Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Runnymede, Kansas

Runnymede is a Kansas ghost town. It is named after the spot in the English county of Surrey where King John and his English barons met and signed the Magna Carta in 1215.

Today, the Kansas Runnymede lies buried beneath wheat fields. It is located in northeast Harper county, between Harper and Norwich, a 30 minute trip from Wichita, southwest on Highway 42, past Viola and Suppeville, then switch to Highway 2. The route takes you though four counties: Sedgwick Sumner, Kingman, and finally, Harper.

Detail of Kansas map 1900 showing Runnymede

Three miles into Harper County on Highway  (the intersection of 140th Road and 60th Ave.), is a Kansas Historical Marker for Old Runnymede. The marker tells the brief story of Runnymede and indicates that the location of the ghost town is about two miles northeast of the site of the marker.

Runnymede, Kansas

Runnymede was the brain-child of an Irishman by the name of F. J. S. Turnley. In the late 1880's, he bought 1500 acres in Township 33 of Harper County and Canton Township, Kingman County. The land was located on the west side of the Chicaskia River. Turnley's goal was to recreate an English village in the Kansas countryside and teach modern farming to English gentlemen. For $500, the lords and ladies of England could send their sons to Kansas to learn farming and live in a Dry Kansas (In 1880 Kansans amended the constitution to ban the sale of liquor). The sons came, but their activities were confined to the steeplechase, football, and riding the stage between Norwich and Harper.

The Wichita Eagle chronicled the short life of Runnymede. In June of 1889, Turnley arrived in Runnymede with 18-20 English investors. By November of 1889, the city was up and running and the cornerstone of the Episcopal church was laid. In addition to a hotel and livery, Turnley planned other businesses including a milling company, creamery, soda water manufactory, and sugar plant.

The year 1891 was pivotal for Runnymede as the Wichita and El Paso railroad planned a route from Wichita to the newly opened Cherokee Strip in Oklahoma. Despite the fact that the Eagle was reporting on New Year's Day 1891 the coming of the railroad, it never came.

Detail Wichita Eagle New Years 1891

The train bypassed Runnymede, the English gents soon tired of horse races, and by 1893, the Eagle was reporting the demise of Runnymede. The St. James Episcopal church was taken to Harper, where it still stands. The hotel was hauled off to the Cherokee Strip to serve settlers pouring into new boom-towns. By July of 1903, the now Wichita Daily Eagle was writing a reminisce of old Runnymede.

Detail Wichita Daily Eagle July 1903
A less flattering reminisce was reported in western Kansas by the Kinsley Graphic on December 26, 1902.

"Runnymede was created by a north of Ireland agitator who lost money in the cotton business in the United States. His son Edward bought 1,700 acres of land in Harper County and began advertising that he was lord of a western paradise where golden birds sang in the trees and silver rivulets ran tinkling to the sea.

For $500 a year he engaged to teach the sons of English gentlemen, the mysteries of farming and stock raising, and provide for their physical needs and administer such educational tonics as would enable them to hold the winning hand wherever they might be."
Lest you believe every word you read, remember the adage that "success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan."