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Cool Things - Ghost Town Artifacts

Medicine bottles excavated at Morehead

The ghost town of Morehead came to life for four weeks in 1994 as archeologists for the Kansas Historical Society dug into its past.

A six-person crew uncovered many artifacts from the former business district of this village in southeastern Kansas. Broken canning jars, bottles (pictured), nails and hardware, doll parts, coins, and other objects gave the crew a glimpse into Morehead's once-thriving existence.

Archeologists working for the Society came to Morehead because of a cooperative agreement between the Society and the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT). Under the terms of this agreement the Society examines the significance of sites affected by highway projects.

When KDOT informed the Society of plans to realign Highway 169 through Morehead, historians began delving into Morehead's past to determine if the site merited archeological excavations. By researching written sources and interviewing area residents, staff was able to judge the site significant because of the town's association with an early trail, the railroad, and the cooperative movement in Kansas.

Morehead first appeared as a railroad stop on the line from Leavenworth in 1871. The station was located on the Drum Creek Trail joining southeastern Kansas with the Osage Indian Agency in Montgomery County. Morehead straddled the Labette-Neosho county line. The first train station was erected in Labette County, but the townsite was platted and filed in Neosho County in 1879.

During the 1880s the community grew into a rural trading center. Livestock, grain, butter, milk, and other agricultural products were shipped from the station. Passenger trains gave residents easy access to Parsons, Cherryvale, and other area towns.

Morehead's commercial district included five general stores, a grocery, hotel, at least two blacksmith shops, post office, cobbler shop, one or two doctor's offices, and buildings associated with lumber and grain trade. About 200 families lived on farms within a four-mile radius of Morehead.

A nationwide economic depression nearly destroyed the town in the late 1880s. It wasn't until the arrival of Dr. William C. McConnell and his wife, Lizzie Downey McConnell, in 1895 that Morehead began to recover. A proponent of cooperative business strategy, McConnell established a medical practice and drug store and immediately began promoting his views.

Cooperative Strategies

McConnell's first cooperative venture was the Morehead Cooperative Association, which established and maintained a general merchandise store. One thousand shares of stock were issued at ten dollars per share. The store was open to all patrons at the same prices but stockholders received dividends. The store's second floor was a cooperative hall for meetings, dances, dramatic performances, and other social events.

McConnell also was the manager, editor, and major stockholder of the Morehead Searchlight. In addition to regular news, this newspaper featured lengthy philosophical articles supporting cooperative activities. McConnell also reprinted articles from the Appeal to Reason, the prominent socialist newspaper published at Girard, Kansas. McConnell praised store owners who painted their buildings and cleaned the streets because their actions projected an image of cleanliness and thrift.

Convinced that Neosho County was the prime spot for industry because of low freight and fuel costs, a group of shareholders created the Morehead Cooperative Manufacturing Company in 1899. From this parent company came the Cooperative Creamery, the Cooperative Canning Factory, the Cooperative Windmill and Plow Factory, and the Cooperative Brick and Tile Factory. The canning factory preserved local produce, especially tomatoes. Other cooperative businesses in Morehead were a meat processing plant and a broomcorn factory.

The New Age Restaurant, a cooperative dining hall, opened in 1899. McConnell believed women were worn out by devoting most of their time to cooking, dishwashing, and scrubbing. Under his program most of these duties would be eliminated, and housewives and their daughters would have more leisure time to start literary clubs or work in the cannery. Furthermore, communal meals would teach children proper manners.

At its height, Morehead had a population of about 150 residents whose businesses were dependent on trade with local farmers. During the early 1900s a split in the cooperative movement sounded the town's death knell. Some of McConnell's last articles in the Searchlight reflect his disillusionment with a rural community that lacked civic pride, being indifferent to road conditions and the appearance of the town. The newspaper was relocated to Cherryvale; it had been the primary means by which McConnell spread his philosophy to five hundred subscribers nationwide. In 1911 McConnell moved to Lawrence where he opened the McConnell Hospital.

The town's population decreased, and in the 1930s train stops were discontinued. Construction of Highway 169 in 1947 destroyed the front lots of businesses facing Main Street. By 1994, when archeologists from the Kansas Historical Society conducted their excavations, the only building standing in the former business district was the McConnell house. Only two residences remained standing and occupied on the outskirts of town.

Entry: Cool Things - Ghost Town Artifacts

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1996

Date Modified: September 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.