Friday, May 2, 2014

Where is Alida Kansas?

While doing research in the archives our curator recently ran across a dirty-old-file folder. It got pushed to the side but as she was putting everything away it caught her eye, it was so interesting that she shared it with the rest of us.

It contains a list of names of those families in the area who were displaced due to the construction of the Milford Dam. It was compiled by the Alida, Milford and Republican Valley Home Demonstration Units of Geary County as a community project during the winter of 1963.

It was important to this group that those affected by the construction of the Dam be remembered and that this “record will be useful for these families in the coming years” so that they wouldn’t lose track of their friends and neighbors.

Reading through the history of the homes and the families that lived in them leaves you with a sense of the pain and sorrow that these families were going through as their homes were being condemned and they were being scattered to the winds. Some of the accounts end with where the family is going to settle but many of them are undecided.

Included in the file is a history of Alida, Kansas written by Harold Facklam, Jr. Now if you have never heard of Alida Kansas you're not alone.  Most people would not even consider it a ghost town since it lies under the waters of Milford Lake.  

Early settlers to the community included George and Matthew Wilson who journeyed to Davis County from Illinois to buy land in 1864. In 1867 Matthew Wilson returned with his family and spent the winter in a one room cabin on the banks of the Republican River about a ¼ mile south of the future site of Alida. In 1864, John P. Grasberger settled a mile west of the site. R. R. Clemons settled on a farm a mile north of the site in 1868.

In 1863 settlers in the area met to organize a school district because they knew the value of education. School district #6 was approved in 1866 which included all of western Davis County. The school was built on the Grasberger farm about 1/8 of a mile west of their home.

            In 1870 the community decided that they needed a name. Many names were suggested but nothing could be settled on. Finally Mrs. Clemons suggested Alida which was agreed on. Some accounts say that Alida was the name of a childhood friend of Mrs. Clemons.  

            R.R. Clemons was appointed as the first postmaster of Alida. A letter from Ethel Clemons-Nicolet reminisces that her mother’s bureau served as the first post office for the community. In 1873 the post office was moved to the Grasberger home.

            By 1872 the Junction City-Ft. Kearney (later a branch line of the Union Pacific) railroad had reached the community. Mr. Grasberger built a log store and grain warehouse beside the rail line. Soon R.R. Clemons and George Wilson partnered with him to build a grain elevator. They later built a stockyard, blacksmith shop and lumber yard.     

            By 1876 it was decided that the community needed a new school and Matthew Wilson deeded an acre of land for this new school a ½ mile north of the town of Alida. All of the farmers in the community helped to build the new school house. Stone was used from a quarry only a mile away from the school. The school was completed in 1878. Harold Facklam writes that he taught at the school and that four generations of his family attended there.

            The Alida post office closed in 1938 but it was still an active community supporting a large grain elevator. In fact this elevator was remodeled just 2 years before the town was evacuated in the 1960’s. An estimated 47 families were displaced within the community. At the time of the evacuation there were four businesses, six residences, and the elevator in Alida.

            This elevator caught the eye of a group of Junction City Developers who secured permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to turn the elevator into a hotel accessible only by boat. Plans for this hotel eventually fell through when it was decided that the elevator could not support the weight of the planned structure once the site was flooded.

            This local landmark was scheduled for demolition on October 7, 1965. It was to be a simple affair with a couple of charges placed at strategic points and the elevator would fall into a ditch that was dug around the base. However, the elevator was as hardy as the people who had settled the valley. It took six blasts over a two day period to get the elevator to partially topple. It was finally brought down with bulldozers.

            Next time you drive by the lake take a minute and think about the history that lies under the surface. 

            Our exhibit Water Water Everywhere! which focuses on the need for and the building of Milford Lake will come down in June of 2014. Stop by the museum Tuesday- Sunday from 1-4pm to see it before it’s gone.