Neosho Falls – A Town One Might Only Imagine

We were headed into Southern Kansas, seventy-five miles per hour across what seemed to be an endless stretch of flat and empty highway, eventually carrying us into a very unusual town. Uniquely intriguing could possibly be the best pair of words to describe this place. The town was like something you might imagine seeing only in movies – something that many may believe still exists only within imagination – a wonderfully weird ghost town, left practically empty, but still held together by some of the most interesting characters who continue to paint the picture of its remaining life. Of course it was decided that we would walk its dusty dirt roads, examining the neighborhood, which would most likely lead us into an unforgettable experience. Who says you can’t have a little bit of fun in the decrepit countryside of Kansas?

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Outside of a normal route, down a stretch of dirt road, lies the very strange town of Neosho Falls – not to be confused with Neosho County, which is what a few kind locals will bring heavily to your attention when engaged in conversation. If you have an adventurous spirit, or a burning desire to challenge the smoking guns and ruthless attitudes that a few of this town’s rougher residents carry with them, it may be just the place for you – otherwise I would suggest leaving this untamed madness in the shadows.

Stepping into this quiet old town was like unlocking a hidden passageway, opening directly into the heart of a dusty old story book, and falling further in, you become more and more immersed, as imagination truly becomes reality. Eventually, I realized that what I was wandering was, in fact, a very real forgotten place. It’s a mostly lost place, a near-ghost town, a practically forgotten village. It’s that kind of town where, during the beginning of spring time, when someone starts their lawnmower for the first time, every single person knows it.

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The city of Neosho Falls was established on April 6, 1857 by Benjamin F. Goss, alongside his brother Colonel National S. Goss and Isaac W. Dow. Benjamin F. Goss would later come to organize a company of cavalry to fight for the union in the American Civil War. Neosho Falls is actually the oldest town in Woodson County, with the first post office being established May of 1857 – exactly 158 years prior to this writing.

1879 – Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife visit the Neosho Valley fair. During this same year, Neosho falls reached its peak population of right over 1,200 residents, but would continue to fall with the passing of each following decade. At this time, the town boasted numerous lively retail businesses, two banks, as well as manufacturing facilities full of life and energy, producing goods mainly for the town, but many surrounding areas as well. Flour mills, sawmills and more filled the many spaces of this countryside town, and everything ran like clockwork, if only for a short period of time. The Woodson County Post newspaper was still in heavy circulation, and I could only imagine how daily life was for this lively, small town, as a paper boy rode up and down each block delivering news to all of the happy, close-knit, rural families.

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During the first half of the 20th century, the town would come to see numerous negative impacts, eventually leading to the early abandonment of many factories and mills. Electricity replaced water power and there was simply no longer a need for certain structures, becoming tossed aside and forgotten, leaving them to fall away into dust. A hydroelectric plant was built in an attempt to keep up with the growing technology, but was short-lived and very quickly abandoned. It’s rare to find a place that fell so quickly downhill ‘in such early years of its life, and it was not long after the town began to go under that it would literally “go under.” In 1926, Neosho would see its first flood, submerging the town, putting it entirely under water. This disaster resulted in one death and an immense amount of damage to the town, with nothing but years of steady decline to follow.

Very soon after their first flood, Neosho’s remaining population bid farewell to the roaring 20’s, welcoming the 1930s, bringing with it a decade full of heartache, headaches and struggles known as the Great Depression. Once the depression hit full force, this could only mean more rough times to come for Neosho Falls. The town soon lost their only newspaper, along with the only bank still standing. The Santa Fe Railroad pulled out in 1935, however they were still left with the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railway – which Neosho was home to. More oil was discovered in 1937 and an attempt to rebuild was made, but effort was all for naught when most everybody came to the realization that there was just no use attempting to revive this town to the life it once enjoyed. Fast forward a bit and we find ourselves welcoming the 1950’s. It was during the beginning of this decade, that a second devastating flood hit the town in 1951, washing away and destroying most of the town. Due to such a great drop in population, the high school closed its doors in 1961, shortly followed by closure of the town’s grade school in 1969.

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In Kansas, there’s a whole lot of nothing but fast highways and open countryside. No cell service for miles, no internet and very few gas stations, so you had better come prepared when driving many of these long stretches of road. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my drive through this wide open state, it’s that you should fill your gas tank at any chance given – and not only that you should, but that you will most likely NEED to.

With a population of only 141 residents tucked away in the quiet countryside, it’s no surprise that there are absolutely no satellite connections here. Emergency resources are scarce to none in Neosho. Hell, the town only has a single sheriff, whom actually doesn’t even reside inside the town, rarely even paying small visits to check in on how things are going. Police and fire emergency vehicles of any sort have been cut from this land, and even the former gas station hasn’t seen a customer in years. More recently, the only remaining business in town – the Oasis Tavern, has shuttered its doors, boarded its windows and closed indefinitely. On Friday nights, everyone goes out for country drives in their trucks under the warm spring and summer air, having fun and immersing themselves into the outdoors under bright blue glow of moonlight. Living amidst the light pollution of cities, it seems unreal to me how bright the moon actually illuminates everything in a place like this. I could feel the old country charm growing with each block that I walked. Outside one home in particular, a sign read “no visitors after 8:00 pm Sunday thru Thursday!” This simple sign reminds me of a time when things were simpler, those summer days when children rode their bikes from block to block, and meeting with their friends; peaceful nostalgia – though I will note that we did not have dirt roads where I grew up.

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The town seemed to have had its fortune flipped upside down so greatly, I felt at any moment my feet could leave the ground, sending me falling into the sky. This place is definitely incomparable to any I have wandered before. It’s like life here has been stuck in time for the last 70 years. Dirt roads kick up clouds of dust with each passing pickup, and only a couple of crooked street lights illuminate the town, buzzing as they turn on, welcoming nightfall with their peaceful amber glow. Every dog roams free, joining each other in yards to run and play without worry of any traffic for miles. Oh – and everybody owns a dog – it becomes practically a madhouse of barking for multiple moments throughout the day. I made my way up and down numerous lonesome dirt roads, kicking up small stones at my feet as I walked. I could feel people staring at me like I had done something horribly wrong, or upset some kind of fragile balance; this wasn’t really the case – so much as it was that the people were surprised to see any kind of outsider wandering their quiet countryside town. I could tell that within just a few short moments, everybody was aware of my presence, knowing fully that I didn’t belong. Even the dogs gave me a bit of an evil eye. It wasn’t long after I had done a bit of meandering that I was approached by a man toting his guns and superiority, boasting an ego so large that it could pinch out the sun like it was a small ember. Now, don’t get me wrong – I agree with every point he made to me, other than the part where I was threatened with the possibility of being shot; I mean, is that really necessary?

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The thing is, when photographing places such as this, I’m often asked why I find such a heavy interest. As I mentioned, having been threatened with the possibility of being shot at, with not so much as one single police officer in the entire town, there has to be a reason I continued to photograph and document. I’ve said it over and over again, but the bigger picture continues to grow with the infinite amount of small details forever being added, varying from location to location. I love to find a less-noticed beauty in the blight of these places, at times creating a sight of despondence during past lives, when all hope was finally given up – everything left behind. Not only do I find this beauty in the forgotten, but through resurrecting the lost stories of happy lives, or even uncovering an interesting history. If you could put a key to the stormy sky, and open up the clouds, you would be greeted with a bright blue wonder – behind darkness always follows light.

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The future of Neosho Falls is uncertain, and I’m unsure where the town’s life will head, but some of the original families do still remain, holding their ground until the day they finally move on – like a collective of captains going down with their ship.

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41 thoughts on “Neosho Falls – A Town One Might Only Imagine

  1. I’ve been following your Ohio-Oregon photos on FB. Glad to see you get a blog post up about one of your stops. Great photos and writing about this place. Looking forward to more…but watch out for people waving shotguns. 🙂

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    1. I definitely always try to watch out for that! I will be posting even more. Most of it will probably be towards the end of this journey. Between venturing/writing/research/photo/editing there is just no time to get everything sorted and up like I thought there would be, but it will all come together in the end to create a perfect collection and somewhat travel guide for things that I believe many should see out across the country!

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  2. Absolutely fascinating!! Love your photographs and definitely a wonderful writer. I always go back and look at each photo after I read your story…thank you so much for sharing.. 🙂

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  3. I know EXACTLY where Neosho Falls KS is. My MoM grew up just around the corner from there, in LeRoy KS 😊. This article really touched my heart. I have been to Neosha Falls KS and even drank a beer in the old bar there. I enjoy your photos and stories, Thank You for doing what you do 💗

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  4. I, too, have been to Neosho Falls but it was many years ago. My mother grew up there and I remember visiting her aunt who showed me in her house where the water had come in the 1951 flood. This was in the ’60s and the town still had a post office but not much more. Thanks for all your photos.

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  5. Wow. That is all I have. You had me at “75 mph.” When the road is 55. If you were coming into town like that, you likely set the tone for how people looked at you.

    “No satellite, internet, or gas” within miles? There are 3 gas stations within 6 miles and double digits worth of stations within 20 miles. And while you were TRESPASSING (obvious from the No Trespassing signs all around) in the old school, you should have taken a picture of the CenturyLink building behind you. Yup, that’s right folks. This ghost town has some of the best Internet in the area.

    No, we don’t have a sheriff or police station, but there was a volunteer fire department directly in front of the old school, next door to the post office. Oh, and the gun-toting ego – maniac? Well, that’s likely the mayor (we have a mayor?!) responding to people calling him about someone lurking around city property. However, that is the closest description to being correct. He really is like that, but also the first guy to pull up and jump your car, loan you gas, or change your tire. You see, “outsiders” have a tendency to tear things up, leave trash, and really just be obnoxious guests. We care for our town and don’t appreciate the mistreatment and the “I’m better than this” attitude that so-called sightseers often have.

    There is also 2 multi-million dollar oil businesses and several farming families. Like the white, 2 – story house you took a picture of… the old Compton house where someone lived into the 90’s. The abandoned bar? The owner passed away and like any such estate matters, could not be opened because of a 6-month hold and purchasing afterwards. I had a few beers there and a crock pot lunch just the other day.

    I really get tired of this “ghost town” phenomenon. We are a town. We have parks, SEVERAL street lights, and several brand new homes. More brand new trucks, semis, and tractors go down that road so often, it’s the reason the road is paved into the town. So please, don’t leave this prattle to excite people and make them feel like they should come here. They will be severely disappointed. And we hate it when people park on the bridge to take pictures.

    Sincerely,
    A Lifelong Resident (with a Bachelor’s of Science degree!!!! Crazy!!!)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for sticking up for the town, Ghost. I grew up there and you are spot on about their internet service. I currently live a couple miles outside of Manhattan and have worse internet than Neosho Falls does. Most of my family still live there. I’m the sister/niece of the owners of one of those oil companies you mentioned. I feel this photojournal should have taken and shared pictures of the residences that are well-maintained and the old gas station, which isn’t in terrible shape. Though, I will give the blogger props on being fairly accurate in their piece about the dogs. Though, if he’d interviewed any of the residents he would have discovered the reason for all the dogs is that people drive there to dump off unwanted dogs and the residents oftentimes take them in out of the kindness of their hearts. Thanks for standing up for my hometown. Growing up here was a little like growing up in Mayberry, something that can’t be found today.

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  6. I wish that you realized how offensive this article is. You know nothing about Neosho Falls nor the residents. I’m 20 years old and love every last inch of that town. My parents brought me home to the house my dad still lives in. I’m working so hard to find a home to buy or plot to build on because I couldn’t imagine a better place to raise my future family. You can’t walk up on someone’s property and think you won’t get some sort of threat. That isn’t just within this “ghost town”. You would get that anywhere in southeast Kansas. It also isn’t some trashy town that you portray it to be. You missed the new homes that have been built within the last few years. You missed the dam and the sunset over the water. You missed the many bald eagles that rest in the trees along the river. You say you captured the beauty, but you really missed it. You just hit the parts to make people think our town could stage a horror film. This town is so wonderful that I have never once brought my keys inside. They stay in my ignition always and my purse does often. No one has ever touched it. Most of my family resides in this town because they have made a great life for themselves through oil and other things. There are people within those city limits that have reached and exceeded goals you could never have imagined. This town is my whole life and heart. So I thank the guy who approached you with a gun. He made me feel safer and know that my fellow “ghost towners” have each others back. Also, don’t be so dramatic. You wouldn’t have been hurt by a single soul in that town and you have only ran out of gas if you did it on purpose. There’s a town almost every 10 miles with some 30 miles stretches. Next time you attempt to write about a town you nothing about, don’t. It’s offensive and you couldn’t have been more wrong about this town.

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  7. Ha Ha Ha. What a piece of fiction, yes indeed, the author used his imagination! What, no mention or photos of the senior center, community center, post office, fire barns, church, city office, modern homes and buildings, etc? My favorites, the Neosho River , Riverside Park, and West Gravel Pit (which is actually a fair sized lake great for fishing) weren’t worth a few photographs either? Oh, right, let not the truth get in the way of imagining. Thanks for my morning laugh.
    P.S. 75 mph down a gravel (dirt?) road. Really? Still laughing about that one. I prefer the paved road, but to each his own.

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  8. My mom grew up in Neosho Falls, and we kids would go there to visit our grandparents several times a year. My mom tells many stories about the town–and most of them are pretty hairy!

    I actually wrote a song based on some of her stories, and filmed it on site in Neosho Falls early last year. You can watch it here if you are interested: http://youtu.be/5fzEGewoNUQ

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    1. Deborah, I LOVE it. My parents moved to Neosho when I was 6. I attended Punkin Kolig 2-miles east of town through 8th grade. The locals paid to keep school open until I graduated 8th grade. There were three of us in school: two 5th grade boys and me. We’d drive a team into town to weigh and dump a load of wheat…. I was 8 summer 1951 flood wiped us out–Billy Metezer(sp?) brought motor boat over tasseled corn to rescue us taking two boat trips. First my sister and me, then parents and brother and dog Lucky. We had to duck to go under electric and phone lines.
      Your song is wonderful….any way I may show this to my retirement community in Oberlin, Ohio? As a book publisher, it is imperative to honor copyrights.

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    2. Not all of the ‘stories” of this song are FACTS.
      The man who was MURDERED by his wife was my Uncle Jerry. I remember that day very well. He was not the man depicted in your story.
      She shot him in cold blood as he layed sleeping in bed. It was not in self-defense.
      What many don’t remember is she had taken a $250,000 life insurance policy out on him just weeks before murdering him- without his knowledge, forged his signature and had her as the sole beneficiary. She never saw a dime of it.

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  9. This little town runs in my blood and it makes my heart happy to see these pictures and read your words. My great grandparents lived just a few miles from town and we have the George family reunion at the campgrounds across the bridge every year as well as a Memorial Day get together at the community building attached to the post office. Us kids would always play in the school building at the Memorial Day dinner until it was no longer structurally safe. This town will always hold a very special place in my heart. Both my great grandparents funerals were held at the church there. Now that my own children are old enough I bring them to play at the campgrounds and river when we can. Family reunion will always be some of my best childhood memories; running all over the campgrounds and all of the cousins going to the river to fish and swim if it was low enough. THANK YOU for bringing those back, they’ve been a bit distant since my uncle and cousin passed who are the ones that I have the most memories with there, you’ve reminded me to remember the good times and not get stuck on the loss!

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  10. I spent many summers in Neosho Falls. My dad lived there until not that long ago. Drank Mountain Dew and doctor pepper in that tavern. I have some good memories of riding the little 50cc dirt bike my dad got me. I even spent a year living there when I was in 8th grade. You see my family is from that entire area. They are all wonderful people. Thank you for all the beautiful pictures! I was just there last summer and will be there again visiting and showing my kids how I spent summers.

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  11. This little town runs in my blood and it makes my heart happy to see these pictures and read your words. My great grandparents lived just a few miles from town and we have the George family reunion at the campgrounds across the bridge every year as well as a Memorial Day get together at the community building attached to the post office. Us kids would always play in the school building at the Memorial Day dinner until it was no longer structurally safe. This town will always hold a very special place in my heart. Both my great grandparents funerals were held at the church there. Now that my own children are old enough I bring them to play at the campgrounds and river when we can. Family reunion will always be some of my best childhood memories; running all over the campgrounds and all of the cousins going to the river to fish and swim if it was low enough. THANK YOU for bringing those back, they’ve been a bit distant since my uncle and cousin passed who are the ones that I have the most memories with there, you’ve reminded me to remember the good times and not get stuck on the loss! The big 2 story White House that you took a picture of that everyone calls the Compton house, I’m pretty positive that’s a family home on my great grandma’s side as she was a Compton before she married and became a George.

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  12. It seems you have not taken many of the side roads off the interstate or you would realize there are many beautiful places of interest in our flatland state including the miniature canyon at the State Lake north of Scott City and the pyramid rocks further north of that location. The Flint hills are beautiful in the spring as are many other areas of Kansas. You just need to know where to go to enjoy all the beauty. Remember, not all wild life carry a gun. There is a wealth of beautiful birds including our National Bird as well as wild animals that one can see if they only take time to see what our state is all about. Just because it is legal to carry a firearm does not mean you will be shot…we are very friendly people and will wave eventhough you might not return the gesture. Just ask a native Kansan what is so great about Kansas. It isn’t the government but it is the people and we will share all the places you should visit.

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  13. I live shortly 30-45 min from the falls. Surprisingly I have to ask why did you not go to the river? Why were you so fixated on photographing these houses & buildings, which are beautiful. No one truly grasps what I believe Kansas is about. I bet you cannot come of a reason even though you experienced it first hand. Kansas has lots of little hidden treasures ive photographed lots of them myself. But I still ask everyone why now, is it the trend of what you call ‘ghost towns’ that struck your fancy to explore because I believe I’d you keep following the trend you’ll be an apple surrounded by apples but why not be an orange in a world full of apples. If you come from the city and merely come to do a shoot you will only leave with a forgotten glympse through a lens. Why not stay & get to know everything, Yes everything. How the winds feels, how happy the sun feels shining on you in the middle of a field, what stories are written in the stars, or what it truly feels like to get out of technology & back to something much simpler yet more rewarding & satisfying then a few pictures and an article that will collect dust and be forgotten just like the falls.

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  14. Love the article as I actually live about 1 miles from Neosho Falls. Most of all I love your photos! A few years ago I did a photo shoot of Allen County towns and it is the hidden places I find most interesting, the obscure things most people walk right over. I am jealous you have the time and interest to photograph and write about your travels. Good Luck on your journeys. Keep them coming.

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  15. I am not sure about your article. I do know that who ever took the pictures from the inside of the school, did so without permission. The faster the no trespassing signs go up, the faster they come down. Anyone with a lick of sense should know better than enter that building.

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  16. Grew up on the Neosho Falls road, half mile from 75 highway. Lots of memories of the town, and the entire area. Kansas has so much beauty, fascinating architecture, friendly folks steeped in our history, and has so much more to offer than a fly-over state! Sunrises and sunsets to equal the Bahamas, wildlife in abundance, hunting and fishing that breaks state records, and a peacefulness and depth of character not found anywhere else. Kansas born and bred and proud of it! Now a Manhattan resident with a BS from K-State and proud of our purple spirit! Towns like Neosho Falls, Vernon, Burt, Gridley, Hamilton, Cassody, and hundreds more are what makes our state great. The spirit of Kansas has been dimmed but not extinguished by our politics during the last few years. We have had our difficulties; we are still headed for the stars.

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  17. I love this kind of story. There is life there, you can see it. Physically People have passed on, moved on but, You can feel it. I study genealogy and that means I study time, people, places, jobs, etc. I go thru census records to find out who used to live there and how the towns began, sometimes, how they became abandoned. I can’t travel to these peaceful old places, but I sure appreciate when someone does and shares it with me.

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  18. I drove thru today and spent 20-30 minutes at the school. I didn’t see any no trespassing signs or signage of any kind. Far from a ghost town Main Street was fairly busy and many drivers waved. Several people were fishing & floating in the river, dogs & cats were seen but all was quiet. Couldn’t get cell service, and didn’t notice a tavern, but wasn’t really looking. Neosho Falls has a kind of sleepy charm, yeah there are some crumbling buildings, but I’ve seen so many small towns in much worse shape.

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  19. Lol this is interesting, I was born and Raised in Iola Kansas about 10 miles away from Neosho falls. The River Abe campsite right on the edge of that town are quite a local hangout. I spent alot of my teen years hanging out in Neoaho falls.

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