Wednesday, July 21, 2010

#218: Prairie City & 87

The former location of Prairie City.
Just southwest of Baldwin City, at the intersection of a diagonal road and the railroad tracks once stood Prairie City, Kansas. It was never a big town and when Baldwin grew to the west, Prairie City quickly lost its identity. I remember when I was going to school in Baldwin, Prairie City was well-marked with a huge white sign indicating how long Prairie City was around, a redwood sign placed in what used to be the center of town boasting about the Heber Institute and another white sign pointing the direction to the Catholic Church ruins. Today, the only remnant of Prairie City is the cemetery, the church ruins and a couple of houses. Originally, I couldn't care less about Prairie City until I was shown an old, abandoned house that had two graves on the property.

Prairie City was founded in 1855 after an argument between Dr. I.F. Graham and Henry Barricklowe. A post office was soon started in 1856 and the Heber Institute was scheduled to open but never did. The building soon became Prairie City School (District No. 1) but nothing remains of it now. My interest of Prairie City began when a few of my friends, back in high school took me to an old house that had been long abandoned. No one knew what this house was called, who once occupied or when the house was built. All we knew was that no one lived in it and that it had two children buried on the property.

The house was nicknamed "87", for what reason, I don't know. The graves are of Ignace and George X. Meunier (or Miller) who died in 1872 and 1865, respectively, who were two of George and Margret Miller's eight children. George Miller was born in St. Lawrence County, New York but was educated in Canada. George came to Kansas in 1858 and settled in Lecompton where he met Margret Lowery. They married in 1859 and their first child, Adela, was born in 1860. In 1861, the Millers moved to Prairie City, Kansas where George, being a stonemason, built a house atop of a hill. The Millers stayed in Prairie City even after it ceased to be. George, Margret, their youngest daughter Julia and third youngest son Robert are buried in nearby Prairie City Cemetery. The house became abandoned sometime in the 1970s and has remained that way since.

The house is near the ruins of the Catholic Church, which is located on Liberty Hill, reported to be the highest point in Douglas County. The church, originally a mission, was built in 1857 and was in use until 1893 when a new church was built in Baldwin at the corner of South and Miami. Located about the same distance from the church as 87 but in the other direction is another house that I discovered while playing around on Bing Maps.

I explored this house with my person-in-crime, Randy, but we didn't really discover anything amazing about the house except that the property is being used for storage (as is 87) and that I need to go back and get more information on this place.

Today, Prairie City is not well-marked anymore. The cemetery is the only lasting vestige of the town where Horace Greeley once stayed, where John Brown stayed before initiating the Battle of Black Jack and what used to be called the Italy of Kansas. The historic Midland Railway currently goes through what used to the be the center of town and a sign points out where the post office, store and depot used to be.I am in the process of doing massive research about Prairie City, the Millers and the county in general for a book I want to write because I think it would tell a good story.

The Miller House is very dilapidated. The landowner had someone out who estimated it would cost about a million dollars to fix up the house and actually make it livable because the northeast corner of the house has settled into the basement, the floors need to be worked on and the entire house needs to be updated. The Miller family obviously used an outhouse (which is now lying splintered in the backyard) because the bathroom is small and trashed beyond repair. The kitchen, while updated, has only been updated to the 1970s although it still looks really nice. As much as I hate to say it, the house is not worth saving if you plan on living in it. If it could be turned into a museum then it might work out but Baldwin already has a museum and a small town like Baldwin should really only have one museum. I actually think the land would do good as something in agritourism. While I think the land is not useful to actually plant crops on, it could be a museum to the history of farm equipment or something. I know that sounds lame but I've never started a museum before.

I hope the house can be saved because it's a nice house and possibly one of the oldest still standing in the Baldwin City area. The fact that there are graves on the property make this an even rarer and important area of history. But that's just my opinion and we all know how much that is worth.

Until next time, I remain...