Before that time, the pioneers of Homestead Township voted bond issues to attract the Kansas and Colorado Railroad to the area. Some of the mainline grading was completed through this part of the state in 1885, but it was not until the fall of 1886 that the first work train arrived. The railroad was completed in the fall of 1886. The rail line was soon taken over by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. When a railroad station was built, it was called Monon, meaning “Lady of the Lake.” Lake Barton was constructed to provide water for the trains and shops, and the railroad station became a division point.
In the meantime, as the railroad was approaching, a group of Barton County businessmen formed the Central Kansas Town Company and began laying out a new town in 1886. That year, the first substantial building erected on the townsite was a two-story structure built by Brooker and Brown as a general merchandise store.
The post office, relocated from nearby Buena Vista, opened on April 14, 1887, and the name was changed to Hoisington, in honor of Andrew Jackson Hoisington, a prominent Great Bend businessman. Later, the railroad station would also change its name from Moran to Hoisington. That year, the city was incorporated, and the first election was held for city offices, with E.M. Carr serving as the first mayor.
One of the early accomplishments of the city was the building of a Y.M.C.A. which was constructed between 1902 and 1903.
The money for the project was obtained by private subscription, donations by the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and Miss Helen Gould. Miss Gould also aided it with special donations of books for the library and musical instruments.
The 60 feet square building included a big dormitory room with 40 beds rented to members of the association for 15 cents per night. It also included a reading room with newspapers, magazines, and periodicals, a bathroom with three tubs and five shower baths, a library filled with 2,000 volumes, and a correspondence room supplied with writing materials. The members used the large lobby for playing chess, checkers, etc.
The facility was dedicated on March 17, 1903, with a three-piece band consisting of a trombone, bass drum, and tuba leading a parade. Located at Main and Railroad Streets, the Y, with its library, player piano, and bathtubs with hot and cold water, was the city’s most popular spot for years.
J.E. Sponseller constructed Hoisington’s first light plant in 1903. Arc lights were first used, which replaced oil-burning lamp posts.
The Peoples State Bank of Hoisington opened for business on June 15, 1903, in the backroom of T. C. Morrison’s Mercantile house. In a very short time, it moved to the J. B. McCauley Opera House Building, which they purchased in May 1904. The bank then enlarged the opera house, making it one of the finest banking rooms in Kansas. It was finished with marble on the outside and marble and mahogany on the inside. It featured modern conveniences such as electric lights, hot water heat, lavatories, and restrooms for its customers.
In 1904 the council called for a waterworks bond election. It passed, and the city built the first water system and standpipe.
By 1910, Hoisington was the second largest town of Barton County. At that time, there were six general stores, three banks, three drug stores, a weekly newspaper called the Dispatch, mills and elevators, electric lights, good hotels, an automobile livery, which made daily trips to Great Bend and other towns, four churches, a public library, and good schools. The town was also supplied with telegraph and express offices and had an international money order post office with two rural routes. It had a population of 1,975.
On September 28, 1910, work began on the first building that made up many Missouri Pacific shops. This building was a roundhouse with fifteen 63-foot engine pits. The brick building contained a turntable with a diameter of 75 feet. The large blacksmith and machine buildings were equipped with the latest labor-saving machinery. Other buildings included offices, and when the shops were working at full capacity, a force of 1,600 men was required. The total cost of the plant was about $1,000,000.
When complete, the freight and passenger division on the Missouri Pacific Railroad operated the largest shops between Sedalia, Missouri, and Pueblo, Colorado. Next to Sedalia, the shops were the largest owned by this company on its entire system.
These operations brought more people to the area, many of whom were African American. At that time, black folks lived in South Hoisington, about a mile south of the city. Some were already settled there who were part of the Exodusters who came to Kansas after the Civil War. Others came to work when the railroad was initially built. However, they were not allowed to live in the city. Though the “town” was never platted it became a melting pot of residents, including African Americans, Hispanics, and a few whites. Most lived in old wooden boxcars without the benefit of running water, sewer, or electricity.
The Lind Hospital and Training School was established in Hoisington by Reverend W. J. Lind and opened to the public in February 1912. The general hospital was one of the best-equipped institutions of the kind in this part of the country. The three-story brick hospital, located in northwest Hoisington, had room for 30 patients in addition to rooms that were maintained by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The training school was established under the supervision of the superintendent of nurses, assisted by a competent corps of physicians. The courses took three years to receive a diploma.
During the city’s early years, entertainment included one-night shows and weekly stands at the opera house. Many of the top entertainers of the day performed in the opera house, including hypnotism shows that were popular. Soon Hoisington got its first movie theater with local girls hired to sing and play the piano during the movie.
In 1917, the dirt streets began to be paved.
On October 10, 1919, Hoisington was hit by a tornado. It killed Ellen Cravens, her baby, and H.B. McCurdy. John Rearick was injured and later died as well. The tornado damaged the Y.M.C.A., destroyed many of the buildings on lower Main Street before moving northeast, and damaged many homes.
Natural gas was discovered in the area in 1929, followed by the discovery of oil in the area in the 1930s.
In 1933, the First National Bank, the oldest bank in Barton County, was said to have been robbed by none other than Pretty Boy Floyd and his gang. After forcing C.P. Munns and M.W. Bennett to lie on the floor, face down, the gang made their get-a-way with more than $2,500 in bonds and money.
In February 1933, the home of George Ford in El Dorado was raided. Two men were said to have run from the house when the raid began, and one was reportedly “Pretty Boy.” However, Ford always denied it. During the raid, high-powered rifles and machine guns were found, and four men were arrested, all of whom were on the F.B.I.’s wanted list. Ford later surrendered some bonds that were allegedly from a bank in Hoisington. He was arrested and charged with robbing the bank.
South Hoisington accounted for the county’s most significant population growth until World War II, when an airbase was constructed in nearby Great Bend. Many of the people that moved to South Hoisington migrated from the South in the 1920s and 1930s. They came to work for the railroad and escape Ku Klux Klan members targeting blacks.
Referred to as South Town, the community did not receive the benefits of paved streets, utilities, street lights, or law enforcement from Hoisington. It was also prone to flooding when Blood Creek and Shop Creek spilled over.
The town gained a bad reputation in the dry, conservative Christian county as some people made their livings offering alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. One business called South Haven, better known as The Big House, provided all these amenities. Ironically, the two-story white house, centrally located in the little community, did not allow black customers — only white ones. This insured more profit for its African American owners. Police raids were common, and illegal businesses would be fined, only to continue operating afterward.
Along its dusty streets could also be found a grocery store, gas station, a Baptist church, sale barn, beer joints, and a cafe. Certainly, not all of the 200 members of the community were involved in illegal activities. The First Baptist Church, with its choir, social activities, and youth groups, was a mainstay for many members.
These were prejudicial times for South Hoisington, also referred to as “the other side of the tracks.” Though its children attended the public schools in Hoisington, they could not ride the bus to school. Other activities were segregated, including not trying on clothing in stores, a separate section in the movie theater, having to take the orders “to go” at the soda fountain, and African Americans were not allowed in Hoisington after sundown. For the people of South Hoisington, moving north of the tracks was not an option.
The Great Bend Tribune often reported fighting, shootings, and prostitution. One report included a shooting death after an argument during a dice game.
Hoisington’s population peaked in 1960 with 4,248 people.
Problems continued in South Hoisington through the 1970s and into the 1980s. In October 1973, the Great Bend Tribune reported that Kansas Attorney General Vern Miller, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation director, and other officials raided the area, including the Big House, where dice, marked cards, liquor, beer, money, and weapons were confiscated.
Over the years, South Hoisington’s youth moved away and another big flood in the 1980s caused most of the Black community to leave.
On April 21, 2001, Hoisington suffered another large tornado ripping through the city. In its wake, one person was killed, and 28 were injured. Some 200 homes and 12 businesses were destroyed, and 85 homes were severely damaged.
In time, the railroad took out the boxcars in South Hoisington, and the area became a haven for illegal dumping. Work began in 2006 to clean up the area, which had become one of the state’s biggest dumpsites. After razing most of the residences, the Big House, and the remains of the church, 3,268 tons of waste material were removed at the cost of $400,000. Today, there is nothing left but a few shacks, empty roads, and grassy plains.
The city of Hoisington and the Missouri-Pacific Railroad were linked in growth and economics for the better part of a century until the rail mergers of the 1980s began. The rail line then became part of the Southern Pacific and finally the Union Pacific. Today the line is leased to Central Kansas Railroad and operated as a short-line railroad.
Many of the families who now live in the Hoisington area are descendants of those who came at the instigation of the railroad, either to farm or to work in its shops or on its trains.
Today, Hoisington is called home to about 2,700 people.
City of Hoisington
109 E. First St., P.O. Box 418
Hoisington, KS 67544
Biographical history of Barton County, Kansas, published by the Great Bend Tribune, Great Bend, KS, 1912.
Blackmar, Frank W.; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol I; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.
City of Hoisington
Great Bend Tribune