Thursday, April 23, 2009

#190: Prairie City

I was actually able to go up, legally and with permission, to an old house near Baldwin City that I fell in love with several years ago. The house is the only remaining building that used to be a part of Prairie City, Kansas. Aside from the house, only the cemetery remains. Because of this house, I got an idea for a novel, which I am slowly working on, but in order to create a decent historical novel, I had to learn something about the area.

Prairie City was a small town formed from a disagreement of Dr. William Graham and Henry Barricklow of nearby Palmyra. The dispute forced Dr. Graham and his associate, I.F. Greene to move two miles to the southwest. The other town founders were James Lane and Salmon S. Prouty, who used the first printing press in Kansas. The town was founded on the Leavenworth-Fort Scott Military Road and at it's best, 1857-58, the town boasted more than two dozen houses, two mills, doctors, stores, a depot and two churches. Prairie City was called The Little Italy of America and had a 10-acre park named Eden Park.

The town also had a newspaper, The Freeman's Champion and the first post office in the area with John Winton as postmaster. The Heber Institute, a boy's school started by the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1856 failed before it opened and the building was later used as Prairie City School District No. 1 and later a grange hall. Prairie City was the rendezvous point for John Brown and his men the day before the Battle of Black Jack three miles east; famed newspaper journalist Horace Greeley stayed in Prairie City and it's believed that it was here where he coined the term "Go west, young man." Also, William Quantrill passed two miles west of town after burning Lawrence in 1863.

On March 24, 1883, the Douglas County commissioners had certain streets and alleys vacated. Nothing remains to mark the townsite except for the Prairie City-Mt. Cavalry Cemetery, the ruins of the Catholic Mission and the George Miller house.

This sign used to be at the main intersection of North 200 and E 1575 Roads which was roughly the center of town. The sign was knocked down a couple years ago and never replaced.

An old picture of the Heber Institute which was located on the north end of Eden Park at the corner of Geary and Aurora Streets. The school failed before it opened and was later the Prairie City School and later a grange.

This is the view to the north from the top of Liberty Hill, the highest point in Douglas County. Nearby is the ruins of the old Catholic Mission where there used to be a flagpole that was used to hoist lanterns up to warn settlers of guerrilla attackers. The signal was sent from Liberty Hill to Signal Oak north of Baldwin City and from there a lantern signal was sent to Mount Oread in Lawrence.

This is a illustration of the Prairie City Catholic Mission and the Priest's residence that was located on Liberty Hill. The Mission was built in 1857 and was in use until 1893.

These are the ruins of the Mission. A sign down on the main road used to point to the approximate location of the ruins but vandals knocked the sign down and it was never replaced.

This is the Miller House, built in 1861 by George Miller who moved to Prairie City from Lecompton. The house is completely made of stone and is the last house from Prairie City to still be standing. The house became abandoned in the 1970s and his been vandalized repeatedly since.

This is the grave of two of the Miller children, George X. and Ignace. Altogether, the Millers had eight children. George and Margaret married on February 22, 1859. The stone on the property reads:
George X. Ignace
February 22, 1864 April 2, 1871
July 1, 1865 April 2, 1872
Sons of G. & M. Meunier

Meunier was the French version of Miller. George was born in St. Lawrence County, New York and his mother was French. George was even educated in Canada.

The Prairie City Cemetery. Soon to possibly be the last remnant of Prairie City if the Miller house isn't saved. Some of the original settlers are buried in this cemetery and the adjacent Mt. Cavalry Cemetery. A repainted redwood sign marks the Prairie City side while a stone entrance marks the Mt. Cavalry side.

I'm hoping to protect this area as it does have a rich history that needs to be included with Baldwin City and Black Jack and Baldwin has always embraced it's history and Black Jack was just federally recognized as a historic place but even if I can't save the house, I want to be able to protect the children's grave and do a better job of marking the sites of Prairie City, now just a ghost town.

Until next time, I remain...
~Brian

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