Amy Bickel The Hutchinson News
RAY - With only scraps of information, the search began for this Pawnee County ghost town.
But the dusty road on a sunny day led only to an old shed and a pile of concrete, which littered the side of the road. Most passing by wouldn't know this was Ray, Kansas.
In fact, there is little information about this one time stop in the road - its history either dying with surrounding residents or just well kept inside the few still living.
"There's very little on Ray, said Becca Hiller, archivist and education director at Larned's Santa Fe Trail Center, who dug through her files to see what was chronicled about the town.
There are many like Ray across Kansas - dead towns that never amounted to much then disappeared without a second thought. Yet, there are fragments of recorded history that tell Ray's story, a farming community in the eastern part of Pawnee County not far from the Stafford County line.
Much of the history, says 84-year-old Frank Prosser, who farms near Ray, is "gone with the people."
An agricultural community
It appears the community sprang up in 1878 with a post office, Hiller notes. There is no indication why the name Ray was chosen. The first postmaster was Jesse Leasure.
The post office closed in 1884, though it was re-established in 1889, Heller said.
An 1878 map of Pawnee County notes the location of Ray, along with Larned, Ash Valley, Harmony and Lucas.
A 1902 plat map shows Ray had two stores, a hall, lumberyard and country school just a little ways away, Hiller said. There was a train yard and coal.
A few of the farmers around Ray in 1902, according to the blog, "Kansas and Its Surnames," were the Deckerts, Footwanglers, Hazens and Woelks. O.H. Weireh was a dealer in general merchandise, grain and coal and also served as postmaster, justice of the peace and a railroad agent, as it was a stop along the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
Ray appeared to be a shipping point at one time, according to "Kansas, A Cyclopedia of State History" published in 1912. It notes Ray supported what was most likely a farming population of 60.
Heller notes that her thin file shows railroad service stopped at Ray right before the post office closed for good in 1929.
Richard Schwartzkopf, with Larned's Tiller and Toiler newspaper, dug through his own files, finding a very brittle, April 30, 1915, Wheat Edition that talked about Ray.
"Among the fine trading points in Pawnee County are Ray, Frizell and Sanford," the article stated. " ... At Ray, there are four grain elevators, which have handled 300,000 bushels of wheat since the harvest, July 1, last year. 240 carloads of wheat have been shipped out of Ray since that time. The town has two general stores, a blacksmith shop, a hardware store and a lumberyard. There is a good school, and the town is surrounded by a rich agricultural district.
The Hutchinson News also reported about community life in Ray. Amid a horse epidemic in 1912, Ray farmer George Shaw said his horses hadn't been sick. He said during warm weather when flies were numerous, he sprayed the horse' stalls five or six times a day to keep germs away, and three times a day he would force carbolic acid water in his horses' mouths, using a syringe, according to the Sept. 23, 1912 issue of The News.
During the state fair in 1910, the newspaper reported the longest watermelon, at 32 inches, came from Ray. In 1952, a "gullywasher" left six inches of rain quick, which didn't help the dry earth much.
Too many towns
Prosser recalls being a boy in the 1930s, helping his father on the farm. On occasion, the 10-year-old hauled wheat 5 1/2 miles to Ray's elevators, which sat on the south side of the road.
However, the elevators are long gone, Prosser figuring the pile of concrete is likely what remains of the structure. Moreover, he estimates the railroad stopped running through the area in 1966, one year after the well-known Arkansas River flood.
A shed still sits on the north side of the road, which Prosser thinks might be the old hardware store.
There wasn't much there when 88-year-old Irene Hiebert taught school at Ray during 1947-1948 school year. She recalls living at a Ray woman's home that winter and walking the quarter-mile distance to the one-room school to teach her eight pupils.
"It was a pretty nice schoolhouse for that day," she said, adding it had electricity. It also must have had gas heating, she said, for she doesn't recall ever having to stoke a fire.
Back in those days, women and girls wore dresses to school - and it didn't matter that it was one of the worst winters of her teaching career.
"There was an awful lot of snow that winter," she said.
One of her students, 74-year-old Lillis Stambaugh, grew up on a farm near Ray. She said she remembers roller-skating in the concrete basement on cold days. There were no bathrooms, except for a couple of outhouses nearby.
"The last day of school you had a lot of big family picnics," she said. "There were Christmas programs, you played ball at recess and roller skated in the winter time."
She started seventh grade at Macksville in 1950. It wasn't long after that the little Ray school closed, she said.
There wasn't much left of Ray at that time, Stambaugh said. Her mother, Mary Wratile, talked about the dance hall, on occasion.
Ray may have failed because there were too many town sites in the area. A Stafford County history book states there was a contract that wouldn't allow the establishment of a new town between Ray and Seward, in Stafford County, which had a distance of nine miles between them. Farmer Joseph Walter had abided by the thought until his daughter married and his son in law was hauling grain six miles away. Thus began Radium, whose elevator opened at the turn of the 20th century.
"There was an element of truth to Joseph Walter's idea that 'one would have to go' if three towns were established, as history has proven that Ray, Kansas, did not remain," the book states. "In retrospect, Mr. Walter made a good choice for his family and that choice still affects hundreds of lives."
Reporter Amy Bickel is chronicling the "Dead Towns" of Kansas. If you have a suggestion for a town Amy should research, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Ray, visit her blog at kansasagland.com/deadtowns.html.