Dearborn, Edgerton, Camden Point adapting to changing times
BY MARTHA ZIRSCHKY
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
APRIL 26, 2016 12:00 PM, UPDATED APRIL 27, 2016 03:45 PM
“It is a family enterprise,” waitress Leah Mosby says about Harmer’s Cafe in Edgerton. She adds: “I’ve cooked and served here for 28 years.” Her customers include Bob Wright (center), who drove over from Camden Point for lunch. Says Wright: “I like the food and I like the people.” JOE LEDFORD JLEDFORD@KCSTAR.COM
They came from Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and other eastern locales, drawn by fertile land that promised a fine future for farmers and the businesses that supported agrarian life.
Camden Point, Dearborn and Edgerton in northern Platte County were settled soon after the Platte Purchase in 1836, long before the term “bedroom community” was in America’s lexicon.
The acquisition of Indian territory created six counties between the Missouri River and the original western border of the state. Settlers came by wagon and steamboat until bridges were built across rivers, transporting more new residents and expediting the means to get goods to and from the area.
For more than 100 years, each town was independent, with its own own churches and businesses. The generations made it through the Civil War and other rough years, and communities flourished.
Then the railroads bypassed the area in the early 20th century. Cars provided access to larger markets, and competition forced many small businesses to close.
But while they may not have thrived, the three communities soldiered on and became more intertwined as time passed. The TWA overhaul base, which employed 6,0000, was a main employer of residents of all three communities beginning in the 1960s, until American Airlines acquired TWA and moved the base to Tulsa.
Camden Point, Dearborn and Edgerton are joined by North Platte R-1, which has a student enrollment of 622 students. Beginning in the fall, children in kindergarten through second grade will attend school in Camden Point, grades three through five will attend in Edgerton, and those in grades six and up will go to Dearborn.
The arrangement serves to connect the communities, as well as provide a more comprehensive education.
Historian Lu Durham, 96, lives in the same home in Dearborn she was born in.
She says that the three communities have been spared the fate of becoming ghost towns because of their location, off Interstate 29, and tucked between Kansas City and St. Joseph.
“The rural environment and, in Dearborn, the broad streets attract people,” Durham said.
“I am happy to be where I am.”
The oldest incorporated town, Edgerton, received a huge boost in 1861 when the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad selected a site for a depot near the village.
The Civil War intervened, and it was 1871 before the Edgerton Land Company, owned by prominent Platte County resident James Nelson Bourne, filed a plat for a town and named it for Chicago railroad attorney Henry Edgerton.
Edgerton was incorporated in 1882 with a population of 145 people. In 1980, census records show a population of 584.
Staley Snook grew up on a farm outside Edgerton, and with the exception of some time in California when he was in the service, he has lived in the area all his life.
“The country is the only place to live when you have children,” said Snook, who raised children with his wife, Sally. “You can do what you want to do when you want to do it.”
He and his eight siblings all stayed in Platte or Clay County, and most of their children have as well. Snook, however, has a son who lives outside of Washington, D.C. “He lives in the asphalt jungle,” Snook said of his son, who works for the Supreme Court.
When he was young, in the ’30s and ’40s, Snook said, the family would go to Edgerton to shop on weekends. During the week there was school and always something to do at the farm, he said.
“We had two groceries,” he said. “The old drugstore had a jukebox on the balcony where we would dance. A movie was 12 cents (for children) and the garage mechanic ran the projector.”
There was an upholstery shop, a mercantile store and three churches. From 1973 to 1996, the Union Mill Opry outside Edgerton drew large crowds, and featured such entertainers as Loretta Lynn.
The railroad pulled out in 1936, and over the years, most of the merchants left, as well. Today, Edgerton has a bank, a beauty shop, a library and a local institution — Harmer’s Cafe.
“I bought the cafe from Ione Nelson in 1967,” Maxine Harmer said. “My husband farmed and I cooked.”
In 1988, the present-day Harmer’s was built, and in 1997 daughter Karen Belt bought it. She’s training a third generation, her daughter, to cook chicken, the Thursday special.
“It is a family enterprise,” said Leah Mosby, Maxine Harmer’s niece. She’s serving Bob Wright, a regular customer who drives from Camden Point regularly. “I’ve cooked and served here for 28 years.”
Snook reflects the sentiments of many when he says he’s optimistic about the future of the town.
“We’ve built seven new houses in the last two years and added a medical equipment business,” he said.
Platte County Parks and Recreation has helped the town build a Veterans’ Memorial and enhance an existing ball field and amphitheater, said Platte County Parks director Brian Nowotny.
Dearborn started as a seed planted by a man who never lived to see it sprout.
In 1858, Andrew Stagner bought land from his wife’s uncle. Andrew Stagner died after the purchase and his widow, Cynthia, and A.H. Burgess are credited as the founders of the town, which was incorporated in 1882 as Dearborn.
Before it was incorporated, it was known once as Lickskillet. It may have been named after Dearborn Street in Chicago, where a railroad official who worked the tracks in the Northland lived. “The History of Platte County, Missouri” (2006) suggested the town was named for Revolutionary War general and Secretary of War Henry Dearborn.
Dearborn became a mini-railroad hub in northwest Missouri as the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and the Interurban came through the town and the population grew.
“The Interurban ran a car each direction every hour,” said Durham. “I rode it.”
The Interurban ran from Kansas City to St. Joseph, stopping to pick up eggs, milk and other commodities, as well as passengers along the way. For $1.55 a person, she said, a person could take the two-hour ride, which reached 70 mph on flat terrain. A train left from each direction every hour. But the Interurban, which started in 1913, ceased operation in March 1933 as it was too expensive to operate.
“Trucks put it out of business,” Snook said, adding that the Great Depression was also a factor. “Trucks are more flexible in scheduling and pickup and delivery.”
Lynn Cassity, a fifth-generation resident of the Dearborn area, wrote and published a special centennial edition of the Dearborn Democrat on Aug. 26, 1982. The newspaper, available at the Dearborn Mid-Continent Public Library, gives an overview of the first 100 years of the town. Quoting from various sources, Cassity reported on the early businesses, such as the tomato canning factory built in 1894 for $5,500. Annual production was nearly 126,000 cans of tomatoes and 40,000 cans of pumpkin in 1896 at the plant, which is now closed.
The O.C. Hess flour mill built in 1889 in Dearborn burned in 1921.
In 1896, the Farmer’s Bank of Dearborn was advertised as “the strongest financial institution in Platte County with a fire-proof vault and a burglar-proof safe.” The building also incorporated the Dearborn Hotel, where management was sensitive to the “frailties” of women guests. So the ladies did not have to enter through the saloon. a ladies’ entrance was provided that is still there today, although the hotel is not.
In 1897, C.A Seward installed the first telephone exchange. Population grew from 77 in 1870 to 264 in 1970. In 2014, the population was an estimated 506.
The late Silas Durham, one of three doctors in the town in the early to mid-20th century, had an office on the ground floor of the bank building. A graduate of Tulane Medical School, he married a woman from Camden Point he met in college in Liberty and came to Dearborn to practice.
His daughter, Lu Durham, recalls that her father charged $3 for an office call and $100 to deliver a baby. Patients came to the house after office hours, she said, adding he used a hospital in St. Joseph.
Durham, who taught theater in Platte County and retired from Missouri Western University, recalls when the town had three groceries and a bakery.
“You could buy anything you wanted (in Dearborn).”
But the grocery stores, the doctors, the canning factory, the hotel and other former businesses are gone.
Today, Dearborn has a bank, a branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library, the central office, high school and middle school of the North Platte School District, three churches, and several small businesses.
For a brief time an antique mall existed. At the intersection of Interstate 29 and Route Z, a Trex gas station/convenience store has acclaim: It’s known for selling a Powerball ticket in 2012 that netted Camden Point residents Mark and Cindy Hill $136 million.
While many historic buildings punctuate the streets of Dearborn, residents now enjoy a new community center, built with the help of the Platte County Parks Department.
When Bob Bryan retired from the military more than 30 years ago he found what he wanted in Dearborn. Dearborn attracted him for several reasons: its size, the rural environment and, the decision maker, it had water and sewers. He and his wife have immersed themselves in the community activities. He serves as an alderman and Carol volunteers with the food bank.
Nigel Adkins, who moved to Dearborn in 1955, wants to capture the history of the town by establishing a museum. It is a goal shared by others, who do not want the past lost.
“I have photos, artifacts (from the three towns),” Adkins said. “We need a museum, but it requires funding.”
Camden Point, the town of the three that is closest to Kansas City, was founded by William Kincaid in 1848. The teacher first named the town Camden — but it was soon discovered that the name was already taken in Missouri, so the word “Point” was added.
The Camden Point Mid-Continent Public Library — the town’s “downtown,” says one librarian with a laugh — has books documenting such history.
Incorporated in 1887 with fewer than 177 people, the population was estimated to be 522 in 2014.
Like other communities in Platte County, the early settlers had Southern leanings and were friendly to the Confederate troops.
When the Yankees came through Camden Point from Weston and Platte City in 1864 and found Confederate soldiers picnicking with the residents, a battle ensued. Six rebels were killed and many of the buildings were torched. Those rebel soldiers are buried in Pleasant Grove Cemetery on the outskirts of the town.
According to records compiled by Lynn Cassity of Dearborn, Kincaid wanted the town to be known for its schools, and donated $200 for the establishment of a female academy. The academy was described in the August 1855 issue of the Leavenworth, Kan., Weekly Herald as housed in a “large and elegant” building capable of accommodating 125 boarders.
The academy became co-educational and survived the Civil War and the fire that ravaged the town. It was often subjected to visits by federal troops who frequently bivouacked on the campus.
Three years after the war, Cassity wrote, the school was sold to the Christian Church of Missouri, which turned it into a school for local children and orphans. The building burned in 1889, and the church rebuilt a school for orphans in Fulton (now William Woods University), and withdrew any aid for a school in Camden Point.
“My grandmother in Camden Point was upset that I chose to go to William Woods for two years,” said Lu Durham of Dearborn. “Grandmother said the money went to William Woods and killed the Camden Point school.”
A public school opened in 1920 and graduated its last high school class in 1951 after the unification of the area schools.
Today, I-29 provides an easy commute to Kansas City and St. Joseph.
“We are five minutes from I-29 and 15 from the airport,” said Gloria Boyer, who moved to Camden Point in 1983 when her husband was transferred to Kansas City. The couple found everything they wanted in Camden Point: a small rural community, good schools and “neighbors we can depend on.”
While Camden Point has lost businesses like a grocery store and a car dealership, today is has a greenhouse, a post office, the library and a beauty shop. Boyer has served as an alderwoman and mayor and is Platte County recorder.
Mark and Nancy Wagoner agree with Boyer.
The Wagoners have lived in Camden Point 52 years, and Nancy operates the greenhouse on a seasonal basis.
“We are proud of our little town,” she said. “I knew everyone at one time, but we are a bedroom community now.”
New houses have been constructed, and with the influx of people, amenities have been added to the town.
With a grant from the Plate County Parks Department and help from local residents Camden Point has added a park with a pavilion that is used during the town’s annual Freedom Festival. The event, which includes a parade, is held annually the Saturday before July 4.
The town is improving every year, said Bob Wright, former fire chief of the Camden Point Fire Protection District.
High on his list: a new fire station is almost finished, funded by Mark and Cindy Hill, who won millions in a Powerball jackpot in 2012.
Walt Stubbs, who has been chief of the Camden Point Fire Protection District, says Mark Hill has a good reason for funding the firehouse, which will feature additional space for training, as well as a full-time ambulance.
Firefighters saved the life of Hill’s father.
“Hill has a very strong feeling for Camden Point.”
It’s a feeling shared by many.
Wright is a fourth-generation resident of Camden Point, and although his two sons do not live in the community, he credits growing up in the small town for their success in life.
“There is nothing like knowing all the people who helped you grow up, to have that experience,” he said. “You acquire their values. We get together and help (each other) when needed.”
▪ A claim to fame: Actor Jim Davis (born Marlin Davis), who played many roles including Jock Ewing on “Dallas,” was born in Edgerton
▪ The O.C. Hess flour mill in Dearborn was built in 1889 burned in 1921. At one time it was given credit for supplying flour to Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, and that’s possible. A newspaperman in St. Joseph, Chris Rutt, and Charles Underwood owned the St. Joseph Pearl Milling Company and created the recipe.
▪ Mark and Cindy Hill won half of one of the largest Powerball jackpots ever. They built a home in Camden Point, gave $50,000 to the sewer plant and $3 million for a fire station.