the railroad.
He planted a town on the north side of the Solomon River because he's the surveyor.
He's making the recommendation.
So he's thinking, okay, we're going to build a town here.
Virgil Bogue, who is the engineer for this particular line, says, No, no, no, no, we don't.
We're not going to put a town there.
We're not going to take the railroad to your town.
We're going to create a town named after me, Bogue.
And it's just a mile and a half east of where Fagin was.
You see these towns moving.
You see the railroads making or breaking towns.
The creation of Bogue also impacted Nicodemus.
Businesses in these towns.
If you were an entrepreneur and you had some type of business, you want your business to thrive.
And if it looks like it's going to die here, you're going to try to go where it can potentially survive.
And if it's close proximity, maybe you just move over there.
And that's what happened.
So when the Railroad came into existence and Bogue pops up as a town, they literally closed their businesses down here, sold them or what have you, and then moved to of the town of Bogue and established the business district there.
That was not uncommon.
There are what, over 600 ghost towns in Kansas?
Probably a large portion of those were started with the belief that they were going to get a railroad and towns, that...
There are a lot of towns that survived that didn't get a railroad, but none of them became major towns.
As a sidelight of that, where they moved the town.
People out here were conservative, they were saving money and they already had a building.
And so it would be more practical or and or less expensive to move the building than to abandon the building and to and then build a new one at the new town because they had the materials, and materials were probably hard to find in a lot of cases.
Good story connected with that, Buffalo Bill Cody and some partners, as the railroad was building toward present Hays, they got the idea of getting some land and establish a town which they named Rome and they thought, you know, we will be right on this railroad and we will be a boom town.
But the directors of the railroad company didn't want Cody and his friends to have the town because they wanted to build a town in that area.
They surveyed the line so that Cody's town was on the opposite side of Big Creek.
And then they established the town of Hays, which was of course, on the right side of Big Creek.
And so Rome died.
But within a few weeks, Hays had all of these buildings because they just, you know, moved the buildings from Rome over to Hays.
They had a town, they had a hotel, they had businesses, everything within a matter of like four or five weeks, simply because they just pick up the whole town and and move it so.
And so that was the case where they moved it maybe a mile or a mile and a half.
Yeah, it's not not very far, but I mean.
It wasn't an epic cross country move on with the house.
There was a joke connected with that because in in that area of Hays, they say that was the Rome that was built in a day, so.
County seat wars happened a lot in western Kansas.
They did all over the state, especially in 1870s and 1980s.
Their various communities were vying for the county seat because economically the county seat was what really brought in the business.
Of course, it is a leading place for government in the county.
They had the courthouse, the county seat had schools, usually banks.
All the legal things had to be done there.
And so the bigger businesses would gravitate to whatever the county seat was.
You had a bigger population.
There were a lot of county state wars that ended up with violence.
There's more than one case of where the people from the town that wanted the county seat went to the town that was the county seat and stole all the records and moved them and created a new county seat on their own.
So the county seats were magnets for the population.
With the population had business and also with the population, even the railroads.
Also, it was kind of an understood that in western Kansas the county seat was supposed to be ideally in basically the center of the county with the idea that it had to be a day's wagon ride from the farthest part of the county to the county seat.
That was one reason that a lot of the county seats are basically in the middle of the county, because even today, when you're in northwestern Kansas, most of the county seats are 30 miles apart because the counties are 30 by 30 miles.
So they're mostly basically in the middle of the county.
One example of towns moving and changing to claim the county seat was in Rice County, Kansas.
The state legislature created Rice County in 1867, a farmer owned approximately 165 acres of land right here in this area.
And a gentleman from the east by the name of Truman J. Lyons, ended up buying that land.
The town originally was called Atlanta, and it was just slightly to the south and a tiny bit to the west of present day.
Truman J. Lyons decided that in order for him to sell lots his of his land, he decided to give a certain portion of his land on which to build a courthouse if Lyons could become the county seat.
There were at least three towns vying for the... for that privilege.
One was the town of Lyons, one was Atlanta, which was already the county seat.
One was Sterling, which is eight miles south of here.
There was an election.
It was a close election, very hotly debated.
One story says that there were six mules which were registered voters.
The only thing that exists between what used to be Atlanta and what is now Lyon is a street, a road.
So on one side of the road would have been Atlanta.
On the other side of the road is now Lyons.
The stories of many towns that once were but moved or dissolved are not entirely lost to time.
Thanks to the efforts of places like K-States Chapman Center and its Lost Communities Project.
The Chapman Center is an organization at K-State that's devoted to getting students and faculty excited and interested in regional history, regional culture and concerns about what it means to be part of the Great Plains, where we've been and where we're going.
The Lost Communities project started in 2008.
Our generous donor, Mark Chapman, was from Broughton, Kansas, which is no longer on the maps.
It was cleared by the Army Corps of Engineers and flooded to make way for Tuttle Lake.
Mark Chapman was interested in preserving the story of his hometown, and he reached out to the history department because he was interested in seeing what students could do to help make that happen.
And that started a collaboration that went on for well over a decade in which students from the history department at Kansas State University would partner with local communities around Kansas, collect oral histories, identify maps, take photographs, look at archives and create stories and projects on communities in Kansas that were either in the process of disappearing or already disappeared.
To date, we've got over 241 Lost Towns Documented, and these are all documents that are available online on our website.
And so our goal is to make sure that these towns aren't forgotten and that we remember them.
We are one of the few sources that people can go to if they're looking for information on these towns.
So I get contacted quite frequently by children and grandchildren who want to learn more about where Grandma grew up, and these are some of the only resources that are available to learn about Grandma's town.
Mr. Chapman's story of Broughton and Tuttle Lake is not entirely uncommon for towns that moved in Kansas.
Throughout the state because of the lakes being built either by the Corps of Engineers or the Department of Reclamation, the towns removed because a lot of them were in the river valleys, and so they had to move them out and they'd move them out of the river valley so they could put the town.
So the lakes such as Webster Lake, which is to the east in Rooks County.
We're going to have a conversation with Jean Lindsey, who is a volunteer here at the Rooks County Historical Society Museum.
We'll talk to her about Webster.
She is the authority on it.
Oh, no, I just grew up there.
Well, that's okay.
She's like me.
What she doesn't know she'll make up.
So when do you think they decided to put a lake in on the South Fork of the Solomon at Webster?
There were people in the community that talked about it for a long time.
There was one lady they said wrote, like 40 some letters to the state trying to get them to build a dam because we had so much flooding in the area.
So they'd talked about it for a long time.
They called her the mother of the Webster Dam.
What was the valley like before the lake was put in?
Well, it was just a low valley along the river.
You come over the hill from the north and there was a main street that run down through there.
I don't know what the population was, did they displace a lot of the farmers in the valley when they.
I was thinking like the Snyder ranch.
It took their ranch and they.
So not only were the re...
This side of the dam.
Relocating towns, but they were relocating farms.
Relocated a lot.
A lot of houses in Stockton that were moved from that area.
Did it please people that they were being relocated and a dam was going in?
Nobody wants to lose their home.
Lose their home and that's right.
This would be just the layout of the town, Main Street.
This is north.
And this is where you come off of like Highway 24.
And then this went on, on through and then went on across the bridge south.
This is the east and west.
Old Webster did have a school in it?
Yes, it had a... it was a consolidated school from all the country schools.
So it was a pretty big school.
It was a two story brick building with a big gymnasium And the shops for the boys to work in.
But the gymnasium was used for everything for the community.
Roller skated in the gym, played basketball.
There was a lot of sports.
And the school was on the west end of town.
The church was about in the center and of course the buildings for the businesses were to the east, 20-25 businesses up and down the street.
Then by the time I went to high school, there, there was not very many buildings.
It was the telephone office and the main business.
And of course the post office was in the general store.
Of course, the brick building went.
There were a lot of homes that were native stone.
Frame homes, they moved everywhere.
A lot of them to Stockton, but the school.
then they built a... See they had a... they built a new Webster then on to the south of town.
And that was another big thing to argue about whether we build it north on the highway or did they build it more to the south of town.
Most of the people stayed in the area and there's also was a cemetery they had to move.
They moved it to Stockton, which has a... we have a Webster addition in Stockton.
They didn't scatter the people that were buried in Webster Cemetery were buried basically.
Like they were.
Unless they wanted them buried, you know, if people had moved and they wanted their family moved to their location and they did that.
But was it about the same pattern?
I think so, yeah, because.
I didn't know anything about that.
That's that's kind of neat.
The last year for school was... we graduated in 53 and they had one more year in 54.
Well, then see, the dam was dedicated in 56.
It all went pretty fast.
Jackson Lowery, who contributes to this series with drone photography, piloted a different type of machine in an effort to find remnants of Webster.
Yeah, we're out here at Webster Reservoir.
And, uh, it's funny story.
I grew up with my grandpa Jim, my the late grandpa Jim telling me a lot of stories about, uh, growing up in Kansas, and he always had this joke that he would say about how he was born at the bottom of Webster Lake.
And... this lake right here.
And I was given the opportunity to use this underwater submarine and figured, let's come out here and try to find where Grandpa Jim was born, which we didn't see a whole lot.
Water was really murky.
Waves were pretty rough.
Um, had to fight some fishermen and chased a few fish around.
But it's pretty murky.
But it's just cool getting to come out here and kind of uncover some history of like where my grandpa grew up in a town that got buried underneath, underneath water and coming back through here and chasing history is really cool.
It's cool to see.
It's cool to find it.
I went out on the old town of Webster a few years ago when the lake was down, and I was surprised that to be able to identify the streets, I didn't know the name but where they were and were I thought was a blacksmith shop because there's a lot of coal clinkers and cinders and stuff and some harness parts you know.
In the '70s it was real low and you could go and they had pictures of people.
Yeah, you could tell where it was and, you know, like this, the trees, they had big cottonwood trees in my grandparents yard and those stumps were still there.
Yeah I saw.
You could walk down the streets of everywhere.
Because I'd see sidewalks.
I didn't know whether... the school was to the west end and it was a little higher there.
And that was the first foundation you could always find.
But all that stuff was still there.
History about these small towns can be found at local historical societies, libraries and places like Kansas State's Chapman Center.
The Chapman Center has a library that's open to the public.
We have computers.
We have access to Ancestry.com, to newspapers.com.
So community members are welcome to come to the Chapman Center.
Our students and staff are happy to help you go through our materials that we have.
We have a lot of materials on Kansas towns that maybe don't have materials elsewhere that you can easily find.
So especially if you email us or you stop by our offices, we're happy to dig in and answer some of those questions.
But good memories.
Oh, good memories.
Lots of good memories.
That's one thing with the history that I work with.
I've always liked to do the history and the pictures of Webster area and they're just special and bring back such good memories.
But then a lot of people have given me... wrote their history to give to me.
That makes it more interesting too, because there's different ages of peoples.
That remember different things.
They did different stories.
I think it's super important to look back at the people who came before us in history and see how that can shape us today, because there's a lot of stories you grow up hearing and they're starting to get thrown to the wayside a little bit that we don't in our modern culture, we don't hear much about our past.
So it's cool to be able to hear something that my grandpa talked about and joked about.
And I'm able to come out here and still see a part of the past that my grandfather was a part of.
I think that that's really important.
It gives you some perspective.
I also think it's important because we need to develop connections to where we're from.
One issue that faces rural communities are issues of brain drain where the best and brightest they come to universities, they get big degrees, and then they're told that they have to take those degrees elsewhere if they want to make money.
So you end up going from western Kansas to Denver or Kansas City because you don't think there's economic opportunity where you are.
But that entrepreneurial experience that you're talking about from these early communities can serve as a model for how to keep people here, how to invest in your community, and how to do so in inventive and novel ways, right?
Those kinds of ways of thinking outside the box, of thinking how to build community where you're at instead of looking to larger urban hubs as the solution to your problems is critical for the entire region.