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Bristow

Moving the Bristow Methodist Church in 1909 one mile east of its original site to one located on the southern edge of the Bristow Cemetery. According to the Osborne County Farmer, this happened in April 1909.

BRISTOW – They never dreamed their new beginning would mark a prominent end.

The day Esther and Dean Lamm returned from their honeymoon, one of the last remains of Bristow – the church where they were married – burned to the ground.

Esther Lamm, 87, recalls the dates off the top of her head.

On July 21, 1957, she walked out of the Bristow Methodist Church in Osborne County with her new husband, Dean, a local farmer. She was a happy 29-year-old embarking on a new life.

For a few weeks, the newlyweds visited relatives as they honeymooned across Colorado and Idaho.

“The day we came back, Aug. 28, 1957, it burned down that night,” she said, adding the church was struck by lightning. “We were the last ones married there, at the Bristow church.”

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Bristow

The Bristow Methodist Church as it appeared in the early 1950s, prior to its demise in 1957.

 

Vibrant place

On a spring day, local historian Von Rothenberger walks the dirt road that runs through Bristow. It was once bustling with a couple of stores, churches and doctor.

Today, the only community spirit comes from the nearby graveyard.

”It was a vibrant place,” he said. “But now you look and there is not even a foundation – everything is just gone.”

Interested in history, Rothenberger has pored through old newspapers and books finding details on many of Osborne County’s dead towns.

Each has a unique tale, he said.

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Bristow map

This map shows locations of Bristow's business.

A town with three names

Bristow formed like any Kansas community. The Civil War had ended six years before. Homesteaders were heading west to take up free government land. That included Civil War Col. James Emley, who picked a homestead in central Osborne County in north-central Kansas. He decided to create a town, naming it after himself – Emley City.

Emley and another homesteader, John Starr, opened a general store. Dr. Thomas Gossett had a drug store, as well, according to historical documents.

In 1872, the town secured a post office.

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Bristow

A very rare photograph taken sometime after the 1909 move of inside the Bristow Methodist Church.

 

People began moving to the area. The first marriage in the county happened in the store, according to historical information. Jeff Durfey and Mary Burke exchanged vows with Starr presiding, documents stated.

Eventually there were two churches, a Baptist and a Methodist. The Methodist church, at first, was held in a little log cabin. There was a one-room school not far away.

While the town had a promising start, Emley knew his community could really grow if it could secure the county seat. However, Emley City finished third in the first election.

Another election was held. Emley City finished fourth, Rothenberger said.

Locals weren't giving up. In December 1873, a new town was started a half mile to the west, and it was called Centerville. Located almost in the center of the county, maybe it could win the county seat, folks thought.

"They moved the town a whole half mile," he said.

There was even speculation a railroad might go through – from Osborne through Centerville, Covert and Natoma. 

"They were angling for a depot," he said. "But they never built the railroad."

Centerville didn't win the next county seat election, either, Rothenberger said.

"We didn't have a county seat war in the county, but there definitely was a lot of indecision," Rothenberger said with a chuckle, adding that Osborne finally was named the official county seat in the end.

In 1876, according to Kansas State Historical Society post office records, the post office changed from Emley City to Bristow. Emley moved to Hays and then eventually Kit Carson and Ohio City, Colorado, where he helped form towns there, Rothenberger said.

Starr soon settled in Scott County where he had a ranch, Rothenberger said.

The little village of Bristow hung on for a while, but the town never got a railroad. Rothenberger said he thought the town probably peaked at about 40 people, which includes the nearby surrounding farms.

People began to move away. The doctor moved to a nearby town called Covert. The Whalings, longtime settlers and Esther Lamm's ancestors, used pieces of the Baptist Church when constructing their own home. Stores closed.

On Sept. 30, 1901, the postmaster stamped the last postmark. 

"By 1920 there was nothing remaining of the town," Rothenberger said, adding. "The name just hung on to the cemetery and the church."

Now, he said, there is just the cemetery.

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John Ayres - Bristow

Rev. John Ayres died in 1899. A circuit-riding Methodist minister, he helped start the church at Bristow.

Death of a town

Esther Lamm still recalls her childhood days. She grew up on her family’s farm. She walked a half mile to the Bristow school during the weekday.

There weren’t more than 10 kids at any given time, she reflected, but said they studied hard and enjoyed recess.

The church, she said, seemed to always have about 40 in attendance.

But when the church burned down in August 1957, attendance was low enough the congregation decided not to rebuild.

Today, the site is a mowed lot, next to the Bristow Cemetery. It’s filled with interesting folk, itself, he said. Eight-year-old Luley Baker was buried there. Her hand-carved epitaph states her last words before she died in December 1878: “The Lord will take care of me. He loves little children.”

There are two War of 1812 veterans, including Barak Weeks. Born in 1791, the elderly man ventured to Osborne County in the 1870s to prove up a homestead. He died in 1876.

The town site of Bristow is marked by a historical marker that Rothenberger helped erect. It tells of Emley City, of Centerville and of Bristow.

Today, the site is nothing more than a wheat field.

Lamm said she and her husband retired to the county seat town of Osborne. They farmed in the Alton area for years.

She has relatives buried, including her grandparents, in the cemetery. But she rarely goes back to visit.

”It brings back too many sad memories – of the church burning and that my folks are gone,” she said.

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John Ayres

The grave of Rev. John Ayres is marked by a bronze marker stating the Methodist minster was a “Veteran of the Cross.”

Kansas Agland Editor Amy Bickel's agriculture roots started in Gypsum. She has been covering Kansas agriculture for more than 15 years. Email her with news, photos and other information at abickel@hutchnews.com or by calling (800) 766-3311 Ext. 320.

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