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Friday, October 17, 2014

Ghosts of Towner, CO

 

Towner is almost in the state of Kansas.  On a nice day one can look east and see the grain elevators od their neighbors in Kansas.  That is about all that’s left in Towner is a couple of grain elevator operations.  Population is now less then 25.  The businesses are gone, shuttered and overgrown.  The few homes there are nice and one can see some activity there. 

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Towner probably has one of the saddest stories a person could read about.  March of 1931 a nasty spring blizzard swept across the plains with nasty fury.  That morning dawned nice and warm, 60 plus degrees.  School children were picked up by the bus and off to school they went.  By the time they got to school the radio was reporting on the ugly blizzard headed their way. 

Children were put back on the bus to go home at 9 in the morning.  Having gone a short distance down the road the blizzard hit.  It was blinding and the driver could not see the hood of his bus.  There

was no heat and the windshield was frosted over.  Taking a turn to go to a neighbors house a short distance away the drive got lost and drove in circles becoming stuck in the heavy snow. 

For a day and a half the blizzard raged.  The children and driver were trapped in the bus, no heat, no food, no water.  The ending was not happy.

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Today there is no longer a school, it has consolidated with neighboring Sheridan Lake.  It is now a town of mostly empty streets, old machinery and a few dwindling houses. 

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Located on a state highway, there is not much traffic that flies past on the blacktop.  Being a state road rather then a US highway, not many changes have been made to the right of way.  The highway and the railroad parrallell each other for the most part and the bend and wind across the plains. 

Here one can step back in time and see what it was like to drive on a highway in the early 1900’s.  When the railroad pushed through in the late 1800’s a wagon road followed the iron rails.  Not much has changed.  Today it is a nice paved highway slicing over the grasslands. 

Most of the towns on SH 96 could be considered ghost towns and few there is nothing left but empty shacks.  Even western Kansas has its share of forsaken burgs.

Here there is a look back at another time when dreams of a new life were flocking to get their own piece of land. 

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When something is neglected, Mother Nature steps up to reclaim her land.  Weeds sprout and things collapse.  Even the railroad is seldom used and buried in among the weeds.  Time has stopped along here. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Country Store

 

The little town of Woodrow hangs on with a tenuous thread.  The Post Office is still there, a part of the General Store, a church and a couple of homes.  Years ago Woodrow was a thriving farm community of a couple hundred people.  Like so many things, people went in search of and moved away.  There were enough left to keep the Post Office going, which helped the little store stay open. 

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Being on a busy local state highway has helped some.  There is a coffee shop and lots of travelers will pause for a cup of java.  Here time has paused.  One can see a small pioneer community in operation.  People stop in for a visit, check the mail, coffee and……..  Very few things have changed.  The gas pumps are gone and the rest of town is a memory. 

The building was built at the turn of the last century and appears to be well taken care of.

Woodrow, Co where time stands still.  The cowboy saunters in, the farmer pauses and the shop keeper says hi. 

How much life is left in the little burg?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Old Cemetery

 

To the north of town is an old cemetery, out in the pasture.  There is no roadway or path to it, one has to walk across the pasture to get there.  One day finally arrived and I put on my boots and strolled out to have a look see.  It is not a well organized layout.  More of a collection of plots scattered here and there with some single graves.  There are probably a bunch that had wooden crosses or were unmarked.  There was one wooden cross laying in the grass and there were some markers that had crumbled in the land. 

I found a local that had grown up in the area and asked him some questions about it.  There were some fenced off areas with mixed stones in them and one was some distance from the others.  He said they probably died from anthrax is why they were buried over there. 

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That gave some pause to stop and think.  Anthrax is common in the area but with today’s medicine it is not the life threatening plague like it was a couple of centuries ago. 

He went to say there were some pastures in the area that if cattle were grazed on them they had to be vaccinated for anthrax.  There are also other grave sites around where they buried people that perished from the fungus. 

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It was not unusual years ago to bury people that had a plague type of disease in separate area.  Sometimes the people were cremated, the fear was so great.  Smallpox, measles and influenza were some of the nastiest killers that swept over the pioneers that settled on the prairie. 

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There was a doctor that died from smallpox.  He is buried  way over in another area west of town with a woman.  Such were the fears of people that they would be contaminated. 

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It was fascinating to walk through the grave yard and wonder what happened.  Then hear the story and read other stories, things kind of make sense. 

Most of the head stones were in the 1880’s and the unmarked ones, probably earlier. 

The town has another cemetery to the west about two miles.  It sits on a ridge, make a good boot hill.  Across the road is the Catholic cemetery. 

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It is in the old cemetery where one can find the struggles of the town to survive in the early days.

How many perished from lead poisoning is not mentioned.  Yet I’m sure a few of the forgotten spots were from altercations at the saloon.  There were train robberies, Indian conflicts, range disputes and a mixture of frontier people.  Two different stage routes passed through, the Smoky Hill Trail was nearby and there are Indian camps by the springs in the area. 

The cemetery is rough looking yet the life these people lived was rough and tumble.  To survive in the 1870’s and 80’s was a feat in itself. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Genoa, CO

 

While back I posted a story on the Wonder Tower.  It is also known as the Genoa Tower, for the nearby town. 

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Genoa was a town built by the railroad in the 1880’s.  It grew with the railroad and the homesteaders.  It had numerous stores, shops, dealers, gas stations, banks, etc.  Today, those buildings are empty or been torn down.  The ghosts of yesteryear now reside in the storefronts.

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Because of the ridge it sits on it has been surrounded by wind turbines.  The lone business, is now overshadowed by the towering wind collectors.  The farmers grain elevator is still the land mark and can be seen for miles distance. 

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The Interstate passed by isolating the town, no exits at the few businesses left.  Soon they were abandoned.  Less then a 100 feet from the highway the gas pumps rust away.  The coffee shop tables collect dust, growing cobwebs.  By the pen stroke of bureaucrat, a once thriving community becomes a dusty ghost town. 

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The little burg is now not much more then a bedroom town.  There are some town services, water, trash and streets.  Otherwise is is quiet, well maybe the dog barking at the stranger taking pictures and the curtain being drawn and eyes peering out. 

Stretched along the railroad route are numerous other little towns like this.  Once prosperous, now they tenaciously cling to a thread of hope. 

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On far horizon is a small thunder head and the farmers hope of rain.  A semi-arid, parched land where it is a struggle to survive.  Few people take the challenge and live in what many would call a hostile land.  Yet here they have a tranquility the city will never know. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Arlington

 

Number of years ago, I had been writing for a monthly paper/magazine in Denver.  On occasion I would write about some of the small towns on the plains, most had become ghost towns.  A reader wrote in to me saying I should write about her little town of Arlington.  Sure a I figured, it should be no problem.

I look up where Arlington is.  As the crow flies, a couple hours over that a way.  As the road goes, just over three hours.  I had been through there a few months earlier for a meeting.  On the way home I drove right through the place, at 0 dark thirty.  Only saw the lights of the ranch home there.  Otherwise passed it in a blink.

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It was one of those things I did not do right away because of where it was.  I put it in the mind back and figured some day I would go down through there again.  Well, that day arrived a few weeks ago.  There was talk that a scrapper was down there getting ready to pull the rails up.  I wanted some pictures and a story.  So off I went.

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When I got down there, there wasn’t any work going on the tracks but the once little town of Arlington awaited. 

I had also heard that there were some local people that wanted to but the church and fix it up and maybe restore it. 

There was a small roadside park that greeted me, nice tall shade trees and across the road was the ranch house.  Looked like ther may have been and emporium there at one time for passing travelers.  It is a busy road, about one car every 10 minutes. 

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Over on the NE corner of town stood the old church, barley hanging on.  I could see why the owner didn’t to sell.  It looked like a junkyard and Junkers want big dollars for their junk and have a hard time selling. 

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Things like this get maddening for some, they want to fix it up yet it is the owners storage for his junk.  I have seen it many other little towns. 

There are about 6 square blocks of the town and a couple of other shacks are standing and there is one home still in the village.

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This little house shows why so many left the plains, the Dirty 30’s.  Blow dirt piled up along the fence line.  Crops were destroyed by the dust, livestock died and it was a struggle to survive.  Many a settler packed up back then and left.  The dust Bowl created a terrible time for many and there is not much left from that era. 

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Around the town are various rubble piles, foundations, cellars and steps leading into nothing. 

The drought comes around now but the dust is mild compared to the 30’s.  People go about their business but the little burgs like Arlington are settling in the forgotten history pages.

Pause on a street corner, listen to the song of the prairie moan over the land.  Here there were dreams.  Owning their own land.  Starting a new life.  The lullaby reached to the clouds, many a person followed their dream to watch it disappear.

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Tenaciously a few cling to the land.  Living the dream, now their company is the ghosts of the past. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fondis,CO

 

Tucked away in the rolling hills of Eastern Colorado are the remains of a Fondis.  A once thriving ranching, logging community.  There are a few building still standing and a couple of families still inhabit a couple of the old buildings. The corner church has been made into a nice home and one of ranch houses if fixed up. 

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Located at the end of a T intersection, Fondis looks like a mountain town.  Yet it is on the high plains of Eastern Colorado.  Here the elevation ranges between 6000’ to 8500’,  Keeping the summers cool but a cold snowy winters.  The growing season is short, so not much farming but with the winter snows it is great tree country.

Tall majestic Ponderosa reach to the tickle the clouds, lodge pole clamor for their space.  Cattle graze the rich grasses in the meadows and Fondis grew up to meet the needs of these people.  There were numerous lumber mills in the area and the lumber was being hauled to the cities along the Front Range.  Well didn't the mountains to the west have trees, one would think.  Yes they did but they were scrawny and not ideal trees.  The slopes of the mountains were to steep for holding much soil or moisture and in the meadows not much grew there.  As Denver grew the demand for lumber grew.  It was a busy time on the plains. 

Times change, luber was cheaper from other parts of the country and there was not enough ranching to support the local businesses. 

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The General Store now looks across and empty valley.  A state of disrepair from neglect.  Time blown winds rattle through the vacant windows.  Snow howls through the openings, beating the store down.  A silent sentential it overlooks yesterday.

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Across the street stands another abandoned store.  It appears to of been used longer and had some care.  Someone has bought the land behind and began building a compound.  The lot next door has been dug out and will weaken the foundation of the old structure.  With the ravages of nature and the fiddling of man it will probably soon be a rubble pile in its cellar.

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Down the road further is another building.  It appears it had some recent care but now sits empty.  Many people dream of living in places like this and fix them up, only to find out how hard it is to live in the country and at times be isolated.  Unless a person is ready to live without electricity for a few days.  Winter can be pretty tough on the unprepared.  There are not stores within several miles and the nearest neighbors are way over there. 

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It is an interesting place to go out of the way to visit.  The ride is nice, through forested rolling hills, albeit dirt roads.  Most changes are for the deteriorations of the area.  Although the corner church residence has gotten a new coat of paint since when I drove through here some years back. 

Being on the eastern plains, few city folks venture out.  Dirt roads also give many to pause.  It is nice though to travel the roads and only meet the occasional car. 

There are few other old structures in the town, some real neat ranches in the area and oh yeah.  Over that a way a few miles in another ghost town and down that a way are some other old relics and couple of other ghost towns.  Maps talk so much more then the hi-tech of GPS.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Wonder Tower

 

Sitting on a ridge in eastern Colorado is the Genoa Tower.  At an elevation of almost 6000 feet its claim was one could see six states from the tower roof top. 

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It was built in the 1920’s as a roadside attraction.  America was discovering the car and traveling cross country in their automobiles.  Being on the ridge top the tower was sitting at an abundant spot for break downs.  Up the hill the tin lizzies would chug, spurting steam out the radiator.  It was a tough climb for the early cars and the builder of the stop was sharp enough to understand this.

The view in the pictures is the backside.  Old highway 24 went on the other side.  This the hillside where a prairie zoo tour was built.  There was a sequence of three hills for the early day traveler to navigate with each one a bit higher.  Many an early day traveler was ready for a break and the tower beckoned.

It was until Ripley’s Believe It or Not did a blub on the Wonder Tower that it gained International fame.  After that there were travelers that would stop at the place of wonder and see if they could see the six states from the top. 

The tower was added on to, there was a gift shop, coffee shop, service station, curiosities and the prairie animal collection.  The cross country bus would stop here here for breaks or lunch.  The driver used got comped a meal for stopping and the bus travelers would spend some money in the shops.

It was nice little businesses out on the high plains.  Across the country, travelers sent post cards, stories were written.  Its fame was growing over the land.

The west bound travelers were treated to an awe inspiring view of Pikes Peak from the summit of the ridge.  The east bound motorists wanted a break after struggling up the hills, that many referred to as a mountain. 

Then the highway department decided to straighten out the road and eliminate the little hills and have one big swooping hill.  To do that, the highway had to go wide of the tower and it was built as a four lane road.  Making access difficult.  Then a few years later the Interstate was built, isolating the prairie icon.  No longer were weary travelers passing by, they now whizzed by on the high speed roadway. 

For a time the Wonder Tower set vacant on the high ridge.  Then it was purchased by a character, that operated it as a part time operation of a museum and curio shop.  He had a very distinctive style and there were a few that would stop in just o hear what stories he had to tell that day.  He was also an arrowhead hunter and amateur archeologist.  Soon the main building and the adjoining rooms were full of arrow heads and assorted antiques. 

Groups would schedule torus out from the city to look at his collection of stuff and occasionally buy some arrowheads.  It had become a crusty looking business, weather beaten, looking on the brink of collapse and rather dangerous looking but people still stopped in.  Not by the droves but sporadic. 

As he grew older, there were numerous people who offered to buy the place.  The offers were refused and he kept the place open, even after he came down with cancer.  A battle he did not win.  He passed away just over a year ago. 

None of his children showed any interest in operating the place so after his death, it was closed. 

The process of going through and clearing thing out began.  Stuff was loaded up and hauled to an auction.  The money garnered was significant and eye opener for the children.  They always thought he had no money.  He had squirrelled away cash they were finding and the money from the auction was a surprise.  All of a sudden there was some interest in reopening the place… but.

They still have an on site auction scheduled in the middle of September.  One of his daughters if fighting cancer and apparently wants the money.  There is the family dynamics going also.

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What will happen after the auction is a big question mark.  It is a local land mark that is known throughout the country.  Some locals are trying to persuade the family to sell it or keep the place open. One of the biggest struggles is money for preservation. 

It is a puce of early americana that has survived many a storm throughout the years.  To lose it for some is like losing a part of them. 

Along the ridge are numerous springs.  Indian camp sites have been found in the area.  There are tepee rings and fire pits.  It was a great area for buffalo to graze and the water made it a place for Indians.  Indian artifacts have been found in the area.  Here is a place that is very unique and the history that surrounds it is beyond peer. 

Right now it is destined to become a hollow ghost rather a walking talking ghost.  The near by town of Genoa is a ghost.  The Interstate isolate the little prairie burg and it has settled into the dust.  Only one business left unless you count the part time post office and town hall. 

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This is where the old highway used to be.

Is it doomed for dust or will it rise from the past?