Remembering De Graff

Chad Frey
De Graff Community Church reflects a vernacular interpretation of the Gothic Revival style executed in wood materials - also commonly referred to as Carpenter Gothic, a style popular in the late 19th century, particularly in the designs of rural churches.
De Graff Community Church will use a historic preservation grant to repair flooring in the church constructed in 1902.
De Graff Community Church, near Burns, is one of the last remaining buildings from the town of De Graff. The church was awarded a historic preservation grant this week.

Just north of Walters Pumpkin Patch sit an old church, the last vestiges of a town called De Graff. Now called the De Graff Community Church, the classic country church carries a Burns address of 1145 N.W. 108th. 

Constructed in 1902 as First Presbyterian Church of De Graff, about 50 people call the church their own. And it has grown over the course of the last year — despite COVID-19. 

"It has been a fantastic time," said minister Kurt Spivey, who has led the church since January of 2020. "The church has grown, even with the virus." 

This week some good news came for the church — Gov. Laura Kelly announced the Historic Sites Board of Review awarded $1,168,492 for 15 historic preservation projects across the state as part of the 2021 round of Heritage Trust Fund grants. In that award is $62,990 for the historic church. 

The congregation applied for funds to repair the church foundation, install new flooring and possibly put in a bathroom. 

"We wanted to put an indoor bathroom in, because we do not have one," Spivey said. "... To have all the work done, it will be more than $100,000."

The grant, he said, will likely pay for foundation improvements and new flooring. What he called the "main issues."

The bathrooms? There is an outhouse on site — and the congregation has been fundraising for a while to drill a well and install running water. That original outhouse is considered a "contributing building" to the church's listing on the National Register of Historic Places. 

"We have been trying to fix it up," Spivey said.  "Three years ago we got a grant to put a new roof on the building, which we have done. We did some dirt work on the outside of the building to get water away from the foundation. ... We need to get a water well and sewer."

According to an application to the National Park Service to place the church on the National Historic Registry, the church is one of the few remaining buildings (and only church) that made up the once-thriving small town of De Graff, which once supported a booming livestock and agricultural community within the surrounding Lincoln Township. De Graff was a station on the Florence & Arkansas City division of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (ATSF) railroad. During its years of peak productivity in the early 20th century, the town consisted of a money order post office, express and telegraph service, a Presbyterian Church, telephone connections, a hotel, mercantile trade, lumber yard, railroad depot and rail head for cattle, restaurants, and a blacksmith. Today there are fewer than 40 residents in De Graff, several of whom are descendants of the early founders. 

According to an 1885 plat map and the book "History of Butler County, Kansas," cattleman A. C. Ramsey and his company Buckeye Land and Cattle Company purchased much of the vacant land around the FE & WV railroad in Lincoln Township in the 1870s and 1880s. Ramsey was instrumental In establishing the town of De Graff, along with Alden Speare, president of the De Graff Town Company, and others. Ramsey also was instrumental in locating a depot at De Graff along with stockyards to accommodate his and other businesses.

"I took an interest in De Graff and what it was all about. It was one of the largest cattle drives there," Spivey said. 

The railroad line was abandoned in 1942, the De Graff post office closed the same year. 

"They really lived on the railroad," Spivey said. 

The congregation traces its roots to a group that organized a church in 1902 at Ridgeway School, approximately one mile south of De Graff. Today, this area is marked by the Ridgeway Cemetery on the west side of US-77 highway at N.W. 90th Street. Ridgeway School was established in 1871, mariy years prior to the founding of De Graff. The school was southwest of present-day De Graff at the NW corner of Section 23, Township 24S, Range 5E. A one-room schoolhouse served the district until 1924.

In November 1903, the Rev. George Clymer and the Rev. E. E. Elcock of Emporia hosted a revival to attract members to the fledgling church. Reverend F. P. DeBolt later became the first resident pastor. The church hosted regular activities until August 1990 when it was vandalized — furniture was overturned, Sunday school materials were destroyed, and paint was spilled on the carpet.

On Oct. 6, 2002, De Graff Presbyterian Church celebrated its 100th anniversary — and officially closed. In April of 2009, De Graff Community Church was rededicated and reopened with 135 members. 

The building is wood-framed and rests on a limestone foundation made of locally quarried and processed stone.

According to the historic register application, the church reflects an interpretation of the Gothic Revival style executed in wood materials — also commonly referred to as Carpenter Gothic a style popular in the late 19th century, particularly in the designs of rural churches.

"It is a beautiful old church, it is an old, white country church — the kind you see in pictures," Spivey said.  

HTF grants like the one awarded this week reimburse expenses for projects that preserve or restore qualifying historic properties. The funded projects for 2021 represent a collection of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and/or the Register of Historic Kansas Places. All awards are contingent upon available funding. 

“I’m pleased that so many preservation projects will receive grant funding this year, which will ensure historic properties across the state can get the upkeep and treatment they need,” Kelly said. “Kansas has a unique and rich history, and with these awards, we can continue to celebrate and learn about that history for generations to come."

The board approved these projects listed by county: 

• Butler: First Presbyterian Church of DeGraff, $62,990 

• Chase: Strong City Opera House, $90,000 

• Clark: Hodson Hotel/Hardesty House, $57,600 

• Douglas: First Methodist Episcopal Church, $90,000 

• Greenwood: Eureka Memorial Hall, $87,168 

• Hamilton: Northrup Theater, $90,000 

• Harvey: Newton Carnegie Library, $29,734 

• Jefferson: Newell-Johnson-Searle House Outbuilding, $82,900 

• Johnson: Olathe Memorial Cemetery, $90,000 

• Lincoln: Lincoln State Bank, $90,000 

• Marion: Donaldson & Hosmer Building, $89,700 

• Neosho: Oak Grove School District #20, $38,400 

• Osage: Star Block, $90,000 

• Shawnee: Jayhawk Hotel, Theater & Walk, $90,000 

• Shawnee: Thacher Building, $90,000