Morehead, Labette County
Today, Morehead is a ghost town. Located along the Labette and Neosho county lines, Morehead first appeared as a railroad stop on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe 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. 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.
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 10 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 broom corn factory.
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, the state's 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 500 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 archeological excavations in advance of area road construction, 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: Morehead, Labette County
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: April 2009
Date Modified: January 2011
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