There is a small village lying between the Lincoln County towns of Lincoln Center and Sylvan Grove known as Vesper. When old K-18 highway ran throught the small village, it was "on the map" so to speak, but now that K-18 no longer goes thru Vesper and Interstate 70 runs about 12˝ miles to the south of it, Vesper is unknown to many. It was though fitting with the celebration of the Vesper Presbyterian Church’s 100th anniversary last August that a history also be written of the Vesper community, so after searching thru old records and newspaper articles the following his been compiled.
Not many years ago, Vesper was a flourishing town, located on old K-18 highway, with as many as 20 businesses going at one time. Today Vesper consists only of the Farmway Co-op Elevator and Oil station, plus a modern Fertilizer plant, also owned by Farmway Co-op; the United Presbyterian Church; and slightly over a dozen homes. The former Consolidated Vesper grade and high school and gymnasium still stands, but school no longer is held in the small village. There is much activity in the small town though, as farmers gather at the oil station for machinery and automotive repairs, and at the elevator to either buy or sell grain and feed. In the cold days of winter or rainy days of spring and fall, often there will be a large congregation of farmers at the station, exchanging their thoughts on politics, religion, or weather conditions. A building housing two Lincoln County Road Maintainers is located across the street east from the oil station, and discussion is often held as to the road conditions in the surrounding area.
According to research made by Duane Cheney, a farmer west of Vesper, several years ago, when the 75th anniversary of the church was observeed, settlement was begun in the Vesper territory, or vicinity, in 1969. It is a tradition that a battled occurred in 1868 at Lone Rock, three miles south of Vesper. This battle was between the Indians and some railroad employees, but it is impossible to find anyone who knew the particulars of the matter. The "Lone Rock School" still stands on the east side of the road near this site.
When settlement started, the country filled up rapidly and by 1872 all the government land was taken. William B. Cheney, father of Joseph E. Cheney, whose daughter, Mrs. Grant Nunn, still resides west of Vesper, was the first settler. The Middlekauf family was the second, and they came to the area when there was only one house between Lincoln and Vesper. Lincoln lies about 8 miles east of Vesper. Other settlers were the Lewises, Steeles, a Mr. Schofield, Troups, Hickeys, John Toole and Wm. Blair.
The first school in the community was taught at H.S. Steele’s in an old log house on the present Henry Mueller farm, two miles west and one-half mile south of Vesper. In this loghouse, also it was thought, the first church worship services were held. The post office was established in 1873 and moved around the neighborhood for some years. The first post office was also kept at the H.S. Steele home, then in turns at the homes of others in the area. This settlement was given the name "Vesper," but no one seems to know why this name was picked, nor by whom.
In 1885, the railroad came through and for a few months the station, about two miles to the east of the Steele home, was called NEMO. Soon the post office was moved down east near the station, and the name then was changed to Vesper. The old settlement is still called "Old Vesper" and the cemetery, on present K-18 highway, was never removed from that location. There is still markings (the front cement step), left just south of the cemetery, of the old Vesper school, which stood between the cemetery and the present farm home of Mrs. Vesta Block, who moved there in Feb. of 1909 with her young husband, Louis Block, and has resided there ever since. A son, Harvey, lives with her and two other sons, Richard and Howard, live near. Another son, Robert, lives in Topeka.
The first school house in the new Vesper settlement was built just south of the railroad tracks and served as the school until the new Consolidated School about half a mile north was dedicated in 1914. School was held in this building until the unification with Sylvan Grove and Hunter, Ks., went into effect in 1966 and the high school was moved to Sylvan Grove. The grades held school in Vesper a few more years, but eventually all children from the Vesper and surrounding communities were bussed to Sylvan Grove for their education.
The town of Vesper continued to grow and a picture of the small town in the early 1920s shows business buildings lining both sides of the street for about two blocks, just a block east of the old 18 highway which passes thru the town. Mrs. Vesta Block, earlier mentioned, is in possession of a photograph entitled "Bird’s Eye View of Vesper" taken in the early 1900s and there were only about three or four business buildings and only a half dozen or less houses to be seen. Yet to be built were the Vesper Bank Building, the Vesper Consolidated School (both built of post-rock limestone), the Vesper Presbyterian Church and the more modern homes of residents today. A large and commodious hotel was one of the main features of Vesper in the 1920s and the railroad men were said to eat there each day in the spacious dining room as they came thru the village on their daily runs, or as the section men worked at their daily jobs. Several freight and passenger trains a day passed thru Vesper, and it was a popular place for loading livestock to be shipped to distant markets by rail.
A number of Irish settlers had come to Lincoln County in early days to take up homesteads and to buy railroad land cheap. This land, according to a historical sketch supplied in 1962 by the late Miss Anne Dillon of Lincoln, was located 20 miles north and 20 miles south of the Union Pacific Railroad line. The railroad company disposed of this land for $1.25 an acre, and to encourage settlers, the government gave 160-acre homesteads and timber claims if certain conditions were fulfilled. The Irish immigrants, being poor, found employment on the railroads and settled where the land could be purchased cheaply. Many located along the Saline River in Lincoln County. As most of the Irish families were Catholics, a priest, Rev. John Fogarty of Junction City, came to Lincoln, east of Vesper, about 1870 and held services for the Catholics at that time. The Union Pacific Railroad had pased thru Lincoln County by 1888, and Vesper was becoming a thriving center. There were several Catholic families with small children in the vicinity, so it was decided to build a church. Mr and Mrs. John O’Toole donated a 2-acre tract south of the railroad, as a site, and St. John’s Catholic Church of Vesper was built in 1887. The altar, patterned after the one in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at Lincoln, was made and donated by the late J.I. Flaherty. Priests serving Lincoln usually came to Vesper and held services. During World War II, the Vesper mission was closed for some time, and the church, having been damaged by wind storms, was sold in 1948. The church was torn down, the lumber to be used for a building on the present Lincoln City Airport site. The land was sold.
In 1873, the seeds of the Vesper Presbyterian Church were planted when the first Presbyterian sermon was preached by a Father Morrison of Salina. He, a Rev. Seth Clark, and Elder Tayler ran what they called a "Presbyterian Circus" and held services in a large tent. This was in July of 1873. Although some worship services were held in the old log house as stated earlier, the Vesper Presbyterian Church was actually organized on Sept. 3, 1876, in the Old Vesper School house just north of Mrs. Vesta Block’s present farm home. It had 12 members at the time. Rev. H.C. Bradbury and Dr. Timothy Hill got this organization going. In a few years there was a need for a larger church and the present church building was erected and dedicated in 1904. The church was financed by subscriptions and a bell tower was erected with a bell to be rung every Sunday morning, and as an alarm for fires and storms. The bell could be heard for many miles and is still rung, each Sunday morning as worshippers gather to praise the Lord who has made all things possible.
As the dust bowl days of the ‘30s came, the depression took a deep hold on all, and the small town of Vesper, like others, began to diminish. The bank was closed during the depression and many businesses had to close their doors. As transportation became better it was easier to get to the larger towns for materials and supplies, and finally in the 1950s the Vesper Mercantile, owned for many years by the late Robert Cromwell, and later operated by his daughters, was closed. Subsequently, the Vesper Garage, Barber Shop, the Vesper Industries, owned by the late Ed Ives, and the Telephone Office all were disposed of or closed. The railroad ceased running a passenger train thru Vesper and finally the depot was closed. Mail was brought in by truck. Eventually the post office was consolidated with Sylvan Grove and Lincoln, and then with the school unification, the last of the Vesper community was seen to be passing into history. There will always be a "Vesper Community" but as a trade center, it is virtually a thing of the past. Only the Presbyterian church remains active from days gone by. The old garage building still stands, and a few small buildings which are being used by farmers for machinery and supplies. The building housing the Barber Shop and Pool Hall, which lastly stood where the county Maintainer is now, is located up on K-18 highway, north of town at the Feldkamp Texaco Station. Old days pass into new and it was with a bit of nostalgia that one looks back on what has been and dreams of the "Good Old Days."