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History Of Gorham

Gorham Main Street 1910
Elijah Dodge Gorham and his wife Minerva saw a need for a trading center in the area so they decided to move from Hadley, Illinois and platt the City of Gorham in 1879, but the recording was not made until July 10, 1886.

The couple had three children: Daisy, born in 1879, Clifford, born in 1881; and Sarah (Mrs. W.T. Foster). Born in 1883.

The street names “Chicago” and “Joliet” showed their home state of Illinois influence and “Clifford “ was named in honor of their only son, Clifford, who died in 1887 at the age of six.

Mr. and Mrs. Gorham gave generous contributions to charities, institutions and schools in the area. The couple gave six acres for a Catholic Church and four acres for the Prairie Lawn Cemetery, now referred to as the Gorham Cemetery. They started a general store, a grain elevator, a post office, a lumberyard and a coal yard.

Gorham flourished as a farming community, which is evidenced by the 3 or 4 Grain Elevators which residents recall being located along the railroad in the area around where United Ag Service is located now. There was also a stockyard to transport cattle to market.

Mr. Gorham was interested in Gorham having it’s own bank and in 1905 a small stone building was erected to be it‘s first location. Although Mr. Gorham became ill and eventually passed away on March 16, 1906, at St. Margaret Hospital in Kansas City, the plans for The Gorham State Bank continued to materialize and the bank opened for business in January 1906. The bank in now owned by Mr. Gorham’s granddaughter Sandra Leas.

The discovery of oil in the area, early in the 1920’s and the war years all had an effect on Gorham’s growth and direction. The Oswald #1, located about 10 miles north of Gorham, was the first oil well in Russell County.

In 1944, Gorham had 3 grocery stores, 3 grain elevators, 4 filling stations, a pool hall, a barber shop, a cream station, a car repair shop, a drug store, a medical doctor, a hotel and coffee shop, a post office, a lumber yard, 2 beer joints and the telephone office, 2 oil field production companies, both Catholic and Community Churches, a Catholic and a public grade school and a rural high school.

In addition there were many oil field production companies in the rural area. Including Texico, Stanolind, Sohio, Solar and Bridgeport.

Residential neighborhoods were built as well, with many people playing a role in the building.

In the early 1950’s George Murphy purchased a 4 acre tract of land south of the Catholic church. On this land he plotted two streets, 14 lots and built 7 homes. In the early 1960’s he built more homes east of the High School building.

In 1965, John Murphy purchased 7.5 acres from J.C. Polcyn on the south city limits of Gorham and plotted 15 lots for residential homes, known as the Murphy Addition.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s Cecil Weigel purchased 25 acres on the south end of town from Irene Polcyn. His father ,V. Francis Weigel, developed it by plotting four blocks and building numerous homes. Polcyn street was named for the Polcyn family and Carrie Street was named in honor of Francis’ disabled daughter.

Many store buildings and businesses were built over the years with the merchants and owners changing hands often as Gorham grew and kept up with the changing times.

The stone building that was the first bank was later the first Telephone Company building. There was a large walk-in safe on the east side. After the Telephone Company moved out of the building, Ed Schmidtberger opened a hardware and appliance store.

George Murphy bought controlling interest of the telephone company from Scotty Brant in 1944 . Over the years George and his family updated the telephone system. Gorham was the first community in Western Kansas to have dial telephones. Today it is the first to offer Fiber to the Home and it remains in the Murphy family.

Scotty Brant also had a pool hall and beer joint with a large back room where they used to hold dances. Over the years Betty Froelich, John and Mary Schmitt, Verna Munk and others all had restaurants and/or beer joints in the same location.

Teenagers hung out at Anderson Drug Store, in addition to being a pharmacy there was a soda fountain. The drug store was located in part of the area now occupied by The Gorham State Bank.

The Central Kansas Power, now Midwest Energy, office was also located on Market St.

Further down the street Lee Porter and Wendolin Vonfeldt had the Farmer’s Store, which carried everything a person needed at the time. In 1952, George Murphy built a locker plant in the basement of the store where people could rent a drawer to store frozen meat.

There were two more grocery stores. Brungardt’s was located where The Gorham Café is now and Butler’s Store was north of the railroad tracks on Chicago Street.

Al Dreher had a bowling alley next door to his liquor store. Gus Linenberger also had a liquor store.

Next to Al’s Liquor Store was an empty building that was used as a barber shop and as the first Gorham Community Church. The parishioners also met in school buildings before moving a building into Gorham to be their permanent church in 1951.

The Post Office was moved to it’s current location from the corner of Market St and Chicago in 1989.

In the block north of the current post office, Homer Bricker ran a mechanic shop.

Ike Kuhn operated the welding shop that Steve Jacobs owns now.

There was a restaurant in the current Gorham Telephone Company office building.

There were four gas stations. Connie McCracken ran a Standard station (which he later converted to a Laundromat). Later Cecil Weigel turned that building into a Tire Shop. The Weigel Oil Co. station, owned by V. Francis Weigel, and later by his son Cecil, was where United Ag currently has Quick Connection, and Hobe Haggard had a gas station across the street.

There was also another station across the street from those, that later was used by Dr. Weigel for his office and then Mrs. Irwin for a restaurant. Lonnie Munk and Dorothy Vistuba also once operated a restaurant at this location and Ray Herrman had a liquor store. The building has been removed and the corner will soon be the sight of the Gorham Telephone Company office.

Next to Ma Irwin’s, Mac McCartney and Kenny Holler built Holler Electric in 1955. They did Oil Field Construction and motor rewinding. Drew McCartney operates Holler Electric now and specializes in Power Line Construction.

The first Fire Department was a pushcart with a tank and hose on it.
It was kept in a shed just north of the depot. The current fire station was built in 1964.

Everett Fritz and then the Joe Branda owned The Gorham Hotel. The Lions Club met in the restaurant in the basement. Later in the 1970’s the movie “Paper Moon” did some shooting there. The Hotel now houses Ozz & Ends, an antique shop, owned by Daryel & Jan Yanda.

In the building just south of the hotel, Harry Goetz had a barber shop and liquor store. In the 1980’s Bob Munk used the building for a grocery store.

Galliarts ran a Boarding House just west of the Gorham Hotel building. Along with taking in boarders they served meals and drinks.

Hammersmith Electric, owned by Joe Hammersmith , occupies the area that once was a junk yard. That area was also once the home of Wunderlich Truck Line.

Herb Butler had a Creamery in the white brick building to the east of where Hammersmith Electric is now. Over the years the building was also used by Sam Steward, and later by Gene Robben, as an auto repair shop.

Bill Hampl operated a bulk plant on the west end of Market St.

The Wrangler Inn is now in the former Post Office building.

To the north of the old Post Office was a huge lumber yard operated by Russell Lumber Company.

The Kansas Pacific Railroad was changed to the Union Pacific and a new depot replaced the small two roomed structure of earlier days sometime in the 1890s. The depot has now been removed. A large wooden windmill, taller than the elevator, was constructed on the north side of the tracks to pump water for the steam engines.

Dr. Ward, a chiropractor had an office in the building that is now used as the VF Weigel Family Partnership office.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Convent and School were located north on Chicago St between what is now 3rd and 6th St. The church itself was completed in 1898 with the first mass being held on Christmas Day. The convent actually served as the first school before the brick school building was built to the north in 1922. The school originally had three floors, but the top floor was destroyed in a tornado in 1949. The school continued to accommodate grade school classes on the first floor and high school classes on the second floor. The high school classes were discontinued in 1940 and the grade school remained open until 1969. Both the school and convent buildings have since been removed.

The brick Gorham Elementary School was built in 1930 with another building being added for older students in 1949. The gym building, which now serves as the Senior Center was added in the early 1960s. Remodeling was also done in the late 1980’s.

Gorham Rural High School was built at 109 Martin St with the first graduating class being the Class of 1942. In 1967 it was mandated by law that all schools join a district. The Gorham schools joined Russell Unified School District #407 and the High School remained in that district through the 1983-84 school year when USD#407 re-designated the use of Gorham High School and voted to bus the 7th- 12th grade students to Russell. In response to the action taken by USD #407 the community of Gorham rallied together and raised the required funds to open a precedent setting private school. It was the only private school in the state that was not associated with a church. Gorham Community Junior and Senior High School remained open through the Spring of 1989.

After the high school was closed the Elementary school was moved to the High School building for classes beginning in the fall of 1990. Eventually the Elementary School was also closed by the district and the building was closed in the spring of 1997. The City of Gorham now has their office there.

Gorham Kansas, then and now...

Click Here to download a map of places mentioned in history (PDF format). You may need to zoom in to read the names of businesses or streets.

This history of Gorham has been taken from several source including:
“A History of the Town of Gorham “ by Sarah Gorham Foster,
The St. Mary’s Church book published in 1994,
numerous newspaper articles researched for the project and
from recollections of longtime residents and friends of the
Gorham Community.