Travel Kansas -- Elk Falls

by Neal Danielson, Editor

"World's largest living ghost town…in the heart of the Kansas Ozarks". Founded in 1870 Elk Falls is nestled against the Elk River in the broken, rocky hills of southeast Kansas, in southern Elk County between the Elk River and Wildcat Creek. The town's site is at the falls of the Elk and is said to be as beautiful as any in Kansas. Elk Falls is not your typical tourist destination! According to locals, some say that off the beaten path is probably an understatement. "What you see is not all you get! Remember, this is a living ghost town-much of what used to be here is gone, but they say we ain't dead yet!."

Shortly after it was settled in 1871, Elk Falls became the temporary seat of Howard County. Elections in 1872 and 1873 failed to establish a clear choice between Elk Falls, Peru, Boston, Longton, and Howard. After the questionable election of 1873, citizens of Boston raided Elk Falls and took the county records and furnishings. The records were hidden in Cowley County and Boston posted armed guards to keep out the Howard County sheriff. The bitterness became academic when Elk County was formed in 1875. Elk Falls and Boston were almost on the boundary of the two counties, Elk and Chautauqua, created when Howard County was divided.

The Wichita Eagle, October 8, 1995 noted that all that is left of the… "once-busy grist mill that gave the town its name is the wooden auger that hangs on the wall of the Cape Cod Café and Bakery and the mill stones that decorate the yard of a rancher in nearby Howard. Not a sign remains of the railhead that brought settlers and prosperity to the community at the turn of the century." The population of Elk Falls in 2000 was 112 as compared to 269 in 1927.

When Kansas was established as a Territory in 1854 and achieved statehood in 1861, many a family traveled to all parts of the eastern portion of the land. Elk Falls was no exception in terms of settlers finding an ideal location to raise their family. Figure 1 is a cover, franked with a 3¢ green, Scott #147 stamp, bearing a manuscript cancel from Elk Falls, Kansas, July 4, 1871. Now That's Interesting!! The postal service in this small community was available on the 4th of July. The first postmaster, from May 19, 1870 to December 4, 1871 in this small community, was James Edmiston. The manuscript initials JE is in blue on the stamp (difficult to see in copy) with the initials, JSS or TSS, which was apparently a clerk in Elk Falls or along the route to Blackberry Station.

Figure 1-Cover Postmarked July 4, 1871 from Elk Falls, KS

Elk County is located in the southeastern part of the state and Elk Falls is in the southern part of the County, on Highway 160.

The cover is addressed to Blackberry Station, Kane County, Illinois. Blackberry Township was located in Illinois in the County of Kane. The first settler in the area was William Lance in 1834 and the first log cabin was built by Silas Lakin in 1842. The railroad was completed through the area in 1853 and called Blackberry Station. The original post office was known as Swinton, then in 1849 the name was changed to Fairfield. In 1854, the post office was moved to Blackberry Station and William Ross was postmaster from May 24, 1854 to June 26, 1855. The above cover is from the year 1871 and Daniel R. Lewis was serving as postmaster (12/27/1870-08/31/1876). In 1885, the railroad asked the village to change the name of Blackberry Station, as its location in Blackberry Township and the location of Blackberry Center nearby caused a great deal of confusion. The original name chosen was Melbourne (as in Australia), but the railroad said there were too many towns of that name already. Therefore, some of the letters were dropped and the railroad accepted-'Elburn'-Now That's Interesting!! It is believed that there is no other Elburn anywhere. Somewhere within the Mississippi valley there was an Elburn Piano Company.

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Posted November 24, 2004 RR