The History of Eudora, Kansas
The History of Eudora, Kansas
Image to right: 1972 farms around Eudora
Eudora township in Douglas County is mostly bottom land, settled by Germans in the north part and Quakers, the Hesper community, in the south, wrote James Malin in his 1935 Kansas Historical Quarterly article called the “The Turnover of Farm Population in Kansas.”
The Kansas River, which created a three-mile flood plain around Eudora, contributed to the rich soil that local farmers prize. Examples of the area’s varying soil include Riverwash, Wabash, Oska, Morril, Kennebec, Judson, Sharpsburg, Thurman, Woodson, Kimo, and Eudora itself, according to the Kansas Geological Survey.
Early farmers grew and shipped grain, flax seed, hemp, and castor beans, reported the Polk Directory in 1878. W.J. Allen shipped 375 gallons of molasses in 1888, which points to the diversity of crops grown mentioned by Will Stadler, editor of the Eudora News,who claimed Eudora was in the “Garden Spot of Kansas:”
“Potatoes, corn, wheat, oats, alfalfa, clover, sweet clover, sorghum, and all kinds of fruit thrive in the climate and soil. Kaw Valley potatoes are known all over the eastern markets. Some of the finest watermelons and cantaloupes are grown in the valley. Diversified farming is carried on to a great extent ant the soil is very fertile. Truck farming is being taken up by numerous farmers in Kaw valley and after peas, spinach, and tomatoes are harvested, sweet corn is planted and yields an enormous crop. These crops are sold to the canning factory at Lawrence.”
Farmers planted wheat but not on large acreages. In 1895, famers harvested 52,810 bushels of wheat and 19,005 of corn, according to the township record. Wheat yields in the immediate vicinity, according to a 1900 news account, were Anton Schoenhofer, 40 acres, 32 ½ an acre; Thomas McFarland, 50 acres, 20 bushels an acre; William McFarland, 50 acres, 26 bushels an acre; George Albright, 40 acres, 25 ½ bushels an acre; Ed Miller, 40 acres, 25 bushels an acre; Sam Stanley, 20 acres, 28 bushels an acre; Oscar Schlegel, 20 acres; 25 ½ bushels an acre; Harry Eaton, 40 acres; 22 1/2 bushels an acre; M. Eder, 33 acres, 21 ½ bushels an acre; Frank Hadl, 30 acres; 22 ½ bushels an acre; August Bohnsack, 40 acres; 25 bushels an acre; Albert Griffith, 70 acres, 31 bushels an acre; and W. H. Starr, 60 acres, 31 bushels an acre.
When E. Gerstenberger counted township resources in 1905, he said farmers planted the following acres: wheat (6,340); corn (8,566); oats (1,531); barley (10); potatoes (3,977); flax (481); cane (91); millet (76); kafir corn (104); vineyards (18); strawberries (5); raspberries (2); blackberries (11); vegetable gardens (30); timothy (1,866); clover (486); bluegrass (222); alfalfa (282); and orchardgrass (22). A postcard written by “Carl” in 1908 said the author made seven bushels of flax an acre and getting a dollar per bushel.
Fruit-bearing trees, Gerstenberger noted, were apple (9,366); pear (528); peach (3,778); plum (718); cherry (786); quince (18); and apricot (25). Another 5,000 to 6,000 trees had been planted but too young to bear fruit. As for wild timber, the township had 711 acres. Town residents kept 11 hives of bees; those in the township had 224 bee stands.
News accounts support reports of diversified farm products. A quick look shows Henry Copp shipped 600 crates of raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries in 1890, and 200 crates of strawberries to Colorado in 1893. Blackberries, some grown by Samuel Davis and Joseph Griffin in Hesper, were ready for market in June, according to a 1900 newspaper article. In 1905, Henry Westerhouse and George Thoren each shipped a carload of corn; and C.H. Daugherty, Clay Harris, and F.H. Sears sent carloads of cattle to Kansas City; a Jennings sold millet seed; Frank Bernitz, Weaver, grew popcorn and took it in wagonloads to Lawrence, while William Brecheisen filled his Lawrence-bound wagons with sheep. The Lothholz brothers, too, raised sheep, and sent two carloads off in 1915. (Twenty years earlier, E. Reed, Henry Reusch, E. W. Melville, Sam Davis, D. L. Davis, John Brender, and Robert Newby shipped out large quantities of wool at the Santa Fe Depot.) Fred Ott shipped a carload of alfalfa in 1916. Marion Strong, too, advertised his new sorghum mill in 1925.
Train carloads give an idea of Eudora’s agricultural production. For example, in 1917, the Noria, Weaver, and Eudora stations shipped out wheat (171 carloads), horses and mules (14 carloads), cattle (14 carloads), hogs (59 carloads), hay and straw (95 carloads), fruits and vegetables (1 carloads), and potatoes (88 carloads). Potatoes, east and west of Eudora, were a common crop. In June 1926, the following, with potato acreage listed by name, planted potatoes: Henry Westerhouse (100), Ben Neis (60), George Broers (50), Gideon Neis (45), Carl Neis (50), Will Spitzli (50), L. L. Kindred (30), Will Altenbernd (75), Carl Altenbernd (70), Chris Schaake (55), Will Harvey (40), Ray Walters (40), F. G. Hughes (25), Conrad Alternbernd (20), Henry Seiwald (20), C. C. Perkins (30), William Schaake (10), Ray Dissinger (15), Robert McFarland (15), John Strong (20), Will Saunders (30), W. W. Hockett (35), James McCabria (25), W. E. Perkins (45), James Roe (20), Ralph Davis (25), George Rothberger (25), Don Westheffer (15), Walter Vitt (25), John Moody (15), Ray Ogden (15), Arthur Schutz (10), Edwin Ott (15), William Ott (10), Frank Blechel (10), and John Ott Jr. (5).
At the Eudora Area Historical Society's January 8, 1996 “Horses to Horsepower” meeting, Samuel Neis Jr., and Robert Neis said many grew potatoes and turnips in Weaver Bottoms. Carl Neis, for example, started growing potatoes in 1918 and shipped them in 120-pound bags. They said often there would be 15 railroad carloads of potatoes shipped daily to Chicago. Robert Neis said he was the last to grow potatoes and quit in 1949 because California was producing four times the amount of potatoes Eudora farmers could grow per acre. He attributed the California success to fertilizer, which when used by Eudora farmers resulted in potatoes that would not keep.
Several grew turnips, too, and hired harvesters who would “top out the turnips” for fertilizer. Seeds were taken to Pilla Department Store that sold the seeds in 160-pound bags, and turnips shipped to Chicago. Said Kermit Broers, “One year my dad loaded 120 carloads of potatoes out of Weaver Bottom. They were loaded on the siding in Weaver and put them in railroad cards like you would ship wheat, with grain doors in the doors. We loaded them up and dumped them loose in the cars, nothing but turnips. They used the turnips with cabbage to make sauerkraut, then the US. Government came out and made it illegal to make sauerkraut that way. And, they killed the turnip market. That is why we quit raising turnips. We loaded the last load of turnips the day before Thanksgiving and we were going to load two more cars the day after Thanksgiving as you could load turnips as long as it did not get below 20 degrees, the turnips would be all right. But it froze over Thanksgiving, so we couldn’t ship them.”
Robert (“Bob”) Neis said horses were better than mules for plowing in Weaver. "That is where a horse showed up because they worked better in the plowed ground or sand of Weaver Bottom than on the black dirt on hills. They could out walk a mule and would stay on top of the dirt. The mules just sank into the ground."
Harvesting. At an earlier Eudora Area Historical Society meeting members discussed farming and thrashing machines used for harvest before combines came to be. For example, Samuel Neis Jr. said they had "runs" where a farmer and his crew would work an area of the community. Bob Neis recalled that area farmers who owned combines included Hank Giert, Emil Schmidt, Sam Neis Sr., Roger Stanley, and Rusty Wilson, who had a large steam-powered one and took care of the Weaver Bottom area.
According to Samuel Neis Jr., the Kanzig brothers south of Eudora, near the Prairie Center community, had the first combine in the area. The brothers went all over the country cutting wheat for other farmers. The next year, Samuel’s father purchased one on steel wheels, and the combine after that one was a five-foot AC. From then on, the machinery just got bigger and bigger as next a six foot combine was bought, then a twelve foot. The sound of the morning whistles signaled that the threshing crew was beginning their work day. Men such as Glenn Wilson, who shoveled coal until engines, worked in Weaver Bottoms for the Neises, Kindreds, Broers, and Hadls, started their day at sun-up.
Clifton James also kept the steam engines fired and worked for Emil Schmidt. Another one of his jobs was to haul the water from a well or creek to keep the engine, which held about 100 gallons, cool. The engine used water as fast as he could fill the tanks. Ralph Schmidt remembered his father running the separator and hiring someone to run the engine. His father used a Case 36" separator with a hardshell feeder with an extension. The steam engine was an Emerson Brandington 60 single cylinder.
Men working the engine and separator had to coordinate their actions with each other as how fast the engine and separator ran. Also working were the men scooping the grain from the hopper to the wagons to be taken to the granary. While the men worked in the fields, the women were busy at the house preparing to feed these crews. Sometimes, it might include a breakfast or evening meal in addition to the noon meal. Leoti (Milburn) Westerhouse said one of the best things a husband could do was to give a couple of days notice that the threshers would be there for the meal as it usually took that long to prepare. Preparation started with baking up to six loaves and maybe some coffee cakes, too. Butter had to be churned, berries picked for pies, meat retrieved from the butcher’s locker in town, vegetables picked from the garden, and other tasks. Westerhouse said she liked to serve roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy. Twenty workers could eat a meal in 15 minutes that took two days to prepare. This did not include any children nor other women, which could add another 10 people.
As for livestock, the 1920 Kansas Farmer and Mail and Breeze: Reliable Directory of Franklin and Douglas County reported the following for farmers in Eudora:
Percheron horses: Irvin Deay, Oscar Neis, Charles W. Terrell, Ralph C. Terrell, Harry Werts
Jersey sheep: Louiz Bartz
Hogs: Chester White, LeRoy Breithaupt, Otto Spitzli, William Spitzli, Oscar Votaw. Duroc Jersey, LeRoy Breithaupt, James Deay, William Deay, Ray Goodrick, Verna Hagerman, I.D. Harris and sons, Lebbens Holmes, John Kasberger, George E. Miller, Fred Ott, George Ott, Carl Pfleger, Henry Seiwald, L. Seiwald
Beef cattle, Aberdeen Angus, John Selzer, George Listen. Hereford,Conrad Alternbernd, Gus Gabriel, Carl Gerstenberger, Walter Gerstenberger, Matt Grosdidier, I.D. Harris and Sons, Arthur Ott, Fred Ott, Henry Rohe, Stephen Schehrer, Windle Schehrer, Maurice Starr, Charles W. Terrell, Samuel Todd. Red Polled, Peter Neis. Shorthorn, August Bohnsack, James Brazil, Frank Jordan, Irvin Votaw,
Dairy cattle, Guernsey, Sam Gabriel. Holstein-Friesian, Walter Bernitz, Thomas Bird, Arthur Boehle, Samuel Davis, Arthur Eisele, Ray Goodrick, Charles James, William Joy, Edd Melville, Ernest Milburn, George Votaw
Will Pendleton, manager of a large canning company, contracted with area farmers in 1937 to grow 900 acres of peas, 70 acres of spinach, and 40 acres of beets. That same year farmers planted twice as much wheat as corn with many planting rye and alfalfa also. Truckloads, too, during this time left Fall Leaf and Weaver loaded with cantaloupes and watermelons headed to Nebraska, Iowa, and North Dakota. Veral “Babe” Neis, another strawberry grower north of Eudora, began large scale production in 1953 and hired 10 employees during the season for decades.
The Farmers’ Elevator in Eudora provided needed farming supplies and storage for local farmers. A 1965 “Grain Bank” notebook from the business files shows some of the many farmers who stored grain with the company: Junior Neis, George Abel, Clarence Neis, B. Grosdidier, Jim Harris, Kenneth von Aachen, Cliff Cox, Babe Neis, Harold White, Leonard Hadle, Otto Alternbernd, Larry Wilson, Bill Neis, Carl Kurtz, Delmar Spitzli, Lloyd Brecheisen, Herbert Kindred, Charles Durr, Wayne Strong, Charles Neis, Howard Miller, Al Pendleton, Ray Costney, Bill Porter, Everett Votaw, Harold Gabriel, Delbert Sutherland, Herbert Meuffel, Lloyd Webster, Robert Hadle, Ralph Terrell, Cliff Sparks, Walter Hunsinger, Howard Petefish, Norbert Grosdidier, Herbert Knabe, Willard Warner, Miller brothers, Louie Kindred, Fred Neis, Al Seiwald, Herbert Brown, and Colman and Reusch.
In recent years, most farmers grow row crops of wheat, corn, soybeans, and milo along with brome and alfalfa hay production. However, farmers have continued to try alternatives such as fish (Donal Ott for more than 50 years) and black walnut trees (Richard Rodewald).
Orchards. Fruit growing has been both a sideline and main source of income in Eudora and subject of newspaper interest. For many years at the end of the 20thcentury, Richard and Joan Smith grew five acres of blackberries and raspberries at their Tree House Berry Farm north of Eudora on Leavenworth County Highway 1 with facilities for jelly and jam making.
When Clifford Davenport retired in 1965, he planted 75 acres of peaches and five acres of apples three and one-half miles west of Eudora at 1394 E. 1900 Road. Kansas winters destroyed most of the peaches causing Davenport to focus on apple growing. When he died in 1972, his grandson Greg Shipe and Shipe's wife, Charlee Glinka, expanded the orchard. Around 1990, they began growing grapes, too. Their Norton, Freedonia, Aurora, Seyval Blanc, Reliance and other grape varieties are for table use and also have been used to produce award-winning wines, including sweet fruit wines (Apple, Blackberry, Bonne Pomme, Peche, Poire, Rhubarb); dry red grape wines (Boujy Noveaulo, Chat in the Dark, Ruslan); sweet red grape wines (Charlemagne, Charlotte's Red, Mandolin); dry white grape wines (Cayuga White, Chardonel, Seyval Blanc), Vignoles); sweet white grape wines; blush (Marechal Foch, Mary's Blush, Wild Irish Rose); and Scrumpy, “from apples, fermented in the bottle with spent yeast left in, like a good home brew, blue collar bubbly, flavorful with a creamy finish,” according to the owners. In 2000, Pep Selvan moved to the Eudora area on North 1250th Road and planted a vineyard that supplies the fruit for Bluejacket Crossing Vineyard & Winery’s white wines, Seyval, Wolf White, Melody, Vignole, Traminette, and Chardonel; blush wines Betty’s Blush, Chambourcin, Vin D’une Nuitt; and port wine, Fado.
Floyd and Becky Ott, who lived six miles south of Eudora at 2322 North 700 Road, started planting fruit trees before 1960 and now have more than 1,500 trees. This includes apple, cherry, peach, pecans, plums, nectarines, apricot, and pear trees. The fruit was sold at area stores and farmer's markets. During apple season, they pressed cider once a week to make 60 gallons of cider from Baldwin, Fuji, Red Rome, and other apple varieties.
Before him, Phillip Baecker grew several varieties of apples at his farm two miles east and six and one-half mile south of Eudora. Sam Stanley also grew apples—Winesap, Ben Davis, Missouri Pippins, Gano, and Huntsman—as did Sam Davis, Hesper, who planted 700 apples trees along with his peach trees in 1897 and advertised his Jonathan apples in the first decades of the 20th century. He also had many Winesap and Ganos apple trees.
Decades earlier, John White owned Spring Hill Fruit Farm selling small fruits and berries; Louis Moll, a beekeeper as was Charles Schuricht, had his 10-acre Highland Fruit farm in west Eudora with lots of peaches that he sold to Joseph Zillner in 1911 when he bought Henry Abels’ city block for his berry and honeybee farm known as “Spring Brook Berry Farm”; and Albert Brecheisen, eight miles south and two miles west of Eudora, sold quinces, walnuts, and 15 kinds of apples, according to his advertisements. He bought 40 acres in 1911 for his “California Nursery Fruit Farm,” and sometimes sold more than a thousand bushels of apples a year until he closed the farm in the mid-1960s, said the Brecheisen family history. He also grew Concord grapes, Moore’s Early grapes, Champion grapes, Early Harvest blackberries, American Sweet chestnuts, Dunlap strawberries, Mammoth rhubarb, cherries, and plums.
Another large enterprise was the J. F. Copp’s South Eudora Fruit Farm with its 45 acres of blackberries, strawberries, and other fruits that shipped out 1,200 crates with 24 quarts in each crate annually to southern Colorado and hired 50 children and women in the peak season. The farm was about one-half mile south of downtown Eudora and photographs show his berry patches between Fifteenth Street and Sixteenth Street on Main Street
Years ago, Frank Seiwald owned an orchard from the Ninth Street to Eleventh Street between Pine and Fir. He grew several kinds of fruit trees, and raised strawberries, red, purple, and black raspberries, and blackberries. He stored the fruit in his relatives’ root cellars. One still remains at Ninth Street and Fir Street, according to the Hadl family history. Seiwald Brothers often shipped apples to points in Colorado. In the height of the 1891 season, they shipped three to four train carloads of apples a week.
Photograph to right: Danny Abel marketing his melons in 1992.
Other fruits grown included persimmons (the crop was plentiful in 1938) and melons. Robert Shellack, the Vitt brothers, and the French brothers in Fall Leaf produced truckloads of melons daily. Weaver also had watermelon patches.
Christmas tree farms. Another specialty crop in Eudora has been Christmas trees. In 1966, Steve and Chris Edmonds started planting seedlings for Christmas trees at their Pine Hill Farms southwest of Eudora. They hired high school students to plant white pines, Austrian pines, and Scotch pines in late April. When the trees reached the age of three or four years, the Edmonds shaped them. During the Christmas seasons, customers could ride in a sleigh pulled by pony. Steven Reetz grew Christmas trees also in Fall Leaf as did Ed and Rosa Bell Cain on Douglas County Road 442 and Tenth Street. To the east, Evening Star Pines, 9820 Evening Star Road, started by Cris and Sherry Crawford in 1990, offered 40 acres of pine and spruce trees for Christmas. Himmel’s Rand Christmas Tree Farm, which means “heaven’s edge” in German, began sales in 1981. Each year the Cains had about 12,000 trees on their 20-acre farm and operated a gift store. They planted the trees in 1976, and said the project was the dream of their daughter, Connie, who died of cancer in 1980.
Photograph to right, Loading potatoes by Linwood, courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society
Potatoes. Farmers in Weaver and the Kaw Valley area commonly planted potatoes. During the 1920s-1930s, the average potato harvest was 110-150 bushels of potatoes per acre. Workers put the potatoes in 100-pound bags and buyers from the cities and bought the potatoes for their produce companies. In May 1930, among the potato planters in Kaw Valley were the following in Weaver Bottom: Ben Neis (55 acres), Gideon Neis (55 acres), Carl Neis (50 acres), L. L. Kindred (35 acres), Walter Wilson (25 acres), William Spitzli (25 acres), George Broers (20 acres), John Bowen (20 acres), according to news clippings in Weaver by Margaret (Spitzli) Gabriel. Until 1944, World War II, farmers in the Eudora area employed German prisoners to pick potatoes and do other harvesting jobs. The Kaw Valley Potato Growers Association formed in 1948 to cooperatively buy supplies for potato farmers. Members were C.B. Perkins, C. Schaake, W. Alternbernd, Carl Alternbernd, L. Walters, Don Westheffer, John Moody, Ed Perkins, and Will Smith. They ordered a train carload of potato seed sacks for 800 acres.
Surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans today, in Eudora’s earlier days area farmers also grew corn as well as oats, barley, wheat, millet, flax, hemp, castor beans, and the crop they were known for nationwide: potatoes.
Part of a potato belt that stretched from Edwardsville to Manhattan, area farmers found the sandy loam of the Kaw Valley river bottoms ideal for potato growing and had easy access for rail shipments.
The early-season potato they grew was the Early Ohio, an all-purpose, virtually disease-proof potato introduced in 1875 that stored well and didn’t require much, if any, fertilizer. In the 1920s, Irish Cobblers, another early-harvest potato, replaced the Early Ohio to became the predominant table-stock type shipped.
Seed potatoes came from Red River Valley along the Minnesota-North Dakota border. Each was cut into pieces containing a sprout bud, an “eye,” facing upward when placed a few inches in the fertile soil during mid-March through April.
Two-row cultivators kept potato fields weeded. At times, farmers might spray or sprinkle vines with arsenic-based Paris Green or lead arsenate to kill the Colorado potato beetle that began infesting crops around 1908.
During the July harvest, potato pickers gathered turned up by plows. The potatoes then would be sorted by weight, diameter, shape, and damage of any type before being placed in containers or 100-pound-capacity burlap sacks of potatoes that had to be sewn shut.
Pickers often were women and children. Wrote Mable (Wallace) Meuffle, “I graduated from Weaver in 1931. I would pick potatoes and strawberries to have money for clothes and books. I did this each year as I went through high school.
Finding harvest labor continually proved difficult. To automate the grading process, Cornelius Barrett Speaks, who lived east of Eudora, invented a potato grader later produced and sold. Of his filed 1899 patent application, Fields wrote: "My invention relates to potato-grading machines, and more particularly to that class wherein is suspended a bag for receiving the potatoes as graded and the grader proper is tilted by hand in one direction to separate the dirt and smaller potatoes from those of larger size and in the other direction to discharge the remaining potatoes into the bag; and my object is to produce a machine of this character which is easily operated and is of strong and durable construction and which can be manufactured and sold at a comparatively small cost."
The earlier the harvest, the better. Quickly loaded onto the Union Pacific north of the Kansas River and on the south, the Santa Fe, before any rot set in, thousands of Kaw Valley potato carloads were sent on to area canning plants, city markets, and produce companies.
North of the Kansas River, for example, area farmers by Linwood shipped 350 carloads in in 1896. From the Eudora area, in 1924, the railroad estimated 265 potato carloads from Eudora and the adjoining Fall Leaf, 55; Noria, 465; and Weaver, 335.
Harvest onset and freight rates influenced sales to markets that included Kansas City, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, and, later in the season, to southern points.
The area’s peak potato growing period in the 1920s and 1930s mirrored nationwide potato peak production.
Wrote Lynn H. Nelson, University of Kansas history professor: “At one time, the Wakarusa Valley, just East of Lawrence where the Wakarusa joins the Kaw, was the home of the Wakarusa potato, a delicious variety that was harvested at about 25,000 pounds per acre and supplied the canning plants that were an important part of the Kansas (and Lawrence) economy. But they didn't travel well, and so were slowly squeezed out of the market at the same time that the truck gardens that used to lie around most cities began to be paved over into parking lots and subdivisions.”
Finding workers for the labor-intensive crop, competition from California, the 1951 flood destruction of equipment and soil, the advent of large-scale farming with tractors, and introduction of soybeans as a crop option all contributed to the demise of commercial potato production in the Kaw Valley and Eudora. But you still can see leafy potato plants in area gardens, a reminder of the potato glory days here a century ago.