When the Kansas Pacific Railroad tracks reached near here on Oct. 10,
1867, the history of Gorham began to unfold.
Gorham was not to be named or even established for more than a decade
later. There were only a few dugouts, the Indians, buffalo, wind, and a
handful of settlers. Not until April 1878, when Elijah Dodge Gorham
arrived from Illinois did Gorham take its place among the early towns
in Russell County.
On April 16, 1872, a group of Germans from Philadelphia and Lancaster,
Pennsylvania arrived here to form the nucleus of a community which
became Gorham in 1878-9. They joined the few pioneers who arrived with
the railroad in 1867. E. D. Gorham platted the town in 1879.
The group which arrived in 1872 had planned to settle in the Wilson
area, but a Bohemian colony had already been established there, and the
Wisconsin colonists had settled in Russell, so the group continued west
and selected the current site for establishing their community.
E. D. Gorham was joined by his wife and daughter, Daisy, about a year
after he arrived. They subsequently bore a son, Clifford Lytle, who
died when he was 6, and a daughter Mrs. W. T. Foster, who died in
E.D. Gorham opened a general store, the first business in Gorham. It
also held the first Post Office. The building burned in 1887, was
replaced by a frame building, followed in 1888 by a stone structure
where the hotel now stands. He also opened a grain elevator and a
lumber and coal yard.
A furniture store was in business where the present Gorham State Bank
is located, and there were several small buildings (one of which was a
storeroom with the Woodman Hall on the second floor). A post office
building was erected and later became a pool hall. There was a livery
stable and barn erected on the west side of town.
H. J. Reiff bough and rebuild the Woodman Hall, which he converted to a
general store and post office. Lee Porter and Wendolin Vonfeldt
purchased the business in 1945 and added a locker plant and meat sales
department, with apartments on the second floor.
E. D. Gorham sold his general store to George Schaffer and John Weidle,
who eventually sold it to Oral Black. Robert Mills and Frank Sperry
later bought the business, and they sold it to Gordon Brenner.
Gorham's only drug store was build in 1926 by Fred Anderson and his
brother, Dr. Anderson, who later moved his practice to Victoria.
The Gorham State Bank opened for business in a small stone building in
January 1906, with W. T. Foster as cashier, Harry Baxter as clerk, and
F. C. Ball, Albert Kunz, John Mills, and J. A. Mermis as directors. The
present bank building was built in 1926 and is west of a former grocery
store which was in the original bank building.
The two oldest houses in Gorham are the McRacken residence and the
Everett Fritts residence.
Two of Gorham's streets are named Joliet and Chicago, indicating the
Illinois influence. Clifford Street is named for E. D. Gorham's son,
who died when he was 6.
The first depot was a boxcar located on a siding. The first depot agent
was Capt. Eli Sperry, and the first section foreman was Peter O'Brien.
The first school was in a one-room dugout on Big Creek, and W. A.
Stevenson was the first teacher. The school term lasted 3 months, later
extended to 5. Later classes were held in the upstairs room of one of
Gorham's early stores. F. C. Ball constructed a small white schoolhouse
on the site of the now empty grade school.
Rural schoolhouses served the Protestants in the area for many years,
and services were conducted by Andrew McCracken and Rev. Nickels. In
1951, a Rush County school building was purchased by the women of the
Gorham Community Church and moved to the present church site. Rev. Dr.
Hans M. Poppe was the first pastor.
St. Mary's Catholic Church maintained a high school adjacent to the
church building for several years, beginning in 1922-3.
E. D. Gorham donated land to the Catholics of Gorham, and in 1894 the
cornerstone was laid for St. Mary's Catholic Church, with the first
mass on Christmas Day 1898. The church was served by a priest from
Herzog for several years, and Father Hoeller was the first resident
priest. The second story of the grade school served as a convent for
the nuns who taught there.
The first cemetery was located where the present high school building
stands, chartered in 1885 as the Prairie Lawn Cemetery. It contained 8
graves when on July 2, 1887, it was agreed to accept an offer by E. D.
Gorham to provide 4 acres west of town. The Catholic Cemetery north of
town was also donated by E. D. Gorham.
The first telephone service was started in 1878 by W. W. Cook, who ran
his wires along the tops of fences. The phone boxes were large and of
Swedish origin. Gorham was the first community in the county to provide
E. D. Gorham was described by the Kansas City Star as "the largest
landowner in western Kansas, and perhaps the richest man in that part
of the state". He had 1,000 acres under cultivation in 1890. At that
time, land in the Gorham area was selling for about $12 an acre.
Gorham, like other county towns, came into the boom years in 1923, when
oil was discovered near Fairport, south of Gorham. In 1927 oil was
found on the J. A. Mermis farm east of town. The boom lasted for
several years, but declined, and Gorham reverted to its earlier small
John Baumrusker Sr.; Will Ringeisen (Mrs. Ringeisen was the only woman
in the Pennsylania colony); Jacob Wahl Sr.; H.H. Pierce; Oron Jones;
George Foster; Clem Dodge; James Baxter; _ Rhodes; F. C. Ball; _
Walker; Charles Babcock; William E. Benso; Gottlieb Schwartz; Chris
Roth; James Black; Van Martin; John Lohn; J. H. Hoole; Frank Raidon;
Sam Stauffer; Thomas Fagan; Mrs. Hannah Smith; Roman Witt; George
Waudby; Will Waudby; Joe Waudby; John Ginther; George Ginther; Mary
Ginther; Nick Polcyn; Joe Polcyn; Frank Polcyn; John Billinger; Snyder
family; Otto Ruhling; William Higley; Mary Crawford; Clarence Crawford;
Mrs. Patten; Boney Patten; Jasper Patten; Mrs. McKibben; Silas Clay;
John Boler; Will Thomas; Lizzie Thomas; Groff Thomas; Pete Household;
Charley Holberg; George Chambers; John Duncan; George Baldwin;
"Jinglebones" Thomas; _ Sloan; _ Rouback; _ Mermis; _ Cook; _ Carson; _
Farnsworth; _ Dyer; _ Mills; _ Crowe; _ Weidle; _ Benmore; _ Lacy; _
Wilson; _ Smith; _ Weirback; _ Pond; _ Boyle; _ McRacken; _ Kunz; _
Furthmyer; _ Dortland; _ Donovan; _ Gruan; _ Humphrey