Clayton, Kansas

Clayton, Kansas Main Street by Kathy Alexander.

Clayton, Kansas Main Street by Kathy Alexander.

Clayton, Kansas, is a semi-ghost town located primarily in Norton County and Decatur County.

Clayton, Kansas Main Street, 1911.

Clayton, Kansas Main Street, 1911.

E.L. Pease was one of the first residents to come here in 1878. Named for the valuable clay found in the area, a post office opened on March 31, 1879, with E.L. Pease as the postmaster. That same year, Frank Allman settled on a farm nearby. He used to drive a stage between points around Norton. Two more early residents included Frank J. Castle, from Galesburg, Illinois, who settled in the area with his brother Fred in 1884 to operate a horse ranch. The brothers were expert circus performers and had traveled for years before settling in the Clayton area. At one point, Frank also ran the only store in town.

In 1887, the Kansas Town and Land Company was chartered to buy and sell lands on the right-of-way of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railway, including land in the Clayton area. When the railroad came through, the town began to grow.

Clayton, Kansas Train Wreck, 1910.

Clayton, Kansas Train Wreck, 1910.

Clayton was incorporated as a city in 1907. By 1910, it had a bank, a weekly newspaper called the Vidette, a creamery, a feed mill, a hotel, a money order post office with three rural routes, express and telegraph offices, telephone connections, and 191 people. As the principal trading point for a rich agricultural district, it shipped large quantities of grain and livestock.

On September 23, 1910, a terrible train wreck occurred two miles west of Clayton. The night before, a cloudburst carried heavy fill over what was usually an almost dry creek bed. The heavy rains turned the creek into a torrent many yards wide and 22 feet deep, washing out nearly 1,000 feet of track.

The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific train was traveling from St. Louis, Missouri, to Denver, Colorado, when it plunged through a 40-foot trestle into the creek below. The train, running at full speed, plunged into the gap with the engine and mail car going down into 20 feet of water. Many of the passengers in these two cars were almost instantly killed. Others were carried into the raging stream with the wreckage, and it was many hours before their bodies could be recovered.

Clayton, Kansas City Hall, and Library by Kathy Alexander.

Clayton, Kansas City Hall, and Library by Kathy Alexander.

Passengers in the Pullman and another day coach hurled from the berths and chairs by the shock hurried out into the storm and rendered what aid they could to the injured and extricated the mangled bodies of the dead. Others hurried to Clayton, where news of the accident was wired to division headquarters. Physicians, nurses, and a wreck train from Norton, Colby, Goodland, and Phillipsburg were hurried to the scene within half an hour. However, it was not until late this afternoon that the last bodies were recovered from the wreck. Members of the Topeka baseball team of the Western league were occupants of the Pullman but escaped injury on their way to Denver.

The first intimation that the engineer had of any danger came when he realized that the forward portion of the train was running in water, which had spread out over the tracks near the fill. Reversing the engine checked the train’s speed, but not enough to prevent the engine, baggage car, and the smoker from remaining tilted on the earth’s bank. The chair car ripped its way into the smoker, smashing it to pieces and killing or injuring many passengers. The engineer and fireman and 18 passengers were reported killed, and about 20 were wounded.

Old gas station in Clayton, Kansas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

An old gas station in Clayton, Kansas by Kathy Alexander.

The original Clayton High School was located on the hill southeast of Clayton. The three-story brick building housed both the grade school and high school. In 1914, the first class graduated with five students.

In 1920, Clayton’s population peaked at 258.

In April 1923, the schoolhouse was destroyed by fire, probably due to a furnace explosion. A new high school was constructed on the west side of Clayton next to the Norton and Decatur County line. Clayton schools were closed through school unification, and the last graduating class was in 1958 with four students. The building was torn down in 1960. Students now attend school in Norton. At some point, Clayton’s post office was also closed.

As of the 2020 census, the town’s population was 44, and its former business buildings are shuttered and deteriorating. It is located about 17 17 miles southwest of Norton on Highway K383, south of Highway 36.


An old business building in Clayton, Kansas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

An old business building in Clayton, Kansas, by Kathy Alexander.

©Kathy Alexander/Legends of Kansas, updated April 2024.

Also See:

Kansas History

Kansas Ghost Towns

Kansas Photo Galleries

Kansas Towns & Cities


Blackmar, Frank W.; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol I; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.
GenDisasters – Broken Link
Lockard, F.M.; The History of the Early Settlement of Norton County, Kansas, 1894