Hesper. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act prompted Quaker families to move to the Kansas Territory to keep the state free from slavery. How early did they come? The Kansas Free State (June 4, 1855) reported that a disease resembling cholera “carried off three very interesting young Indians who were attending school at the Friends Mission” in Hesper, which indicates a school and settlement in Hesper. However, typically the first Quakers credited for settling in the Hesper area were Jonathan and Phebe Mendenhall who arrived in a covered wagon in 1858 from Hendrich County, Indiana, and George Rogers. The Mendenhalls, who held worship services in their home one mile east of Hesper, donated land to the Springfield Monthly Meeting for a church and cemetery. Members hauled a 24-square-foot, lumber meeting house from Leavenworth for the services observed by silent worship until someone was moved to testify, preach, or pray. However, some say that Sara and Levi Woodard arrived first and the name of their farm, “Hesper,” became the name of the community. The word “hesper” itself derives from the name of the Greek god Hesperus who led the stars out at night.
The Hesper Lyceum Society, organized in Hesper in 1859, included Captain Jennings, O.G. Richards, Nathan Henshaw, Sarah Woodard, and Mrs. Sanford. Members would gather on Friday nights to hear speakers read essays and make speeches.
The first school started in 1859 in a log cabin. Just south of the school, the Hadley brothers set up a general store in 1860 on the northeast corner of Section 28. In 1861, William and Penelope (Hill) Gardner; a Winslow; Penelope’s sister, Margaret Davis; and Adela (Hunt) Davis with her six children arrived from Guilford, North Carolina.
The John Hill family came in 1863 from North Carolina, too, followed by families from the same state, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. The following year, a second school, this one of stone, was built, and Oliver Butler opened his black smithy; later blacksmiths included a Greiner, J.B. Gunnison, Albert Lindley, a Pickering, a Russel, and Thomas Warsop. In 1866, Stephen and Ellen Woodard moved to Hesper from Bloomingdale, Indiana; Josiah Bailey who married Rachel Rogers, his second wife, arrived in 1869.
The Kansas Historical Quarterly article “A Tour of Indian Agencies in Kansas and the Indian Territory in 1870” by William Nicholson gives an early account of Hesper: “E. Hoag & wife & E. Earle & myself went to Hesper & attended the meeting there ─ It was large & lively. I spoke from the text, "I beseech you brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto Him" ─ There were several other testimonies and supplication ─ We dined with Wm & Penelope Gardiner & had the company of Winslow & Margaret Davis, Dr. Reuben L. Roberts & wife Rebecca (formerly Jucks) & other Friends ─ also met David Davis & wife ─ the former a young man who went with us upon part of our journey in N. Carolina some years ago & the latter a daughter of the widow Hill below Springfield, N.C. ─ Hesper is 10 or 12 miles a little South of East from Lawrence & 4 miles South of Eudora. A nice rolling country & thickly settled by Friends. The meeting there is a highly interesting one, containing a goodly proportion of the old, the middle aged & the young ─ Returned to Lawrence about dark ─ Eudora is at the mouth of Wakarusha River where it enters the Kansas.”
A post office was established at the general store in 1870 as was the Springfield Library with books donated by Joseph Pease. After the grasshopper plague in 1874 and hard winter, many people returned to the East in 1875. The Lindamood family who had come in the early 1870s instead went to California and later to Topeka.
A new church building was built in 1881 for $1,700 and through the years gained a basement (1955) and siding (1961). John and Hannah Garratt, Lincolnshire, England, came in 1882 as did Isaac Moody and second wife, Elizabeth (Dick) from Ohio. Another who came (in 1884) was Teresa (Frazier), born 1842 near High Point, North Carolina, the wife of Elijah Elliot; both were members of the Quaker religion. The Springfield Monthly Meeting was renamed Hesper Monthly Meeting in 1883. The next year, the Hesper Academy became the first accredited high school in Eudora Township. The Society of Friends chartered the institution on June 10, 1884.
Wrote the Eudora Community Heritage: “In 1887, there was about 100 population in the Hesper area, with two stores, a blacksmith, post office, church, school, Academy, and cemetery. There were about 24 homes in the area. The mail was carried from Leavenworth to Hesper by Arnold Hadley once a week. The service was to the post office in the grocery store, but improved as the post office at Hesper was officially established by the U.S. Postal Service, and mail was delivered three times a week. Hesper even had its own newspaper, The Hesperian “Rustic,” edited by Dr. Woddhull with community, state, and national news.”
One enterprise not listed in that description was the mill two miles south of Eudora. A February 21, 1968 Eudora Enterprise article wrote of its destruction by fire on the farm of Douglas Harris at that time. The article said that it was known to be on Dr. Bischoff’s land and used large stone wheels to grind small grains that funneled to the grinder from the building’s top story. During World War I, the mill resumed operation for wheat grinding and graham flour.
An 1894 business directory recorded these Hesper businesses: Ellen Holden (boarding house), B.F. Foust (carpenter), D. L. Wade (carpenter), and C. H. Woodard (carpenter). Joseph Cloud ran the post office and sold leather goods, and Charles Walker served as constable. A news item said C. W. Russell operated a blacksmithy, too. The Hesper Academy 16th Annual Catalogue for 1899-1900 listed the Hesper Blacksmith Shop (owned by A.G. Thompson) and Hesper Store (farm implements, wagons, buggies, and general merchandise) owned by Charles Conger, who had been farming. Conger had purchased the store and stock of A. B. Nicol in Hesper in 1898.
As the 20th century opened, rural mail delivery began and the first telephone line linked Hesper to the outside world. In 1902, Charles Conger closed his general merchandise store and declared bankruptcy. J. A. Bales, a grocer in Eudora before 1900 and then a clerk at Gardiner and Hill Department Store, bought the store. Anna and Henry (one of five brothers ─ Henry, Perry, John, Ellsworth, and Grant ─ who came to Eudora together from Indiana) Page bought the store at Hesper in 1909 that had been also been owned by J. L. Todd, who traded the store for a farm in Greenwood County in 1909. In 1910, August Guenther, who came to Clearfield in 1886 with his mother and married Bella Hobbs ─ who died in childbirth ─ and later Amelia Koeller) ran a slaughterhouse in Hesper during this time. Thomas Elliot sold Osage City Shaft Coal, too.
According to a 1905 newspaper, the Hesper Literary Society also known as the Lyceum of Viola Votaw, Laura Stanley, Otis Todd. Corabelle Williamson, Hattie Harris, Elsie Gerstenberger, Hazel Harris, and Ida Deay got together October 16, 1929 at the home of Hazel Harris to form a club named after “Keystone Corner,” a spot three miles south of Eudora. Other charter members were Mrs. Creevan, Inez Griffin, Mrs. Grist, Mary Harris, Thelma Haverty, Abbie Millington, Lola Page, Alma Seiwald, and Mrs. Sweet. At monthly meetings they typically answered roll call, visited, and planned service projects. Other members included Norma Ambler, Ola Edwards, Carrie Forsythe, Jean Gabriel, Esther Henley, Helen Pfleger, Eva Lancaster, Lois Page, Ethel Votaw, Alice Waters, Jennie Woodard, Nadine Shirk, Mrs. Charles Terrell, N. Dalby, Eva Votaw, Mrs. Ernest Price, Jeanne Kindred, Eva Frasier, Mrs. Noel Griffin, Mrs. C. Williamson, Lela Morley, and Emmeline Gerstenberger. The club disbanded around 1960.
Hesper mothers started the Hesper Mother’s Club in 1939 to assist teachers and serve holiday treats to students. At monthly meetings, members held Red Cross classes, made cancer dressing, and planned homecomings. Charter members were: Lillian Gabriel, Verna Terrell, Esther Henley, Mabel Dunlap, Ethel Votaw, Bessie Kurtz, Della Votaw, Ethel Votaw, Inez Griffin, Irene Caviness, Frances Kurtz, and Hazel Harris.
When Hesper grade school became part of the Eudora school system in 1946, the club turned into a social group and made cancer bandages of gauze for more than 10 years. They also assisted the Hesper Community Club organized April 11, 1948 to support the community. More than 100 people attended the first meeting and voted Roy Kurtz, president; Jerry Harris, vice-president; and Paul Frazier, treasurer. Members bought $10 shares to purchase the Hesper school building for $500 to use as a community building. Some popular activities were Halloween parties and Christmas parties, a winter wolf hunt, and Central Protective Association floats. The Hesper Library also operated out of this building for several decades. The federal government announced in 1966 that it had six probable sites for a $375 million atom-smasher project. The region near Hesper was one of the six, but the project ultimately was built near Chicago.
Hesper sources used for this short history, include Violet (Gerstenberger) Fleming, the daughter of two Hesper Academy graduates, author of “Hesper History: 1857-1976, published by the Eudora Area Historical Society; Hesper Friends Church, 1862-1972 by Merle Kinser; Letter from Chalkey Hill and his History of Hill Farm, (November 12, 1938); Lawrence Daily Journal World, “Home of M. Chalkey Hill Was Part of Settlement of Middle West,” June 4, 1940; “The Hesper Community,” a historic preservation seminar by Michael Mahaffey, January 17, 1975; and Eudora Enterprise (1969). Note: The Douglas County Historic Building Survey has a photo of the Hesper School, and the diary of the Woodards’ daughter, Mary Eva, is in the Kansas Collection at the University of Kansas Spencer Research Library.
Copyright 2015. Cindy Higgins. Where the Wakarusa Meets the Kaw: A History of Eudora, Kansas. Eudora, KS: Author.