Resident recalls zenith of town great-grandfather founded
By Amy Bickel - The Hutchinson News - email@example.com
LAKE CITY - It was a town crisis when the Lake City Bank began to fall into the street.
From her 120-year-old ranch house, Carol Lake Rogers recalls the day, noting the old green stoves that toppled into the pile of rubble from the upstairs were "probably worth a few dollars."
These days, part of the old bank still stands, looking like an open Barbie playhouse. An old bathroom sink hangs on a wall in the upper story, becoming visible after a portion of the bank crumbled down.
It's enough to cause Rogers to sigh in disappointment, saying that the town her great-grandfather, Reuben Lake, founded amid the scenic Gyp Hills cattle country is slowly chipping away.
Rogers is one of the last Lakes in Lake City, a Barber County town so remote there isn't a direct route to it. The paths are those less traveled - either dirt or a county road called River, which winds with the Medicine River all the way into Kiowa County. The community, at one time, boasted a school, two groceries, a hardware store and a hotel, as well as more than 1,000 residents in and around its vicinity. All those businesses closed years ago, their buildings either shells of a former life or broken into shambles. Moreover, she figures, there can't be much more than 50 people surrounding the town.
The hills and trees, mixed in with several abandoned buildings and homes, also make the perfect setting for an aging ghost town.
"It's sad to see these little towns go," she said from the home built by her grandfather, Riley Lake, in 1886. "When autos got plentiful, there was really no reason for people to stay here."
An old ranching town
Sitting in the home her grandfather built for his first wife, a beautiful stone ranch home on the edge of the city, Rogers calls herself the keeper of Lake City's archives.
While she didn't grow up in town, her parents sent her to live with her grandmother and Riley Lake's second wife, Pearl Lake, in the ranch home when school was out for the summer.
Rogers said Reuben Lake and his band of seven other men rode to the Gyp Hills to take advantage of the government's Homestead Act, which granted each 160 acres if they improved the land.
"My grandfather, Riley, who was 10 years old at the time, drove one of the wagons," Rogers said.
With some hostility still coming from the area's Native Americans, the small colony went back to northern Kansas for a short time, returning sometime in 1873.
That's when the town began to form, thriving as a commerce center for those who farmed and ranched amid Barber County's hills and valleys, Rogers said, noting her great-grandfather had a sawmill by the river for a while, until it burned down. But by then, Lake City was prospering with two groceries, a blacksmith, a hardware store, a hotel and the bank.
A post office opened in December 1873 and, at one time, Rogers said, it served more than 1,000 residents in a small area around the city.
There also was a gas station, grain elevators, a telephone company, livery stables and a high school. There even was a doctor and a drugstore, she said.
Ronnie Hoagland, who lives in town and still operates the family ranch in the area, lives in the home he bought 40 years ago for just a few thousand dollars. He recalls when the school was open, the gas station was a fuel stop and grain was hauled to the now-abandoned elevator.
His daughter, Kim, said she used to get money to buy fudgesicles at the local grocery.
However, the grocery, she added, has been gone for years.
Lake City today
These days, a few things remain of Lake City, remnants Rogers is amazed are still standing.
An old Gano elevator sticks up amid the weeds and trees in the center of a city block - right along the lines of the abandoned railroad track. The old blacksmith shop is wide open - a couple of plastic lawn chairs set up on the cement base. Some homes sit abandoned and the old school has long been closed.
Three old gas station pumps sit side-by-side in front of the boarded-up shop. There's also an old red pay phone, which, amazingly still has a dial tone.
"You'd be surprised how many people use that," she said. "You can't really get a cell phone signal out here."
The Lake City Methodist Church still has services and serves as a meeting place, Rogers said.
Yet, the only businesses that remain these days include a part-time concert yard/art business operated by Kenton Ray in front of the abandoned school. Ray, who works at the gypsum mill in Medicine Lodge, hopes to expand the business once he retires in a few years.
The other is the seasonal elevator, only open during harvests. The elevator sits next to abandoned ghost tracks, complete with railroad crossing signs. The last train went through in the 1990s.
"It was Memorial Day weekend," Rogers said. "We were having our annual alumni dinner and the last train went through and tooted its horn on a Sunday."
She paused for a moment, then added that it was sad to see these little towns go and folks move away. However, she couldn't imagine living anywhere else. She and her husband, Grant, moved into the old Lake homestead in the mid-1990s upon retirement.
"We could have lived anyplace we wanted to," she said. "We wanted to live here in spite of the drought, the wind and the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter."
Road sign points to Lake CityRailroad is gone, but elevator operates during harvest seasonsThe old elevator, surrounded by weeds, trees.
Old house, abandoned
The Lake ranch house, built in 1886. Residents are Cynthia Lake Rogers and husband, GrantYup, there is still a dial tone!
Kenton Ray who lives by the old school, wants to retire from the Gyp Mill and make concrete art.
Old gas station, complete with gas pumps and fuel nozzlesOld blacksmith shop.
Once the stately bank
Old elevator. Sign toward the top says it was a Gano.
The old elevator
The old school. Ray says he wanted to fix it up to live in. However, after putting a few thousand dollars into it, he realized it would be too expensive. The school is in disrepair.
Kenton Ray's artwork.