Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stockton, KS

Day 60: Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Hoxie to Stockton: 68 miles

How is it that you can take pictures of the most inconsequential things that occur throughout the course of a day on the road, yet totally skip getting a memento of the most important things?

In this case, the most important thing that happened to me was Angela Bates. And all I have to show for it are memories. But first things first.

Yesterday was flatter. Today was back to hilly. At least the morning. And they weren't all that bad.

classic windmill shot
There are plenty of these,
but very few are actually operating.

Interstate 70 approximates the route of US 24 across most of Kansas. US 24 is now the old road. Which means that it's generally low-traffic, and decent for bicycling. But some segments have lost the US designation, and are now county roads, and are not that well maintained.

Even the old road has an old road. The original US 24 was built in the 1920s, I believe. The current US 24, dating from about 1960, was built, for the most part, 100 feet over from the old road. Much of the old road still exists all the way across Kansas, and is used as a farm lane or for storage of highway materials.

the really old US 24
The really old US 24 can still be seen across much of Kansas.

My route today paralleled the South Fork Solomon River valley. It must be a river of considerable size, as many farms and ranches were established along it back in the 1870s. But, as you can see in the photo, I didn't see much water.

dry Solomon River
The south fork of the Solomon River
seems to have disappeared for the season.

One of the pioneering farms was settled by a family from Yorkshire, England (which happens to be my dad's birthplace). They built the house and outbuildings in the Yorkshire style, and raised Merino sheep (which produce a very high grade of wool), in contrast to the other ranchers, who raised cattle. When Jack and I passed by the ranch in 1981, it was probably in a state of neglect, as most of the family had moved away and it was no longer a working ranch. Just a year later, it was purchased by the state historical association, and has been repaired, refurbished, and reconstructed over the years. It's an interesting place to tour. (I didn't get to go inside, as it was unattended today.)

the Perry ranch
The Perry family came from England to homestead in the 1870s.

Perry homestead outbuildings
The outbuildings, especially, show the strong influence
of their Yorkshire background.

The town of Nicodemus (see also the Wikipedia article) was settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. As with other towns during the 1870s, it prospered for several years, on speculation that the railroad would soon arrive and bring further economic development. In this case, though, that didn't pan out. The railroad established a line through the towns to the east and west, but decided to run several miles south of Nicodemus. And when US 24 was built some 50 years later, it made some abrupt turns that carried it miles north of the town. It wasn't until 1960, when the new highway was built on the more direct route, that the town had a decent connection with the rest of the world. But by then it was too late: the decline of Nicodemus had started when the railroad was built. The town that, at one point, had over 400 inhabitants has only eleven today.

I met four of them in the town park. We talked for half an hour about the town, its history, and its present condition. Nicodemus, due to its history, has been declared a national historic site. That has had both good and bad consequences. They said that, if I wanted to learn more, I should talk with Angela Bates.

I cycled around the remnants of the town, then returned to the park, and found Angela there. It turned out that it was she who was responsible for getting the town declared a national historic site - a task she had labored on for seventeen years. Although she lives in the nearby town of Bogue, she is Nicodemus's primary mover and shaker, civic booster, and only restaurateur. She is gregarious, loquacious, and persistent, qualities that have served her well. But she says she has worn herself out doing battle with the National Park Service over the administration of the town and maintenance of the remaining buildings, and feels that she can be more effective working through other channels. The Park Service took over the town hall as the visitor center - a hall the residents and former residents used as a gathering place for community functions. There has been a succession of white and outsider park superintendents and workers: the people who knew the most about the town and its history have been largely ignored.

Angela and other former residents have organized cultural events and festivals that attract, not only former residents and their descendents, but many others as well. Some of them are much like homecomings, that help to preserve the spirit and cultural heritage of Nicodemus.

After several hours of conversation, Angela opened her restaurant - a sort of spiritual and gastronomical homage to her aunt Ernestine, who had quite a reputation of her own as a restaurateur, both in Nicodemus and in Pasadena, California - and fed me a barbecued brisket sandwich and some words of wisdom before sending me on my way. It was late in the day, and if I was to make it to Stockton by dark, I would have to book it. Angela told me about the dugout on the outskirts of town. In the old days, Nicodemus residents would hitch up the horse and wagon and drive into Stockton for supplies. But, being black, they had to be out of town by sundown. If they didn't have time to return home in daylight, they would go as far as a dugout in the side of a hill, just outside the town, where they could safely spend the night before returning to Nicodemus in the morning.

The dugout is still there. I figured it could shelter me, as well, if necessary. But the light held long enough for me to make it to the same town park that Jack and I stayed in, back in 1981. It was quiet this time - no kids driving through with their hot rods.

the dugout
The dugout is still there.

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