- Associated Press - Friday, March 27, 2015

GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) - Traveling down a dirt path sandwiched between a wheat field and pasture, Ed Schoenberger abruptly motions to stop the car.

“You’re now in downtown Reeder,” he says as he steps out of the vehicle - facing the cold wind that whips across the wide-open prairie on this early March day.

But all around him, there is nothing but farmland and grass. Reeder, once a bustling community where residents dreamed of a railroad, has disappeared.

Underneath the ground, however, the memory of Reeder still exists. Reeder began in 1885 but only lasted a handful of years, with the post office closing in 1891. The railroad never came, and the community eventually died with its remains buried in shallow graves below the prairie grass.

Schoenberger pulls out his metal detector and begins finding century-old trash - on this day largely sardine cans that settlers left behind.

Reeder’s tale mirrors countless towns across Kansas, including several in Kiowa County. Schoenberger has been working to preserve those memories through his research and amateur archeology.

Reeder, he said, once was part of Comanche County before the Kansas Legislature redrew the county lines. It had a newspaper - the Comanche Chief, which eventually was changed to the Kiowa Chief. There was a hotel and other businesses.

“They built Reeder on the anticipation of a north-south railroad, but it never happened,” he said.

Reeder soon disappeared.

In 1903, the Kansas House passed HB 221, an act vacating the townsite of Reeder, according to the Kansas House Journal.

Schoenberger, a longtime Greensburg resident and past board member of the Kiowa County Historical Society, has been researching the county’s ghost towns for decades. In the margins of an old Kiowa County history book - which survived the May 2007 tornado that destroyed his home and much of the city - he scribbles his own notes of his findings, and corrects the inaccuracies.

“History belongs to the person who tells it,” he quips, noting that stories that are passed down from generation to generation change over time. However, if you dig deep enough, the truth often comes to the surface.

Finding the truth, however, hasn’t always been easy. For instance, Janesville, the county’s first town, is located roughly two miles west of Greensburg. Janesville, however, has no official paper trail. The town was never platted and had such a brief life that Schoenberger has found few documents and newspaper articles, along with a case full of artifacts.

A July 1884 issue of the Kinsley Graphic noted the happenings in town in its Janesville Jottings. It said that Andrew J. McWilliams was busy running a store, lumberyard and blacksmith shop.

By August 1884, building in town, it seemed, was booming.

“Lumber is sold so rapidly in our yards here, that it is simply impossible to keep a good stock on hand,” the writer reported.

And, by September, the town had a post office, The Hutchinson News ((https://bit.ly/1FQ17r6 ) reports.

Janesville, however, would soon be just a memory. And some of the accounts of its ending stretch the truth, including one in history books and stated on the Kansas State Historical Society website:

“When the town of Greensburg was being established, the townspeople attempted to have the post office moved from the nearby town of Janesville. Jacob Barney, who had established Janesville and was also the postmaster, refused to allow the post office to leave. One night several Greensburg men were playing cards and drinking with Barney in the Janesville Post Office. Late in the evening, Barney fell asleep. The Greensburg men hoisted the 9-foot-by-12-foot building onto a sled, and with Barney inside, moved the building to Greensburg. Barney awoke the next morning in what was now Greensburg’s post office.”

“In these old stories there is always some truth,” Schoenberger said.

Schoenberger said he found Janesville’s first postmaster was McWilliams, who had the daughter named Jane. Documents also show that Jacob Barney most likely participated in the relocation to Greensburg. Barney had a store in Janesville.

Janesville consolidated with Greensburg in October 1884, according to a county document. It noted that that Greensburg acquired all the houses and buildings in Janesville, including the post office, and that McWilliams would remain postmaster.

McWilliams didn’t take the job, however. Emma Conwell, did. The post office in Janesville was formally discontinued in January 1885 and moved to what postal officials called Greensburgh.

The post office dropped the H in 1892.

Whether Barney disagreed with the move, it’s long been buried with him, as Barney signed the document and was paid $5.52 for nails, rope and other items for the moving of Janesville. Schoenberger also said residents who agreed to move to Greensburg were paid for their expenses and received a free lot in Greensburg.

For Schoenberger, one easy way to find townsites is from the trash settlers left behind.

There was no trash Dumpster, after all, on the prairie. Pioneers often left their trash behind, said David Webb, assistant director of the Kansas Heritage Center in Dodge City.

“Canned food - sardines and fruit, some vegetables, that was pretty common,” Webb said. “They didn’t have trash pickup so it all got dumped somewhere - state archaeologists say the outhouse sites are great - that’s where a lot of things got thrown.”

The town site of Brenham was actually south and west of the present day elevator that travelers pass as they head west into Greensburg, Schoenberger said, noting he’s found several items in this location, including the town’s well. Brenham had a good well and people from all over came to get water from it.

The town, formed in 1884, had several businesses, including a doctor. Brenham had a post office for 10 years, through 1894. Southern Plains Cooperative still operates the elevator, using it for food-grade milo.

There were other towns as well, almost all of which have been reclaimed by the prairie or plowed over by farmers. Some, however, never really were more than a post office stop with maybe a store.

That includes Nickel, which had a post office from 1886 to 1908; as well as Crescent in northwestern Kiowa County. Crescent’s post office operated from 1892 to 1905.

The towns of Belvidere and Wellsford still have small populations and a few structures.

Kansas has nearly 6,000 dead towns across the prairie. Some died because they lost the county seat battle.

Others, said Webb, disappeared because they didn’t get a railroad. Those towns would typically move their buildings to a neighboring community, leaving little remains on the surface.

Often, said Webb, the last remaining evidence above ground is a rural cemetery.

Schoenberger continues to metal detect the townsites - some of which have moved a little from the original platting. He has permission from the landowners. He also thinks he has found the undocumented town of Gresham, which the Kinsley Mercury in 1884 noted was one of three voting precincts in the county.

At the proposed site of Gresham, which he thinks is by the Joy elevator area west of Greensburg, he found square nails and tools. Around the Janesville site, he has found horseshoes, bridle bits, square nails and bullets with his metal detector, among countless other metal items used in the day. He’s found similar items at Brenham.

Those items are hanging in the Kiowa County Courthouse.

From Reeder, in Schoenberger’s home collection, he has buttons and money, bullets and more decorative pieces, including jewelry and pocket knives.

He enjoys it, he said, adding he probably has more than 4,000 hours of research.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” he said, adding he used to be the cemetery sexton at Greensburg. “But I’m even more so now.”

___

Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, https://www.hutchnews.com


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