- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

NONCHALANTA, Kan. (AP) - It wasn’t a lackluster attitude that killed Nonchalanta.

When luck ran out, so did the residents.

But along this dirt path in southern Ness County, stone ruins still remain - sort of a grave marker amid the cattle pasture Harlan Nuss has rented for several years.

On a gray Sunday afternoon, Nuss led a small tour of the former town site. He scoped the surroundings, which included an old livestock barn, a dilapidated hotel and falling down schoolhouse, murmuring it is hard to imagine there was ever a town here.

Nonchalanta, in fact, was like many Kansas ghost towns - it sprouted liked a weed on the prairie. It busted for a few years. Folks built a school, church and a hotel, along with other businesses. Work began on a bank, and there was even a post office - giving the town the official stamp of existence.

But five years later, the death knell sounded.

“The railroad was supposed to come to town,” said Nuss, noting the town grew with that anticipation. “When it didn’t come through, the town pretty well folded.”

The Hutchinson News (https://bit.ly/1SNUU6I ) reports that with the promise of free land, Fred Roth and his family came in covered wagons from Missouri to Ness County.

So did others. John Silas Collins, a circuit-riding Methodist minister, who arrived in 1879 and began work to prove up his homestead, according to an article by local historian, the late Jan Gantz, which was published in the Ness County News.

They began building sod homes and plowing up the grass.

With pioneers came the need for a town. Homesteader Lewis Odom in 1885 decided to plat a town and asked another local, Dr. W.A. Yingling, to come up with a name.

“And I don’t care a d- - what kind of name it is, just so it’s a taking name,” Odom told Yingling according to several historical articles.

So, as the tale goes, Yingling called it Nonchalant, after the French word of that very idea, and then decided to add the “a.”

Odom loved it and began promoting Nonchalanta with the idea the railroad was coming. One newspaper printed on May 23, 1885: “New town of Nonchalanta laid out.” By September, lots were reported to be selling for $15 to $85, according to the book “Ness, Western County, Kansas” by Minnie Dubbs Millbrook.

Momentum continued and folks prepared for a promised railroad. Nonchalanta would soon have a livery, a drug store, three-story hotel, real estate office and a general store, Gantz wrote in her article. There was a Methodist church and newspaper. A quarter-mile away, a man named McCandish operated a small country store and post office that the government had previously dubbed Candish. By 1887, the post office was renamed Nonchalanta.

In fact, said Wichita resident Cheryl McVicker Lewis, whose family homestead is in the area, the Nonchalanta newspaper from August 1887 showed 22 businesses advertising in it.

“And it said there were also several more carpenters, two more blacksmiths and several stone masons and plasters,” said Lewis, who grew up near the town site and has researched local and family history. “There were plans to build 100 houses in the next six months.”

Folks had begun construction on the bank, as well as more stores, restaurants and a Grand Army of the Republic post. There was even talk of a summer resort called “Wildhorse Lake” - located around a natural depression where the wild horses would water, wrote Gantz.

Gantz also reported that lots were advertised in Folsom Heights - “a beautiful suburb overlooking the city.”

And, in 1887, according to the book by Millbrook, the newspaper advertised the town as “the magic young city of the plains, with six public wells with pure water, a hundred houses to be built in early spring and a railroad to be built during the coming summer.”

Sam Howell was one of the business owners. According to family history, he worked on the railroads across western Kansas, drove freight and was employed on area ranches before homesteading and starting a feed store in Nonchalanta.

There he met Susie Helen Corbet, a young girl working at the Nonchalanta hotel, which was operated by John Rogers, a man who would later become governor of Washington, according to Corbet’s writings discovered by Lewis.

Susie and Sam married in Nonchalanta in April 1888 - the same year the school was finished.

The town was buzzing.

“Dancing, baseball games and picnics were part of the entertainment,” wrote Gantz.

Survival, however, became work in itself.

Settlers struggled but made it through the blizzard of January 1886. But a Mr. Cooper died of a rattlesnake bite, John Abrahams was killed by lightning and a Newby boy froze to death. Meanwhile, rain didn’t follow the plow - like advertised - especially in these parts where the average rainfall is 17 inches a year.

The Nonchalanta Herald, which issued its first paper on May 20, 1887, went out of business on Feb. 8, 1889, losing hope that the promised railroad would come.

“By 1890, little was left of Nonchalanta, but the ghostly stone buildings,” Millbrook wrote.

The Slagle family, however, were among some of the homesteaders who stayed in the area, said Lewis.

Her great-grandfather, George Slagle, ran the store in Nonchalanta for a time. An article in the Ness County News from spring 1894 reported he turned over the “groceries” to another man and moved back to the homestead east of town.

That fall, he moved his family to a stone house west of Nonchalanta.

A tornado in 1899 may have taken the third story off the hotel, said Tom McCoy, Lewis’ cousin. Meanwhile, the family living in the hotel ran a general store in the area, which was open a few decades after the town depopulated, said Nuss.

The post office eventually moved to Lewis and McCoy’s great-grandfather George Slagle’s rock home located a few miles away. Built on a hill using the limestone of what was to be the Nonchalanta bank, folks could walk into the basement doorway to get their mail, Lewis said. Part of the basement was for the family’s apple crop - which, one season, totaled about 700 bushels of apples, said McCoy. The post office closed in 1930, according to the Kansas State Historical Society. Lewis’ father, Dean, and sister, Mary McVicker McCoy - Tom McCoy’s mother, recalled visiting their grandparents and watching George put out the mail, “but weren’t allowed to go in,” Lewis said.

On this winter day, Harlan Nuss, Tom Reed, who hails from the nearby ghost town of Ravanna, and McCoy, traipsed about the pasture Nuss rents where the town once stood.

Except for his grazing cattle and the rattlesnakes that make their appearance in the heat of summer, there is nothing much happening in Nonchalanta, Nuss said.

“There may have been 300 people,” said Nuss, but added with just the tales that are passed down and everyone from that era dead, he doesn’t know for sure.

McCoy said he remembers visiting the Nonchalanta school in the mid-1940s while a cousin was attending. It closed in 1946. Nuss said it was turned into a farm shed before falling into disrepair.

The school is one of the remaining ruins on the prairie. McCoy, on the recent Sunday afternoon, pointed out the names of schoolchildren carved into the stone walls are still visible after all these years.

Many would carve their names and initials, despite the teacher scolding them for it, said Lewis. Somewhere amid the rubble is the name of Lewis’ father, Dean.

“He had been home sick … and his sister came home and told him you are in trouble,” she said, noting the teacher must have discovered the carving. “He had to stay after school the next day.”

Nuss said he often finds rocks where foundations might have been, as well as a few of the spots where city wells were located. There is a large depression at the site of the bank.

Nuss sometimes thinks about the area being a town center as he is checking cattle.

“It makes you wonder what it looked like and stuff - what the houses looked liked,” Nuss said.

Lewis tries to envision the town, too - a town with homes, businesses and streets with names like Warren, Heath and Union.

Now, except for the few stone structures, Nonchalanta has been reclaimed by the prairie.

“I just can’t imagine what that looked like in 1887 considering how it looks now,” she said.

Cheryl McVicker Lewis said her grandmother, Annie Slagle McVicker, and her siblings all attended the Nonchalanta school.

She noted that her grandmother was a student there one year and the next year was its teacher. She taught there four terms, although not consecutive, Lewis said.

While teaching school at Nonchalanta and several county schools, she proved up her own homestead in the Nonchalanta area before she married. In 1904, she filed on land that had been relinquished by four different settlers.

“She taught nine years before she was married,” Lewis said.

Annie married Ernest McVicker and the couple raised five children in the Nonchalanta community, sending them to school at the limestone schoolhouse that was rebuilt in the early 1900s.

Annie’s father, George Slagle, kept the Nonchalanta Post Office in his home from 1905 until it closed in 1930.

The post office’s move to the Slagle home was mentioned in the Ness County Echo on June 3, 1905. Lewis, who looks through old newspapers, discovered the article.

“After a fine display of ‘red tape’ and a lot of tom foolery always used in making post masters, especially in the 42nd class, George Slagle has been appointed post master at this place, and as soon as the necessary papers have been adjusted, will take charge of the post office which will be in his residence. … Mr. Slagle is a pleasant and accommodating gentleman and will give the patrons first-class service.”

There are several other Ness County names connected to Nonchalanta, wrote Gantz, including the Goodmans, Becks, Copelands, Collins, Lennens, Fehrenbachs, Hoppers and Sinclairs.

Although not the town it once was, there must have been some activity there for a while in Nonchalanta after 1890, said rancher Harlan Nuss.

A historical article compiled by Cheryl McVicker Lewis notes a tornado came through in 1899.

“In July 1899, a cloud, funnel-shaped with a green edge, came and finished the towns of Riverside and Nonchalanta. This storm covered a swath four miles wide and the accompanying hail killed sheep and drove horses into wire fences where they were cut.”

According to the information, besides the school in Ness City, the Nonchalanta school “was the finest school building in the country. The two-story structure was destroyed by a tornado in 1899.”

The school was later rebuilt, perhaps by 1906, according to information by late Ness County historian Jan Gantz.

The “Kansas: a Cyclopedia of State History” shows that in 1910, Nonchalanta had a post office and trading point and a population of 69 - although this could have been the population in the area surrounding the town site.

The town’s Methodist church continued on after most of the businesses left. The church, organized in 1887, had a minister until 1918 and a Sunday school until about 1925. The building was moved to Ness City.

A Catholic church opened around 1900 near the former town site. It had services until the early 1960s, according to The Hutchinson News.

The Catholic cemetery, St. Ignatius Cemetery is still there.

Just how long Nonchalanta lasted, or whether it did have 69 people in 1910, no one knows, said Nuss, noting that everyone from that era are gone.

What he does know is there are trespassers. One even is selling pictures of the Nonchalanta hotel on the Internet.

But Nuss has never given anyone permission to step foot on the property, adding it is private property and permission must be granted.

“They definitely didn’t ask me,” he said.

Nonchalanta was organized in 1885.

Often, among the first buildings constructed is a school, said Tom McCoy, of Ness City, whose family - the Slagles - lived and homesteaded in the area.

The Nonchalanta school was organized in 1887, according to the book “Ness, Western County, Kansas.”

The first school in the Nonchalanta community was a subscription school taught in the home of Mrs. Fred Roth, according to late Ness County historian Jan Gantz.

Cheryl McVicker Lewis, who grew up in the area, said her brother, Daryl McVicker, now owns the Roth house, and when he and his wife were remodeling the house several years ago found the year 1881 carved in the rock of the house.

Two school terms were also taught in the Methodist church, according to Gantz’ research.

The school was finished in October 1888 with rock hauled from the Johnny Winn stone quarry in Hodgeman County. It cost about $3,500, according to the Ness County history book.

Another school was built in 1906, using the rocks from the old school building.

Lewis said the children of her great-grandparents, George and Mary Slagle, would take the horse and buckboard to school from their homestead.

“It was about 4 miles to school,” according to the history compiled by Lewis. “The teacher would ring the half-hour bell by ringing it several times. Then there was a 10-minute bell that didn’t ring as long. When the Slagle kids were going to school they would stop the horse when they heard the bell to tell how close it was to school time. The horse got to where it would automatically stop when he heard the bell.”


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

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