Folks who inhabit tiny towns like Alton, population 98, remain viable because of civic pride and a willingness to give back to their community. For this little village, whose greatest claim to fame remains that of being the birthplace of Russell Stover, civic responsibility is just that — an old, established concept that compels people to work, play and live together in harmony.
Alton held its 34th celebration, “Summer Jubilee,” on Aug. 25. The population increased 10 times as approximately 1,000 people participated in the event.
“Meet at the Crossroads” was the theme of this year’s celebration. Many people living in Alton today trace their families back to Bull City. Alton was originally called Bull City when two men, Gen. Bull and Mr. Earl, decided the current town site was a good place to build a community. Seems they couldn’t decide whether to call it Bull City or Earlsville. They flipped a coin. Bull won.
A few years later a lady from Alton, Ill., came through and decided that the name “Bull City” was vulgar. Just so happens there was a petition circulating at the time to bring a highway through Bull City. This female bulldozer decided Alton would be a perfect name for the community. She midnight requisitioned the petition, clipped off the highway supporters’ names, pasted them on the petition she’d put together to rename Bull City and sent them in. The rest is history — Bull City disappeared, and Alton remains.
One of the biggest events of the weekend celebration was the parade. Talk about a collection: antique farm tractors, a horse drawn buggy, the Bull City Rough Riders, fire engines, crop sprayers — something for everyone. The Massey family from Phillipsburg was named “Best Novelty” entry featuring a single-horse, two-seated buggy with two outriders on horseback by the judges — Homer Smuck, who lived and served as pastor at Mt. Ayr Friends Church south of Alton, Juno Ogle, Hays Daily News reporter and yours truly.
Alton is a friendly town made up of hardworking, honest people. Many of the inhabitants and those from neighboring communities are farm and ranch families. Like their counterparts across the state, these livestock and grain producers are proud of their occupations and their communities.
The Alton Jubilee isn’t all serious stuff either. Old timers retold tales, people became reacquainted and conversations lasted well into the evening.
Back on Main Street, Osborne County Farm Bureau members passed out free watermelon. The line for barbecued brats and burgers stretched for nearly a block. And dessert, well let’s just say the ladies of Alton know how to bake a pie and top it with homemade ice cream.
Talk about a small world, while visiting with Wayne Brent, Alton native, I discovered a family thread that linked the two of us together.
Seems Brent was quite a basketball player in his day — the mid ‘50s. After we met and shook hands, he asked me if I had any relatives in Selden (small town in northwestern Kansas). I told him I did and that my dad’s older brother, Uncle Herman and all his clan, hailed from this small Sheridan County town.
“You know, I played against a Schlageck in ’57 when Alton played Selden,” Brent told me. “He was a big guy and he leaned on me the whole game. He was quite a ball player, too.”
He also told me Alton won that post-season game and I told Brent that his opponent was my older cousin, Junior, named after my Uncle Herman.
It’s great to know you hail from a small town in Kansas, and that’s what the Alton Jubilee is all about.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.