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Kansas Humanities Co. gives thumbs up to South Hoisington project
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Tracy Aris and Karen Neuforth field questions by audience members about the recently completed Kansas Humanities Council Heritage Grant project, South Hoisington: Stories from the other side of the tracks, Monday night. The presentation at the Barton County Historical Society Museum drew a crowd of more than 50, who shared many personal memories about interactions with people and places in the now razed town. - photo by VERONICA COONS, Great Bend Tribune

Murl Reidel, Director of Grants with the Kansas Humanities Council, felt the story of South Hoisington was a unique story that had not been heard before.  So, when the Barton County Historical Society applied for a Heritage Grant to collect and preserve the oral histories of former residents of the now razed town, he was excited to make that partnership possible.

Monday night, when members of the “South Hoisington project” presented their final report to an audience of over 50 members and visitors, he wasn’t disappointed.  
“It’s a fantastic story,” said Tracy Aris, Project Coordinator.  “Every time we delved in, there were new avenues to go down.”

As she wove the tale of the families, that moved to town from the oppressive south to find better paying railroad jobs, the railroad culture of the 1920s and beyond, she presented slides of historic photographs lent to the historical society, some of which were from private collections that were unique and one-of-a-kind images the society had had no access to up until the time researchers had begun the project.  

During the question and answer part of the presentation, many audience members related their personal experiences interacting with the people who once lived in South Hoisington.  While some may have sounded mundane, considering the time period in which they occurred, they were remarkable.  

That’s because the many of the residents of South Hoisington were marginalized blacks and Mexican and Mexican American.  They came to South Hoisington to work for the railroads, often making many times the regular wage earned in the deep south where they were from.  Some married members of families that were part of the Exoduster movement of freed slaves who came to Kansas to homestead.  

Many oral histories included stories of segregation by convention.  During the first half of the 20th century, while the schools of Hoisington and other Barton County towns were not segregated, there was the unspoken segregation and prejudice of the business community.  

While some stories highlighted the notorious “Big House,” a widely known establishment where gambling, illegal alcohol sales, and other debaucheries were known to occur, most of the stories instead focused on the things that made South Hoisington a community.  

Stories of going to school, playing baseball by the rail yards, the jobs people had, what they grew up to become, and how faith and their church played a major role were the main event.

The unincorporated South Hoisington, otherwise known as “South Town”, existed from the early 1900s up until the time it was completely demolished in the early 2000s.   After many of the houses had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair, it became the sight of illegal dumping, and an anonymous tip to state authorities led to the clean up.  Thus, the archeological remnants no longer exist, except for a few dirt streets, a few buildings, and the photos and memories that are being collected today.

“This project is especially important to Barton County because it is a story that is unique because it hasn’t been told before, but also because it happened here,” said BCHS Director Bev Komarek.  “If this story was told in the south, it would have a totally different connotation, as it would if it were told in Chicago.  But it happened here, in the middle of rural Kansas.  And it needed to be told now, before it was too late.”