Saturday, August 8, 2015

What is Prairie Center anyway?

My husband and I came to the realization a couple of years ago that we are old souls.  We like old things - music, furniture, books, history, people.  We seem to fit better with that group and enjoy learning about the past.  Even as a teen I enjoyed sitting in my grandparents' garage going through an old trunk and hearing stories of life long ago.  One example of these tales is the legend of Prairie Center, Kansas.

Growing up, I often heard my grandma talk about their life at Prairie Center.  If you take Edgerton Road north until you can go no further and look straight ahead you will see its remains.  The grass-covered prairie dotted with small, evenly space buildings is all that marks that location.  Where cows now graze, once was the land of a farming community called Prairie Center, Kansas.

My great x 3 grandparents Jonathan and Irena Gordon were early residents of this community which was founded in 1860.  It was made mostly of farmers and had a population that ranged between 35 and 50, according to some sources. It had many farms and a few businesses including a cider mill, creamery and a school.  There were two churches - a Quaker church and a Methodist church.  For Jonathan and Irena, it was the start of a new life after leaving their home in North Carolina.  For my grandparents, it was where they met and fell in love as a pastor's daughter and a handsome farmer.  It was where their first two children were born.  After passing farmland from one generation of Gordon to the next, this part of the family story came to abrupt halt in 1942.

Uncle Carl outside on the farm
at Prairie Center
In May of 1942, a judge ordered that the town of Prairie Center be purchased by the government and made into an ammunition plant, the Sunflower Ordnance Works, to help with the efforts of World War II.  These families were rapidly displaced into other communities, the churches were moved, livestock was sold and a flurry of activity changed the landscape of this area forever.  I remember my family telling about how they had 30 days to find a new place and move.  For my grandparents, it led to a new exciting chapter in their life where they were able to buy their own farm land and move into their own home, separate from my great grandparents.  Not that this wasn't a difficult time.  They told of milking at Prairie Center in the morning and milking at the new farm at night.  I'm sure it was a wild and stressful time and most likely filled with sadness as an entire community dispersed.  It's difficult to even imagine a town falling off the map that way.  To think of finding a new place for your family in such a short span of time, especially for farmers.

My grandma's father was the pastor at the Friends Church in Prairie Center.  As things began changing in the community, the church was moved to the corner of 143rd and Edgerton Road and then eventually into Gardner.  A portion of the Gardner Friends Church is the original structure from Prairie Center.  My Gordon great-grandparents purchased the land where the church now sits at the west edge of Gardner.  They lived in the house on that property until their death in the 1950's.

Creating our Prairie Center Meats company is a nod to those who used to inhabit this community, to our family heritage.  While the folks moved on, many of those relationships continued, friendships remained.  And some of those changes led to other life changes that have impacted others for generations - including a young Lefmann boy who met a little Gordon girl at a function at that same church that had traveled so many miles from its beginnings.  Deep roots, my friends.  Deep roots make us able to endure the winds of change.  Prairie Center is my deep roots and these deep roots will keep us here for many years to come.

1 comment:

  1. I have a piece of Prairie Center in my home. Eldon Gordon had somehow kept beaded ceiling boards from the old Grange Hall that was once part of Prairie Center. Those boards are now the ceiling in my basement.

    If you go to the old cemetery that is right next to the Sunflower munitions plant, there are some Gordons buried there. I have often thought that would be a cool place to be laid to rest. Very quiet, peaceful and out of the way.