'Air' has gone out of town, but it still has fireworks

7/11/2014

By Amy Bickel

By Amy Bickel

Special to The Telegram

As the story goes, Clyde Cessna would fly his plane from his nearby farm a few miles to the west of Adams, landing it near the town's church to attend Sunday services.

"He landed in our back pasture," says local Bonita Bradley of the stories her father would tell her of the famed aviator.

But today, the one-room church sits empty, except for this time of year when Bradley's family sells fireworks out of it. The town once had a bank, but it closed in the 1920s. There is no longer a store or blacksmith. What's left of the school, an auditorium, is crumbling away, and someone stole the antique merry-go-round in the playground last year.

With just a handful of homes and a population of six, this little Kingman County town that claims Cessna as its own has nearly disappeared.

"We have the fireworks stand, but that's all that is left," said Bradley in terms of business. "We never had a mayor or anything like that. There is not much left here, but I've lived here my entire life."

Presidential connection

Adams never was big. It started as a small station in 1888 along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, according to history written by Bradley's mother, Bonnie Robertson.

At that time, Adams had a post office and general store. It was named after one of the first settlers, Allen C. Adams, an Illinois native and a descendant of John Quincy Adams.

A man named Lou Riggs described what the area looked like in 1883, before the town was settled. It's written up in the Kingman County history book.

"Just imagine vast prairie, as far as you could see and what I mean, you could see far. Nothing but grass - no trees, few buildings and in the fall that grass grew tall and as dry and however it got set on fire was always a mystery. But these terrible fires came sweeping in on you when you least expected them and there was no stopping them, but they could be turned aside barely missing the settler's improvements.

He also described the Cessna's home - the family had moved to the Adams area in 1881.

"Cessnas had a wonderful home; at least we all thought so. A three-room sod house all white-washed inside, deep windows full of flowers, blooming plants all winter. They also had canary birds and an organ, which Mr. Cessna would play for company."

Riggs also recalled an Indian scare, saying a man came riding by in the early evening, telling everyone that the Indians were coming.

"They were supposed to be just below Harper, killing everybody and setting fire to all the improvements. Our dad wouldn't budge. We could hear wagons rattling along all night, bound for Cheney where they were supposed to make a stand and fight for their lives.

By morning, the scare was over and Riggs' father went with neighbors into Harper, he wrote.

The community wasn't laid out with lots or a Main Street until 1916, according to history compiled by Robertson.

At first, according to Robertson's history, the train only stopped when flagged. Later, with an agent and depot, both a freight and passenger made daily trips each way.

According to the Kingman County history book, in 1900, Clyde Cessna had a sawmill.

But most activities centered on the church and school, Robertson wrote.

The church building, the former Norwich Baptist Church, was purchased and moved to town in 1914.

The Adams High School was the first rural high school organized in Kingman County. The first classes in 1916 were held in the basement rooms of the town's grade school. A high school building was completed in 1917 and the school's first two graduates advanced in 1919. An auditorium/gymnasium was built around 1936 for $8,000 - a Depression-era WPA project.

"For years, it was the nicest and best equipped in this area with special lights and a large seating capacity," Robertson wrote. "Therefore, it was used for county and state events."

Like many small towns in the first half of the 20th century, life was simple but vibrant.

Bradley's aunt, LaRene Robertson Dizmang, said her father worked for 50 cents a day in a nearby catalpa grove near Adams before she was born in the 1940s.

After her brother took over the family farm, she and her parents moved into Adams. For a while, the family ran the local elevator. In the 1950s, Adams still had a post office, gas station, church, blacksmith and a grocery.

Her mother, Valentine, born on Valentine's Day, was a good friend of Clyde Cessna's daughter, Wanda. When Wanda would return home to visit her mother, Dizmang said she and her mother would go over to the Cessna home and have tea with Wanda and her mother, Europa.

"It was kind of frightening for a little girl," Dizmang, of Wichita, said. "At my house, we'd sit down at the table and visit. But this was a tiny bit more formal than that. Mom and Wanda always had a wonderful visit. As the years rolled on, the visits became less and less."

Years go by

And as the years rolled on for Adams, the town's economic presence began to dwindle. Business after business started to close. The post office, which first opened in 1895, closed in 1954.

And Dizmang, 70, was in the second-to-last class to graduate from the high school before it closed in 1963, she said. The grade school was shuttered in 1967.

But the memories of her childhood are still prevalent.

"I remember going up to the old gas station and buying a penny piece of candy," she said. "Mom would send me to the grocery store on foot. I also had an uncle who road the Doodlebug (on the railroad), and I (would) wave at him when he went by.

"It was a good life growing up there. I had no fears. It was so different. I wonder if young people know that's what life was like then."

Dizmang said she still helps organize the Adams School reunions in Kingman, which used to be held at the Adams school auditorium, which is owned by the township. But the building has fallen into disrepair. The schoolyard today is grown up with weeds and shrubs. The roof of the school is beginning to cave in, and Dizmang said some of the trophies are still inside the building.

In December, the merry-go-round was stolen, said Bonita's brother, Kent Robertson.

"They cut the center beam holding, took the merry-go-round completely apart," Robertson said. "I don't know if they sold it for iron or took it down to Oklahoma and put it back together again."

Robertson said he attended the Adams school for a few years before it closed and the district unified with Norwich.

"I played on that merry-go-around so much. We all played on it all the time," he said.

But it's just one of the losses that have been occurring over the years, he noted.

"So many houses are gone," he said. "The blacksmith shop burned down. The west side of the street there is only one building halfway down. That is where the Allenders lived. They had eight kids in that small house."

There are still small celebrations that take place, including around the Fourth of July.

The fireworks stand has been popular, she said, even in a ghost town. And on the Fourth of July, she and her family gather on Main Street and have their own holiday display.

"It's home. It's family," Bonita Bradley said. "Our family ground is out there. I live in my grandparents' house. There were times I thought about moving away ... and when my dad passed away, I thought I'd move. But this is home."

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