From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Samuel Kelsall took a map of America just after the Civil War and looked carefully for a place to settle. One of his grandsons recalled in a letter written in 1968 that the senior Kelsall noticed Kansas was good level land. He reasoned the area between the Kansas and Missouri rivers must be fertile.
He moved in 1867 to what is known today as the Reno Township. From his original homestead, he gave a 40-acre tract for the small town of Reno. He layed out the streets and designated areas for a schoolhouse and church.
The death of his second wife, Christian Allan Fraser Kelsall, Aug. 18, 1869, caused the first burial in the Reno Cemetery, a two-acre plot he had given two years earlier.
Four descendants of Reno pioneers told last week of their families' early years. At one time, Reno was considered the largest town in southern Leavenworth County. About 300 people lived there, among them the Phenicie brothers. One of those brothers married Samuel Kelsall's step-daughter, Georginia Elizabeth Fraser.
"She was my grand-mother," Margaret Leighty said last week. "My grandfather was James Madison Phenicie. He was later a county commissioner."
During the Civil War, James was held captive with his brothers, George and William, in the Andersonville Prison. There they stayed for several years.
"The story that I heard was that water was scarce in Andersonville. George was able to find water and he sold it to the other prisoners. That is how he got his start," Mrs. Leighty said.
The brothers escaped by way of the Mississippi River. Mrs. Leighty was told "they must have been good swimmers." They made their way up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and chose southern Leavenworth County to settle.
The Phenicie brothers supplied wooden ties to the railroad out of Lawrence. The granddaughter says that's probably why they settled in Reno Township. When James asked for Georginia's hand, the two were married by her stepfather, a Methodist minister.
"Rev. Kelsall was known as a good and generous man." Gordon Harman said. "When he gave the two acres for the cemetery, he made it clear anybody could be buried there, no matter what color or creed."
Reno historian Frances Korb says the Rev. Kelsall first "preached the word of God" under a tree. The services were open to all.
"Among them were railroad workers, former slaves and the pioneers of the Reno area," she said Thursday. "The records say he would baptize the faithful in the Nine Mile Creek."
After the railroad built a station house in Reno, services were held in the waiting room. By the 1890s, a chapel house was built that later became the Reno Methodist Church. Mrs. Korb says that church burnt in 1918. It was rebuilt within a year and remains today.
Harmon is the grandson of William Phenicie. Her served on the cemetery association board for 30 years. Another grandson of James Phenicie took a special interest in Reno. The late Walter Bleakly was treasurer 40 years. After the death of his son, Edward, he and his wife, Edith, took special care of the cemetery. Edward was killed during a Naval battle at the end of World War II.
Ethel Kahn Ridgeway is another longtime member of the cemetery association. She is the granddaughter of the Reno pioneer family headed by William Kahn. Her father, Frederick, was sexton at Reno.
"My grandfather liked fast horses," Mrs. Ridgeway remembered last week. "He was riding like crazy down a street in Tonganoxie when the tongue on the harness caught in a root in the road. He was thrown from the horse and killed instantly."
Her parents and grandparents are buried at Reno. She served as cemetery secretary for 20 years.
Herbert Tornedean remembers his first trip to the Reno Cemetery. He was a young boy of three when his father, August, drowned in 1917.
"His horse had run away with him and he finally got him stopped," Tornedean said. "He was bending over to get a drink of water from a well, when the platform collapsed. I was head of the family after that. My mother never remarried."
Tornedean's son and daughter-in-law, Lawrence and Connie Tornedean, serve as president and secretary of the cemetery association today. From the original two acres, additional land has been added to the cemetery. The property is completely fenced in and a line of evergreens has been planted around the property.
"Taking care of this cemetery is a matter of family respect for all of us," Harmon said of those visiting the cemetery last week. "We have our people buried here, so we are concerned about the way it's taken care of. Young people don't seem to care much, but they will someday. You can bet on it."
Article donated by Debra Graden, President
Leavenworth County Genealogical Society, 1998