Approaching our town on US Highway 54, it was easy to spot the sign. Big block letters announced “AUGUSTA” and the next line said “City of 5,000 Friends.” Even as grade school kids, we thought the Chamber of Commerce had lost their marbles on that one. There is no doubt, though, that it was a great place to grow up after World War II and into the 1950’s. It was pretty much a Leave It to Beaver existence. I know that a lot of people write about the place they grew up in and the stories are sometimes sweet enough to give you diabetes. It’s true, though, that a lot of the stories tell of times that were so much different from today that they should be passed on.
The sign I mentioned earlier was probably fabricated and painted by Johnny Bourget. He was our local sign painter. A very creative and talented man, he could create a sign for anything. John was also kept busy by the shopkeepers, painting shop windows with sale prices and holiday decorations. That window stuff was all painted backwards and done with amazing skill. And he was never too busy to give a kid a smile and an explanation of what he was doing.
The most important thing about a town, of course, is its people. I’ve written about some of them. I started writing short little stories a few years ago in hopes of entertaining my kids and grandkids. There are about 200 stories now that I have posted on my blog: crittersandcats.com. After you get on my website, scroll down a little, and you will find categories. They are: Birds, Cats, Horses, Kids, Life, Small Town, etc. Small Town is the category that contains most of the stories that take place in Augusta, though there are a few stories under other headings that would apply.
The town is located in south central Kansas, about 45 miles from the Oklahoma state line to the south. The town is 15 miles east of Wichita where the land is pretty flat. You have to go another 20 or 30 miles east of Augusta before you get to the beginnings of the Flint Hills.
The town is also located between two rivers, the Whitewater on the west, and the Walnut on the east. There was said to be an Indian encampment or village on the banks of the Walnut, just a few hundred yards from where the south end of State Street is located now. I don’t know how many hours Jack Watson and I spent looking for arrowheads and artifacts there. The Lietzkes owned the first property south of the old steel bridge and Ross Lietzke told me that he had found arrowheads after plowing.
The first home in town, a log cabin, was erected in 1868 by C.N. James. He and his wife, Augusta, also operated a general store and post office on the premises. You may have noticed that James named the town after his wife.
The log cabin is still standing in the 300 block of State Street. The house now serves as Augusta’s Historical Museum. I first visited the museum when I was of grade school age. My great uncle, Dave Peebler, took me there. Uncle Dave had donated some items to the museum and wanted me to see them and the other exhibits. In recent years, the ladies who serve as directors and the Museum Board have kept the place fresh and relevant.
It gives me pleasure to think that some of my family members may have been among the earliest visitors to Augusta and the C.N. James General Store/Post Office. My Great Great Grandparents had been farming near Junction City, Kansas, but decided it was time for a change. They loaded all their belongings into a wagon, gathered up their sons, hitched up the team, and headed south. Their journey ended in Butler County where they homesteaded in Little Walnut Township, just southeast of Augusta. On February 16th, 1871, David and Susan’s daughter was born there in Little Walnut Township. They named her Minnie Belle, and she became my great-grandmother, Minnie Belle (Church) Peebler.
Going downtown was always fun. Besides all the neat stuff to look at, I knew the people in almost every store, and they knew me. I like to keep these stories short, so I’m going to end this one for now, but in future parts, I will take a mental walk down State Street and will describe the people and stories I visit on the way.