Driving across the plains of eastern Colorado, thee is lots of empty land and one can see forever. Building and trees on the horizon, generally mark farm houses or ranches. This time the long empty road went past a schoolhouse. For miles any direction, there were no tows, yet here there was a school complex. Elementary, middle/jr high and high school and nice auditorium/gym, neatly groomed next to the gravel road in the middle of somewhere.
Farms and ranches have consolidated as more and more people leave the land and move to the city. The few towns left behind, dry up and become memories of earlier days. So the local families get together and consolidate their school districts into one. There are still long bus rides, as much as 30-40-50 miles to school. For some, it is better than a 100mile trip to the big town.
Edison school district is way out at the eastern end of El Paso county crossing into Lincoln County. It is listed as being in Yoder, which is up the road about 15 miles. Nearby is the town of Truckton and all around is lots of land to farm and ranch.
When towns disappear the folks get things worked out to educate their children. Consolidated districts usually a variety of ghost towns/communities and the school house becomes a reminder of what once used to be. What’s amazing, is the education in these little schools is just as good as it is in the big city.
The students in the country school don’t have the gangs to deal with or the noise of city life. In the country classes are smaller, giving the students more personal attention. There are sports programs, music, plays etc. The school becomes a social center for all types of activities.
Some homes are hauled in to provide housing for some of the teachers and small town kind of builds up. Some of the locals will rent out to new teachers. Sometimes the local are teachers and doing their farm and ranch work in the morning and evenings, through the summer. The one room schoolhouse has been replaced by a sleek modern schoolhouse. It has become a ghost town in reverse.
One of those places where I was a few days late and a whole bunch short. Situated off Hwy 94 and down a dead end road a short distance, was Kuhn’s Post Office. This where one could cross Bijou Creek and continue their journey westward. Off and on for years I drove past this location, not knowing what was located just over the rise.
Back in the trees lining the creek I could a barn with its silo and the other ranch buildings. It was a very pastoral scene as I whizzed by on the highway. Back down the road had been Kuhn’s Crossing Schoolhouse and there were some log cabins.
Over the years these structures had weathered and collapsed into piles of lumber scrap heaps. The markers of the little pioneer community were gone. Down the road a ways were some ranch houses and outbuildings after crossing the creek. A rubble heap sat on the ridge where the school had once been. I took too long to go looking and found not much.
It is a fascinating area to drive through. To the south a ways was a stage stop and a branch of the Smoky Hill Trail. To the north on another road is another branch of the Smoky Hill Trail. There are some other communities nearby and some wide open range land. Cottonwoods line the creek bottoms and stately pines dot the ridges. It is a varied land of rolling grasslands, towering ridges, 7000-8000 feet in elevation. The Indians would roam here in the summer
Today, many of the pine trees have grown back, ranches dot the land and cattle graze the grasses.
The Elba Post Office was located at three different locations, according to the map. There also was a cemetery that was named Elba, have seen no mention of a church. Dotting the southern end of Washington County in Colorado, the Post Office slowly moved East until 1932 it was located on Hwy 63.
The PO on Hwy 63 appears it may have been a small town of sorts. There are a some buildings in the area and by its location may have been a general store with gad station. The other locations were farm houses, back over that a way.
Like many things on the prairie, Post Offices were consolidated into larger towns as the farms and ranches were consolidated into larger operations.
Today there is lots of open spaces between homes and mixed in the area are a few abandoned homes that are reminders of days gone past. It is mostly farm land with some ranching in the rolling hills. The occasional car streams by on the highway, a truck boils up dust on the country road. There is a peace on the land as the wind is still that day.
The journey, following the roads on the old historic map, looking at the many building that sit vacant. Empty homes, that hear voices no more, the birds that scatter with approaching stranger. It is a land that still yields a harvest, provides for the people that still call it home.
On windswept plain is the cemetery. Markers of when pioneers settled here. A memory of when dreams of owning their own place brought them across the ocean, over the land. Setting stakes and building their dream.
Located in Eastern Colorado along US Route 36, Lindon is not as well known as its neighbor, Last Chance. Lindon is a small country town that has almost disappeared. All the businesses are gone. There are enough people in the area to keep the post office open and it appears an old gas station is now operated as a garage.
The railroad never reached this far west, an omen of impending failure for the little community. The droughts and unstable commodity prices for Ag products did not bode well for the settlers in the area. Then the drought of the 30’s hit and the little towns began to blow away, including Lindon. The school was closed and consolidated with a neighboring town.
There are a few who still call Lindon home, they are either ranchers, farmers or the hired hand. There is the junk collector so common in small towns across the plains. Along the highway, can be seen a few remains of where the various stores and shops had been. The memorial to one of the local leaders is now boarded up, possibly due to vandalism. There is the occasional car that whizzes by and the trucks that want to avoid the stops’ on the main byways. Silence is the dominant feature of the little village.
On the map, the early Lindon post office is shown in five other locations and a variation of the spelling, Linden. Two of the first post offices were located north of the neighboring town of Anton. How the post office selected the contractors and why they changed is a good curiosity. Two of the early mail stops were north of town and another was just south of the present town.
There are oil pumps in various spots in the area. Lindon is on the southern end of the Julesburg basin and some good sized oil pockets have been found in the area. This has helped to keep some life in the area, yet it has also contributed to the consolidation of farms and ranches in the area.
The nearest town for supplies is Anton, which is probably smaller then Lindon, both have a population of less then 50 souls, but Anton has the gas station/bulk plant, grocery store and elevator and a few other businesses. With no rail service, everything is trucked out to the little towns along Hwy 36.
Out along the prairie line approaching Oklahoma, is the little town of Campo. The business district is mostly vacant and sitting collecting the dust of times gone past. The corner café keeps Main Street from being completely empty. It is a little town that probably will never perish because of its location. It is a gateway to the Comanche Grasslands and on the busy Ports to Plains highway.
There is still a village government and the local constables keep the coffers from going empty. Some people just don’t want to slow down passing through until they see the flashing lights. Campo was also in the center of the dust bowl and a few reminders of those days are present. There are a variety of pictures of the town and its neighbors from those dirty days. Today the traffic flies by and the dust does not stop, it keeps on going someplace.
The empty store fronts on the road way harkens back to a day, when small towns were the heart of America. Now the few ghosts sit under the canopy watching traffic pass. The corner coffee shop has the local town news. Pause for breakfast, listen to the locals cuss and discuss the weather or prices of crops. The waitress hustles the coffee pot around, the cook yells, order up, and conversation goes on.
Outside the trucks rumble by, shaking the ground as the press onward to their destination. Nearby the rails sit silently, awaiting the next coal train to go south or returning empties. The grain elevator sits in slow status of natural destruction. A lone sentential next to the rails, a reminder of when business was on the railroad.
Over 100 hardy souls call the little prairie village home. Working on farms or maybe one of the government jobs. The grasslands are nearby and are operated under the Nation Forest Service. Picnic grounds and trails dot the lands. It is a land of mystery and surprises. Petroglyphs have been found in some caves that some suspect may have been Viking. There are the Indian artifacts spread around the areas, fossils, millions of years old and a herd of Big Horn Sheep call the grasslands home.
Campo will be a little wide spot on the road from here to there for years to come.
Situated along a wagon road, is the dot marking Buchanan. The map did not indicate that there had been a Post Office there. Other information about this little dot on the map is slim and none. It was in the area where I was driving, looking for ghost towns on the prairie. So I bounced over a few ruts and went to see if there was anything at Buchannan.
Up and over the hill I saw an old farm house and some out buildings, long abandoned. The homestead sat on the banks of a small creek and it appeared there may have been some springs there also. The house was small but functional. Behind it was poles for a clothesline, a chicken coop. Further down the bank was the barn and some posts for a corral and on the other side was the windmill and stock tank.
It looked like any other homestead on the prairie that got blown out during the dirty thirties. But here it was a dot on the wagon road. So now I am speculating. Was this a transfer point, way station for travelers, had there been a store here, what importance was the Buchannan place to the early day settlers. I’ll probably never know, but I found the place.
Driving across the creek and looking back, I could see a faint trace of the old wagon road. It was a change in the vegetation across the way on the banks of the small creek. Straight as an arrow it headed for the Buchannan place.
Nearby on the map, there were other places marked as having Post Offices. Abbott was few miles south on the road and further south was the Abbott church. Yet, here the road showed up, having its beginnings at Deertrail, CO.
When I go searching for these prairie ghosts I usually have 4-8 targets marked out on the map. Places like Buchannan are usually and after thought but being on the wagon road, intrigued me.
A small village, located in the far southeastern corner of Colorado, near the Oklahoma Panhandle and Kansas border. It has survived the Dust Bowl and the other farming downturns over the past century. Founded in 1888, Vilas began life as a ranching community but with the flat rolling land, it soon became farm land. Today it has a population of just over 100 hardy souls. The school is still active and that is probably what keeps the little town going.
Main Street is vacant, lined with vacant stores from another era. Even the garage and café appear to be closed. The Post Office still flies the flag and the sounds of children echo across the village at recess time. Otherwise one could hear a pin drop on the pavement leading into to town, it is that quiet and peaceful.
The town sits a good distance off the highway and out there is where the grain elevators are located. No longer do the rails get polished by trains. The railroad stopped service some years ago.
Vilas has become one of the wide spots on the highway from somewhere to over there. Cars and trucks zoom past with the occasional local slowing down to go home.
Vilas is becoming a classic ghost town, with a few residents. Most of the store fronts along main are still standing, most overgrown with trees and weeds. One of the stores has 1886 marked on its roofline. It appears that most of the other stores lining the street were also built during the late 1800’s. They are small, functional buildings and most around 400-600 square feet.
In other towns, the old buildings on main street were burned down during a town fire. Making the new stores bigger and usually made of brick. In Vilas it appears there was not a major fire in downtown that burned up half of the town. Here is a throwback to what many little towns on the prairie looked like during their early days.