The History of Eudora, Kansas
The History of Eudora, Kansas
Eight miles southeast of Eudora in Johnson County’s Lexington Township, David Vestal established Prairie Center and opened a general store in 1871, and post office in 1872. The first child born in Prairie Centre was Eli J. Vestal, July 27, 1874; the first death was that of Melissa Vestal on May 13, 1875.
Named because of its prairie location and equal distance from four surrounding towns, Prairie Center also was known as “Bear Paw” or “Bear Foot.” The first schoolhouse was built in 1874 with Edwin Stanley as the teacher. By 1874, the 75 town inhabitants had a blacksmithy and woodwork shop, too.
The Quakers built the Prairie Center Friends Church one-half mile north of the community during Prairie Center’s early years. The men sat on one side of the church facing the women on the other. A larger Quaker church was built in 1892. The Methodist Episcopal and Free Methodist also built churches in Prairie Center.
W. C. Barnes, a physician, came in 1877 to set up an office and drugstore. (A later business in this building was a meat market, followed by a dressmaking and hat shop.) J. J. Woodard, who gathered plants from nearby fields for his medical treatments, took Barnes’ place and practiced here and in Hesper until 1916. George Horn, a blacksmith, left Prairie Center in 1888 in his move to Altmont, Kansas. Levi Ogle and his brother ran the general store with the assistance of Minnie Moore.
Records from the 1890s show G. A. Boynton owned one of the town’s general stores and the Johnson Company, operated the other. A creamery cooperative also was part of Prairie Center. From its well that cooled the cream, a man pumped water from it with a two-inch pump and gasoline engine steadily for 60 hours.
Because most farmers owned an orchard, W.G. Rice, a blacksmith, set up a cider mill powered by a one-cylinder stem engine by his smithy. Farmers lined up as far as the eye could see during peak apple harvesting times. Another mill, this one operated by William Andrew, crushed sorghum cane with large rollers powered by horses; the sap flowed to a cooking shed.
Community events took place in a store building jointly owned by Grange members and the Odd Fellows Lodge. When Eudora established rural delivery, the Prairie Center post office closed in 1902. Although people kept moving to the area such as English-born Joshua and Hannah (Hutchinson) Weston and their six children in 1907, the population never developed, and the general store closed in 1916.
Bert Rogers, B. H. Rogers, and “Buddy” Rogers, a famous movie actor and bandleader, bought a farm in 1935 they called the 3-B Ranch and a dam on Spoon Creek in 1937 for a recreational site. When Hollywood matinee idols “Buddy” and Mary Pickford, his celebrity wife known as “America’s Sweetheart,” came to visit, the newspaper took pictures of Pickford gathering eggs and doing other domestic chores.
In 1942, rumors circulated that the federal government planned to include Prairie Center in the land used to make war ammunition. The rumors proved true. More than a hundred farm families had to move, and the entire small town of Prairie Center had its buildings burnt and razed except the church and filling station. Families who had to leave when the Sunflower Ordnance Works plant developed included those with the surnames of Paxton, Frazier, Anderson, Hennessey, Rowe, Votaw, Rice, Schulz, Gordon, and White. Others who lived within two miles of Prairie Center were Couch, Smith, Hale, Brecheisen, Kelsey, Bowling, Lefmann, Ball, Wade, Hale, Moody, Finley, Vance, Moon, Pellet, Fellow, Osborn, Thoren, Marley, Garrett, Hoyt, Hammer, Weston, Kanzig, Ayers, Simpson, and Redding. By 1984, only one home remained: the rustic masonry house of a locally prominent dentist, Sam Robert.
Sunflower Ordnance Works produced ammunition off and on for decades. Kansas State University obtained a long-term lease on the southeastern corner of this vast, ten-thousand-acre complex for its horticultural research and education center along Spoon Creek. After the plant permanently closed in the 1990s, the Oz Entertainment Company tried to acquire the area for a Wizard of Oz theme park that did not make it past the planning stages. Members of the United Tribe of Shawnee Indians also competed for the former ammunition plant land. The town cemetery remains with an access road from the west. Another cemetery, three miles north in back of a school, had its contents removed to a DeSoto cemetery.
Sunflower Ordnance Works produced ammunition off and on for decades. As it closed, Kansas State University obtained a long-term lease on the southeastern corner of the 10,000-acre complex for its horticultural research and education center along Spoon Creek. The Oz Entertainment Company had tried to buy the area in the 1990s for a Wizard of Oz theme park that never made it past the planning stages. The United Tribe of Shawnee Indians also unsuccessfully competed for the land. Ultimately, Sunflower Redevelopment acquired 9,065 acres in August 2005 and projected a seven-year environmental clean up. When complete, 3,000 acres are promised to the Johnson County Park & Recreation District, Kansas State University, Kansas University, the city of De Soto, and De Soto public schools.
Prairie Center sources used for this short history, include Towns of Johnson County, Kansas, (1973) by Laura Steed; William Cutler's History of the State of Kansas; Memories of Prairie Center, Kansas, by Edwin Rice; and The Kansas City Star articles.
Of Kansas’ five thousand once-mapped but long vanished communities, Eudora has six within a five-mile radius of its downtown.
Each started with a hope, and two on the road to Lawrence appeared before Eudora even made it on a map. One was Franklin, an 1850s, quickly forsaken settlement with 12 platted blocks evident today only by a cemetery off East Hills Drive.
Also platted and also on the way to Lawrence, Sebastian existed just briefly by a crossing between Spring Creek and the Little Wakarusa. George Bluejacket and William “Dutch Bill” Greiffenstein made it a map-worthy site with their 1850 Shawnee trading post next to Fort Wakarusa of which little is known.
Looking east, Weaver first shows up on maps at the twentieth century turn. Named for a member of the family who owned most of the land there, Weaver had a general store, blacksmith shop, 1893-built school, and depot where trains stopped to pick up potatoes grown in this Kansas River bottom land area.
Flooding in 1951 wiped out these structures. Subsequent flooding resulted in governmental removal of all residences. “By the depot were several homes,” said Larry Sanders, pointing north from the yard of his 1905 home at 2372 N. 1500th Road to cropland where the former train stop stood.
To the north, the Fall Leaf depot sprung up next to railroad tracks as did other buildings. Given first to Delaware farmers who later relinquished it during the 1854 establishment of Kansas Territory, Fall Leaf had a steam sawmill, school, and general store with post office more than 80 years ago.
Remnants today are Fall Leaf’s one-room schoolhouse now a private home and scattered stone foundations. Said Diane Johnson, a Fall Leaf resident, “There used to be two limestone foundations on our farm. By one, I found a piece of thick, green glass stamped with an 1800s date.”
South of Eudora, glowed and faded Hesper, named for the Greek god Hesperus who led the stars out at night. Quaker families intent on keeping the future state of Kansas free from slavery established this settlement in the 1850s.
They first built a school for the Shawnee and a worship meeting house later replaced by the Hesper Friends Church and graveyard still there today. A general store, blacksmithy and Hesper No. 5 school soon followed. “I used to ride my bike to the library in the building that was here,” said Martha Mersmann, as she looked for any sign of the former school northwest of N. 1100 Road and E. 2300 Road.
Community education advanced when the settlement’s Hesper Academy became the first accredited high school in the area during this time of one-room schoolhouses. At the two-story Hesper Academy, tuition-paying students studied Latin, science, business, and other educational offerings. Less than 20 years after it opened, Hesper Academy closed. Few wanted to pay for education available without cost at the recently-founded public high schools.
Bringing up the question of what does a site require to be included on a map, is Keystone Corner, a mile west of Hesper. Neither a commercial or significant population center, it appeared on the 1902 Douglas County atlas and once had a farm with a mill.
Dan Fitzgerald, who has written extensively on former Kansas settlements, defines a ghost town as having less than 80 percent of its population and at least 80 percent of its businesses. Using that definition, Franklin, Sebastian, Weaver, Fall Leaf, Hesper, and Keystone Corner qualify.
Were these communities now on private lands even towns? What infrastructure constitutes a town?
What is known is that some of these recorded landmarks lasted a couple of years, even decades, while Eudora long ago hit the century mark ago and has kept on growing.