HERNDON, KSRawlins County

Herndon History

Herndon's history began in May 1876 when Lorenz and Sophia Demmer (native born U.S. citizens) came from Smith County, KS to stake their homestead claim in SE 4 of Sec. 3-2-31. Their first residence was a cave in the banks of Ash Creek at the east edge of what would become the town of Herndon. In the spring of 1877 the first of many Austrian-Hungarian immigrants, Mathias and Teckla Hafner, homesteaded a mile west of town.

The autumn of 1879 saw merchant I. N. George haul in a wagon train of merchandise and supplies. He put up a building and opened the first general store in Herndon and in Rawlins County. A year later Mr. George became postmaster of the town then called "Pesth. He got the town's name changed to Herndon. This was to honor Billy Herndon who was Abraham Lincoln's law partner. The spring of 1880 also brought the first Catholic services to the area.

In 1884 Fritz Drath, a German-born miller, built a water-powered flour mill on Beaver Creek a half-mile south of town. The railroad reached Herndon in November 1887. Then the town was linked to the world and laid claim to the title "Gate City to Rawlins County. The railroad went on to build up its division point at Herndon which included: 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 alit and 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.

New houses were built along with new schools and churches. Jobs were reported available for all who would brave the pioneer life.

The railroad built Herndon's "Opera House" on the northeast corner of the main street intersection. For the next 50 years this would be the main gathering place for social events, political rallies, basketball games, road show productions, picture shows and school programs.

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.

The town incorporated in April 1906 as the City of Herndon. First elected mayor was R. L. Drath. First councilmen were J. R. Kirchner, G. H. Cox, G. W. Hudiburgh, James Malone and W. P. Slocum.

Since 1914, families, friends, neighbors and former residents have gathered to "celebrate Herndon at the many ox roasts held over the years. It's a time to relax, greet old friends and sample that nearly extinct culinary gem: "pit roasted ox. And it's a good time to don one's pioneer and cowboy garb; watch a baseball game, browse through exhibits, watch a big parade, enjoy the man-powered "outhouses races and dance the evening away.

Flour sackHerndon's famous landmark, the steam-powered Beaver Valley Roller Mill was built by the Drath family at the south end of Radnor Avenue in the autumn of 1890. Farmers exchanged a wagon load of wheat for 12 sacks of flour. The Drath's also distributed "Pride of Herndon flour throughout northwest Kansas and southwest Nebraska. The mill's doors closed forever in July 1945. The last owners were Clem Hutfles, Joe Riepl and Carl Friedemann. The BVRM stood silent, ravaged by the passage of time until it fell victim to fire in the spring of 1987.

In February 1937 the high school district dedicated the City Auditorium. It would serve as a community entertainment center and as a gymnasium, lunch room and school programs facility.

The religious needs of Herndon people continue to be served by St. Mary's Catholic Church and the Immanuel United Church of Christ. Both had their beginnings in the late 19th century. A third church, the German Congregational Church also started up in those times but fell by the wayside after a few years of existence.

Civic improvements in Herndon include a city owned electric generating plant and distribution system that began developing in 1909; city water and sanitary sewage installation (1935); natural gas (1940); village park (1940); dial telephones (1942); lighted ball diamond (1948); paved Main Street (1949) and cable television (1988).

Herndon's first school met in a sod building at the east edge of town. In 1888 a larger, two story wooden structure went up. It was replaced by a two story brick building in 1917. The present school building was dedicated April 15, 1951.

Over the years Herndon area residents have survived droughts, floods, crop failures, massive grasshopper invasions and other calamities. Some say Herndon is the little town that won,t die. And, they're right. There'll always be a Herndon, Kansas because of the survival instincts that our founding fathers passed on to us.

Frank J. Cox - August 1998

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Herndon, KS 67739

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September 18, 2001/ Jim Hoffman & Frank Cox / Herndon, Kansas / jhoffman@kweb.net

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