History of Collyer, Kansas|
Written by Mrs. Ray Purinton
Sources of material from files of Collyer City and Memoirs of present residents
The Plat of Collyer was filed with the Register of Deeds in Hays on February 11, 1879.
The Union Pacific Railroad came through Trego County in 1867 and as they were steam engines they had to have water for the boilers, so tank stations were set up every so often along the way. There was a pumping station on the east county line called Park's Fort, another called Trego Tank, and one just west of what is now Collyer, called Coyote.
This was the end of the railroad until after the winter of 1867-1868, then it was built on to Denver in 1870. There was a section house and a small store on wheels, later moved to Collyer, at Coyote 12 miles west of WaKeeney.
In the spring of 1879, a Unitarian Minister, Rev. Robert Collyer of New York, heard of the land to be taken up as home- steads and advertised in a Chicago newspaper to organize a group of people, mostly soldiers and sailors, and for a sum of $2.00 he would file on a piece of land for them.
One of the first landmarks was "Colony House" which Rev. Collyer ordered built. The "Colony House" was erected by a Col. Pratt in March 1878. It was 30' x 16' and one and one half stories high. It was built at the Coyote station on the south side of the railroad track. It was for the Chicago Colony to live in until they could build living quarters on their own land. He sent out a team and wagon for the use of the colonists and later added a good library. The first meal served in the "Colony House' was April 12, 1878. The following May, a Dr. Nealley entered into partnership with Col. Pratt and a bill of sale for this building was given him as security for money furnished to forward the Colony enterprise. About 80 families found shelter under its roof while erecting houses on their claims and during the Indian scares. Having been erected on the railroad right of way, it became necessary to make a change and as it would be hard to move, it was torn down by the Wheeler Brothers. They had found more and better water a half mile east and the Wheeler Brothers built a store there and started the town of Collyer, named for Rev. Collyer. The colonists came during the summer of 1878, 1879 and 1880. As in other towns there was a boom, then the hot winds came and the crops failed and people began to move out of the country, but some stayed. Then people returned to prove up on their lands and they bought the empty houses in town and moved them to their farms and in this manner the "Old Collyer" dis- appeared; not one building was left. As the people came back, Collyer was rebuilt and became an Incorporated City in 1917.
Having been erected on the railroad right of way, it became necessary to make a change and as it would be hard to move, it was torn down by the Wheeler Brothers. They had found more and better water a half mile east and the Wheeler Brothers built a store there and started the town of Collyer, named for Rev. Collyer. The colonists came during the summer of 1878, 1879 and 1880. As in other towns there was a boom, then the hot winds came and the crops failed and people began to move out of the country, but some stayed. Then people returned to prove up on their lands and they bought the empty houses in town and moved them to their farms and in this manner the "Old Collyer" dis- appeared; not one building was left. As the people came back, Collyer was rebuilt and became an Incorporated City in 1917.
Among the colonists some of the names are: Lorrimer, Larson, Larry Laburn, David Walsh, O'Toole, Gubbins, Ebeling, Ebrichs, Schwanbeck, Sieberts and Powers. Earlier in 1878, Emery Cass and sister, and Hugh Tidball located north of Collyer on the Saline River. Nearly all of these were Civil War veterans. A Mr. Sam Fisher built a stone building across the street north of the Wheeler store. Mr. Bowers ran a store in the Fisher building for several years.
The Collyer post office was established on May 3, 1878 with Rufus Kessler as first postmaster. A stone school house was built about 1885. In 1886, Rev. J. W. Hickman helped to build a Baptist Church and was the first minister in Collyer. A small Catholic Church was built where the cemetery is now located, and Father Sogarty came down from Johnson City in 1878 and held Mass there. Later in 1907, a nice big church was built where the present church is located. The post office was located in a 10' x 12' building, just south of the railroad tracks. The only water well in Collyer was 8' north of the Wheeler store. It was a dug well, 4' across, and water was drawn up in four gallon buckets. These were fastened to either end of a rope which went through a pulley a couple of feet above a person's head. When one bucket was let down to fill, the other would come up full. Someone was drawing water most of the time until more wells were put down. In 1884, Mr. Blackwell put up the first windmill in Collyer which was for grinding feed. It was a "Holiday" with a large 12' wooden wheel and was used for a number of years, but the Kansas winds were hard on it. Mr. Blackwell also had an implement store and sold mowing machines, rakes, breaking plows, etc. He sold Ned O'Toole, living on Big Creek, a pump and windmill in 1885. It was put on a well just south of where John O'Toole now lives.
George and Jennie Blackwill from Cedar Rapids, Iowa and their children, Will, Ira, James, John, Lura and Pearl, lived north east of Collyer. To go to Collyer they passed the Walsh homes. They had come here from Ireland, stopping a short time in Chicago. There were Jim, Will, Pat, Hannah and Johnny Walsh.
The first G. A. R. (Grand Army of the Republic) Post building in this part of the State was erected on the east side of Main Street. This building was used for G. A. R. meetings, Decoration and Memorial Sunday services, and public gatherings for many years. Some of the early members of the post were: R. G. Kessler, George Kessler, Hugh Tidball, G. A. Bamberg, C. F. Hawkes, Jess W. Hickman, David G. Carlton, J. H. Detrich, David G. Kendall, Charles S. Davis, F. E. Swanbeck, D. F. Bartlett, John Ebeling, C. L. Pearson, J. H. Brown, John Burns, William Lorrimer, John V. DeSantos, John Briggs, David Fouts, T. J. Gubbins, Elias Parsons, W. A. Lord, George W. Blackwell and Jake Martin. Most of them were laid to rest in the Union Cemetery. Hugh Tidball, who died in 1924, was the last member. The stockholders in the Union Cemetery were: R. H. Kessler, George Kessler, Elias Parsons and Jack Burns.
A Ladies Relief Corps was organized by the wives of the veterans & they served meals in a small room at the east end of the hall for all special occasions. Mrs. Grace (Cass) Tidball was a Gold Star Mother. Mrs. Mattie Blackwell, daughter of Elias Parsons, & Mrs. Mary Miller, daughter of Ebeling, missed only one Decoration Day meeting in 52 years & most of the time were on the flower committee.
Since most of the settlement was at first made up of Civil War Veterans, after the G. A. R. was organized this order sanctimoniously observed every Memorial Sunday and Decoration Day. The settlement looked forward to these days enthusiastically and made elaborate preparations for their observance. A big basket dinner would be prepared by every family about the county. The children would gather wild flowers to decorate the graves; and on the morning of Decoration Day everyone would arise earlier than usual, dress in their best, load flowers, baskets of good things to eat, and their family into a wagon and head across country to Collyer. Many rode horseback.
All the "Old Soldiers" were there though many lived several hours distance away. This was the only time of the year when many of the people saw each other. Everybody first went to the post office for their mail. At 10 o'clock, reveille would sound and a bustle and confusion began in the street. The color bearer, holding aloft a large flag of "red, white and blue", and the drummer took their places, side by side, to lead the procession. A line of veterans, two abreast, dressed in their blue uniforms and black hats and wearing army insignia and side arms, fell behind them for the march to the cemetery. There were captains, lieutenants, and soldiers of various ranks. After the veterans came the children, also marching two abreast, carrying bouquets to place on the graves of soldiers and relatives. No child ever willingly missed this march. Behind the marchers came the spring wagons, lumber wagons, and buggies, carrying older people and those too young to march in line. After the placing of flowers and the services by the ex-soldiers, the procession would return back the half mile to town.
Children visited and played while fathers and big brothers unhitched and staked out or tied the horses, and mothers spread a table cloth upon the grass and set out the dinner. Usually all who were relatives ate dinner together. In the afternoon, all gathered in the G. A. R. Hall for the program which began at 2:00 o'clock. It consisted of a speech by some prominent person, reading of the Gettysburg Address, etc. The speaker and all the uniformed veterans sat on the platform in the front of the hall. This platform was elaborately decorated with flags and bunting, and on the speaker's desk were placed beautiful bouquets of flowers. Attached to each bouquet was a card on which was written, "In memory of ------------- (name and regiment of a departed veteran of that post)." At first the bouquets were few in number, but as the years passed the number of bouquets on the table increased until the Grim Reaper came for the only remaining veteran, Hugh Tidball, in 1924.
A picture of Collyer, taken about 190,7, shows a full Main Street with active stores on each side. On the east side were: Guyshewsky & Kessler Hardware, Cox Real Estate, G. A. R. Hall, Collyer Advance Newspaper and Drug Store with Dr. Lacerte publisher and owner, Hoble's House (post office until moved), Barber Shob, Grocery and Cleaning Shop, Austin Garage, Richard- son's (first hotel), Old Meat Market, Shoe Shop, Depot and First Telegraph Station (which Scotty and brother Joe were operators for some time), School, St. Michael's Church, Millie Thiel residence and hen house.
On the west side of the street was: Bachura Store (later Voisins), Barnes Furniture and Hardware, another store (later Wm. Palkowsky's Harness Shop), Kirby's Dry Goods Store with an upstairs, Hotel, Farmer's Store with hall in upper part, Bank, Mr. and Mrs. T. J. Gubbins; Store, a little later a livery barn on north run by Mr. Hickman. The Baptist Church was north of the Guyskewsky's store. Mr. and Mrs. Thiel moved in from their homestead and lived in the house just southwest of the Catholic Church and Mrs. Anna Bailey's grandmother is believed to be the first person buried in the Union Cemetery.
Mr. Kirby had a small telephone exchange in his store for a time, then when Elmer Tilton moved to town from his farm he purchased the exchange which Mr. and Mrs. Tilton and daughters had operated for a good many years. George Malsam then purchased the exchange and continued the good service until the early 1900's when it was sold to the Sunflower Telephone Company of Dodge City. It is presently owned by the Lenora Telephone Co. Another couple who took up homesteading in the early 1884, were Mr. and Mrs. George Tilton and family who homesteaded near Collyer. Although they did not live in town they took a very active part in all events, attended the Methodist Church, and helped promote the welfare of Collyer. John Tilton had taken over the telephone exchange from the Purintons. Ella married Mr. Ralph Austin, who carried the mail for 52 years through every kind of weather. Collyer was incorporated as a City in 1917. It was a very progressive city.
So through blizzards, dust storms, dry years, crop failures which were hard on the businessmen as well as the farmers-most came through and had good times along with the bad. There are a few of the older ones left who would have some interesting stories to tell, which should be written. There are the third and fourth generations still living on some of the old homesteads, which made up the original City of Collyer.
Gayle M. Garrett ....WaKeeney, KS