Herndon

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas and we were talking about the places I’ve been recently. Well, I got to go to the Herndon Ox Roast. So, we’re going to give you a little segment on Herndon. Have you ever been out to Herndon? (Frank) No. (Deb) I had not either. It’s the northwestern part of the state, Rawlins County. And I have to tell you, and I wrote a blog about this actually, but I was staying in Atwood. I was spending the night in Atwood so I thought, well I thought I’ll go up to Herndon and see if this is something I really want to go to tomorrow and check it out. So, I go up to Herndon, it’s dark and Herndon is a little town, full of people, motor homes everywhere, people on their little four-wheelers all over town. I promptly…I back off into a culvert, cause I couldn’t see. I mean have not been in town five minutes. And this big guy comes running over, Ma’am, do you need some help? Yea, obviously I do. Five minutes-in and out of the ditch in five minutes. I mean, he just hooked his truck and his chain up and pulled me out and then it was like he felt like I was his responsibility from there on out. So, Nolan Draper, God bless you. And Nolan showed me around town and met lots of great folks, hung out in the Herndon pool hall with people and it was just great. And so the next day at the parade, I met the rest of Nolan’s family, his girlfriend and their kids and stuff and lots of other great folks. But, it was a wonderful time. And the Ox Roast only happens every five years. (Frank) Hmmm. (Deb) So, I was really fortunate to be out there while that was going on. (Frank) Now, wait a minute, Ox Roast. (Deb) Ox Roast. In fairness, they don’t bury an ox anymore. They used to. They started a 100 and some years ago. They used to bury an ox. But now they bury, I don’t know, 1,500 pounds of beef, or something that somebody donates. But they dig a big pit. (Frank) That would be big pit. (Deb) I know. It’s a big pit. Let’s take a look. The story of Herndon is truly one of pioneers in the West. This corner of Rawlins County was founded by folks from Smith County in 1876. They first lived in a cave on the banks of Ash Creek, on the edge of what would one day be a town. The next year, the first of many Austrian-Hungarian immigrants homesteaded a mile west of town. A couple of years later, a merchant showed up with a wagonload of merchandise. He put up the first store in Rawlins County and later, he became the postmaster of what was called, Pesth, for Buda-Pest. It was this same merchant who changed the name of the hamlet to Herndon in 1880, honoring Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, Billy Herndon. According to local historian Frank Cox, a boom began in 1884 when a flour mill was built on Beaver Creek, south of town. The railroad linked Herndon to the rest of the world in 1887. The railroad went on to build up its division point at Herndon, putting up a two story depot, section house, round table, windmill and water tank, coal shed and 2 miles of siding. Most early day trains made Herndon a regular meal stop where passengers walked over to the Hotel Herndon dining room. The year 1888 brought Herndon’s biggest building boom. Market places were created for farm crops; business houses sprung up – general merchandise, drug stores, restaurants, hotels, livery stables, blacksmiths, implement dealers. Disaster came in December 1905 when fire destroyed nearly all buildings on the west side of Main Street. But the merchants seemed undaunted; most of them rebuilt their stores and opened again by summer. One of the buildings that survives, and thrives, is the Herndon Pool Hall. Built in 1887, the building was purchased by Chris Wood in 1987 and she has run it ever since. She is one of the many people who grew up, moved away, and came back. Her establishment is a popular meeting place when families, friends and former residents return for the Herndon Ox Roast, first held in 1914. Every five years, the Ox Roast turns this town of dozens into a destination. It is a homecoming, class reunion, and festival all rolled into one. Motor homes begin filling the vacant lots and four-wheelers and golf carts and horses become the most convenient means of transportation. There is a parade, out-house race, street dance, great food, and more fun than seems possible in a weekend. This year, the town’s new museum opened to an appreciative audience. Since the school was merged with that of Atwood, the museum contains yearbooks, trophies—the school’s memorabilia, as well as items that belonged to the pioneering families of Herndon. The next Ox Roast won’t happen until 2020. Mark your calendars and be sure to get there early. There’s a long line when they start serving up the ox!

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