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What Is Prairie Center?

My husband and I came to the realization a couple of years ago that we are old souls. We like old things - music, furniture, books, history, people. We seem to fit better with that group and enjoy learning about the past. Even as a teen, I enjoyed sitting with my grandmother in her garage going through an old trunk looking at my great-grandmother's boots with all the tiny buttons, my great-grandfather's starched collars and cuffs for his dress shirts and farm records from the past, written in a perfectly inked cursive. She would tell me stories about traveling with her family as a child and stories about living at Prairie Center, Kansas both as a young women and later as a farmer's wife and mom.

If you travel north on Edgerton Road from our farm until the dead end and look straight ahead, you will see the former location of the town of Prairie Center. For now, the grass-covered prairie is dotted with small, evenly spaced buildings and grazing cattle. Soon, the same location will be the site of an industrial area which will include the new Panasonic plant. While there is not much to see today, once there was the land of a farming community called Prairie Center. A town where people worked the land, raised their families. Where children walked to school, where gossip was shared and Sunday visits occurred. Where young people met and fell in love, got married and started new families.

Painting of the old family farm at Prairie Center

My great x 3 grandparents, Jonathan and Irena Gordon, were early residents of this town, which was founded in 1860. It was inhabited mostly by farmers and had a town population that ranged from 35-50 according to some sources. It had many farms and a few businesses including a general store, a cider press, a creamery and a school. There were two churches - a Friends church and a Methodist church. For Jonathan and Irena, this town was the start of a new life after leaving their home in North Carolina. For my grandparents, it was where they first met - a pastor's daughter and a handsome farmer. It was where their first two children were born, the youngest of which is my mother, who was born just a few months before drastic changes came to this community. After passing farmland from one generation to the next, this part of the family story came to an abrupt halt in 1942.

Photo of my uncle at Prairie Center, around 1939-1940

In May of 1942, it was ordered that the land in and around Prairie Center was to be purchased by the government to be made into a munitions plant, the Sunflower Ordinance Works, to help with the efforts of World War II. These families were rapidly displaced into other communities, the churches were moved, livestock was sold and a flurry of activity changed the landscape of this area forever. I remember my family talking about how they had just a few months to find a new farm and move. For my grandparents, it led to a new exciting chapter in their life where they were able to buy their own farm land outside of Gardner and move into their own home to raise their family, separate from my great grandparents. This was also a difficult time. They spoke of milking cattle at Prairie Center in the morning and at the new farm at night. I can hardly imagine packing up and moving an entire farm! I'm sure it was a wild and stressful time and most likely filled with sadness as an entire community dispersed. It is difficult to imagine an entire town falling off the map that way.

My grandma's father was the pastor at the Friend's Church in Prairie Center. As things began changing in the community, the church building was moved to the corner of 143rd and Edgerton Road, then eventually to Gardner, forming the sanctuary portion of the newer building that still stands on the west edge of town. My Gordon great-grandparents purchased the land where the church now sits as their new home after the closing of Prairie Center. They lived on that property until their death in the 1950's.

By naming our business Prairie Center Meats, we give a nod to those who used to inhabit this little community, to our heritage. It seems that this portion of history continues to be overshadowed by the munition plant, but it is important to us to keep its story alive. While folks moved on, many of the relationships from the town continued, friendships remained. And stories and memories were shared with the next generations so that the town would not entirely disappear. Some of those life changes that occurred led to more life changes that impacted others for generations - including a young Lefmann boy from Captain's Creek who met a little Gordon girl at a function at the same Friends Church that once stood at Prairie Center. Those two kids ended up getting married in that same church years later, miles from where it used to be in a town that was no longer there. They had two children, one of which is me.

My grandfather with his Angus cattle at the new farm just west Gardner, near the Gardner airport

Prairie Center is my roots. It's the story of my family since the 1860's. And these are the roots we pass on to our children. Deep roots to our community and this area. Deep roots are what make us able to endure the winds of change, which comes no matter how much we want to remain where we are. Our roots hold us together, connect our stories throughout time. This is why we are Prairie Center Meats.

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