Sunday, October 20, 2013

Beaumont, Kansas: Railroad Town

A ghost town full of history

Beaumont's wooden water tower held
50,000 gallons of water!
Trains don't pass through Beaumont, Kansas, anymore. After it lost the trains, the little town died, bit by bit, and today, it is a genuine ghost town.  But in the days of steam engines, Beaumont was an important stop on the St. Louis, Wichita & Western Railway. Every train clanked and chuffed to a stop in front of the water tower. The steam engines' boilers had to be refilled, and Beaumont was the place to do it.

Beaumont was created by and for the railroad. The tracks were installed as far as Beaumont in about 1879. The train depot was the first building in town, followed by a general store. In 1880, a post office was established and the Summit Hotel was built. The water tower was built in 1885 (supplying water to the hotel as well as the trains,) and a roundhouse was built in 1890.

 A spur of the railroad ran from Beaumont south to Arkansas City ("Ark City") and into Oklahoma, and the main rail line ran from St. Louis to Wichita and westward.

If a locomotive needed service, it was moved into the Beaumont roundhouse, and a fresh locomotive was moved out and attached to the train. Up to 90 men worked at the roundhouse, servicing train engines and cars. Inside the roundhouse, the locomotives were parked on a giant turntable. The turntable moved the locomotives aside for work or storage and returned them to the tracks when it was time for them to leave.

Across the tracks from the roundhouse and depot, the Summit Hotel welcomed any travelers who needed a hot meal or a room for the night. The trains brought a lot of traffic to and through Beaumont. Homesteaders came west on the trains to settle in the area, and cattle from the Flint Hills were driven to Beaumont, loaded onto the train, and sent east. And there were many other travelers and freight going in both directions. The rails were modern transportation at its best.

The Beaumont Hotel today. I am not sure if the structure
still contains elements of the original Summit Hotel.
The hotel would be at far left in this photo, across the road
from the old store buildings, if I had been able to include it all.

Steam engines were used on the St Louis, Wichita & Western Railway through the early 1950s. In a curious overlap of transportation technology, the hotel added a grass airstrip during that same decade. A customer of the hotel liked to fly from Wichita to Beaumont in his small plane. It was dangerous for local drivers when he dropped out of the sky onto the road, so the airstrip kept everyone safe and happy. After he landed, he taxied into Beaumont, just like any other vehicle. (Keep in mind that Wichita, just 50 miles away, has been a manufacturing center for small planes for many years.)

My sister and I stopped at Beaumont and looked around last summer when we went out to Kansas last summer to visit my brother. These pictures are from that visit. (I admit that I'm "one of those tourists" who is always taking photos of the historic markers.)

Welcome to Beaumont
Story of the landing strip

Historic info about the tower
Hotel renovation in the 1990s

The water tower is listed on the
National Register of Historic Places.
Maybe the pipe was hooked to a
big hose to put water in the boilers?

I haven't come across any information about when the roundhouse ceased operation, but as a casual explorer, I saw no remaining trace of it. A hundred yards of train tracks still lie in front of the water tower, but the rail line was discontinued around 30 years ago.

The airstrip is still there, and the Beaumont Hotel holds a monthly "Fly-In" for small planes. They also hold monthly bike-ins for motorcyclists. They have a  formal dining room as well as the 50s-style cafe pictured below. And they have the great outdoors as well, so they can host all sorts of events. But I think staying at the hotel would be a nice get-away anytime. And if I ever do stay there, I hope the biggest event while I'm in Beaumont will be the tremendous peace and quiet we saw, felt, and enjoyed during this visit.

Tracks that go nowhere
Inside the hotel's restaurant

The Beaumont Hotel lobby has rustic wood furniture and accents.

Hotel boardwalk
The only ghost I saw.
Big shady lawn north of the hotel
Old store buildings
across from the hotel
I always hate to see
an abandoned church.
This handsome little building
may have been the post office.
More about Beaumont:

5 Feb 2014
Scott Shogren of Wichita, Kansas, shared this link to a 1905 map that shows the location of the Beaumont roundhouse. Thanks, Scott!

The map also shows the location of the hotel and the water tank so I'm able to orient myself from those. The roundhouse was located a couple of blocks east of the hotel, on the north side of the tracks. Livestock pens were located just west of the hotel also on the north side of the tracks.

Scott added, "I remember the Frisco trains. They really sped through that part tracks line."

1 comment:

Virginia Allain said...

I've always wanted to see Beaumont and eat at the restaurant. Next time I'm in KS, I must do this.

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