Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Ghost Road and Two Ghost Towns in Northern Kansas

By Shirley Darby

Editor’s Note: Commissioned late in the creation of the federal highway system in 1942, Route 383 was an auxiliary spur of Highway 83 that ran only 175 miles in Nebraska and Kansas. Parts of it were co-signed with present-day Highway 83, from Oakley, Kansas, to just east of Selden. It was decommissioned in 1980, and is Kansas Highway 383 today. Circa 1938, the federal government switched present day Highway 83 and present day Highway 183. Prior to this, maps show Highway 83 running from Norton to Dresden, where it intersected with 183 (See maps below) Guest blogger Shirley Darby grew up along this “ghost road” as a child but only recently discovered that it was Highway 83 long before she was born. She shares her aunt’s memories of life along it in two towns in Norton County that have now all but disappeared, Dellvale and Oronoque.

My aunt Murel Ankenman Davis grew up a short distance west of Dellvale, and her memory, concerning how it looked and what was there, is phenomenal. As a youngster in the 1930s, she actually rode on that unpaved “highway” to Oronoque — a few miles northwest of Dellvale — for grocery shopping, and remembers every directional turn and distance between them. The ghost town is now located on County Road O.
Since part of the “highway” was later the access lane from present day State Highway 383 to my family’s home, I was a bit incredulous when Aunt Murel recently told me that this was once U.S. Highway 83. The route was extremely familiar as she described it, but I thought maybe there had been a different road in the vicinity.  After some research looking at old maps, I confirmed that our house was built on a turn of the defunct southern leg of U.S. 83!
Pre-1938 map showing Highway 83 in Norton County, Kansas.
Even when the bridge was usable in the 1960s, traffic was pretty thin on the route as Oronoque had by that time also gone the way of the ghost town, with only a few homes and the church still in use. Its school was moved to a spot east of Dellvale, and in 1946, Oronoque and Dallas Rural School students consolidated at Dellvale School. The school closed in 1965.
Dellvale’s post office was established in 1890, and remained in business until 1961. The building was originally on the north side of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific railroad tracks.
On that side also were the depot and east of that, a tin grain elevator and a “stockyard,” actually a holding pen, for farmers’ cattle waiting to board the train. Boxcars were parked near the stockyard as sleeping quarters for railroad men. A section house was also nearby.
Mr. Maxwell had the general store, most likely opened in the 1920’s, across the road west from his home. The store was very small, described by a former resident as “similar to my folks’ chicken house,” in size and appearance. I concur, having seen both buildings, neither having paint and both having the size of a one-room cabin. The store building remained in its original location for many years after closing. At age eight, I asked my dad what it was, and was told it had been a store. Another source actually explored the building at about that same time, finding merchandise receipts and boxes of mysterious content. That’s all we know about Maxwell’s General Store. Mr. Maxwell was also the postmaster for a time.
Dellvale did not ever have large buildings, except for a good sized house or two and the tin grain elevator next to the depot. No hotel or restaurant, no bank or church. 
Oronoque had all the trappings of a real town, and people went there, or to Norton or Clayton, for town activities, and their main grocery shopping.
A large frame house, still standing, in the 1920’s and 1930’s belonged to Mr. Maxwell. It is set back north from the tracks and Railroad St. This large home, built about 1905,  housed the family of the area game and land manager for the state Forestry, Fish and Game Commission, starting in 1965. It has most likely housed park rangers since the late1980s.
1945 map showing decommissioned U.S. 383
There were four other homes that could be considered to be in the village, and four on the periphery, within a mile or so, prior to the state taking over family lands to create Prairie Dog State Park and Keith Sebelius Reservoir. Two of those eight are standing. With the coming of the waters of Norton Reservoir, and the Kansas Fish and Game Commission’s need for wildlife refuges, longtime resident families were forced out of their homes, including the one now owned by the government, and two others. The remainder were on the south side of Hwy 383, out of the state’s desired area.
As for the post office, at some point it was moved south. This move may have been associated with the closing of Maxwell’s store, which most likely occurred in the 1930s, “the hard years.” The post office building, with its mail pigeonholes and wood floor always salted with red sweeping compound, shared space with a general store after it moved. This was a community center, where you might run into just about anyone from miles around. Rural delivery existed, but there were always reasons to stop in. Groceries, of course, or, if you were lucky enough to have a nickel, a Hershey bar, a bag of peanuts, or bottle of Coca Cola or orange Fanta from the Coke machine. Those are early 1960’s prices, by the way. The USPS closed the Dellvale Post Office in 1961, and the store closed soon after.  When the reservoir was opened, and Prairie Dog Creek re-opened, for fishing, the building was a bait shop for a few years. It is gone now.

Shirley Darby (nee Ankenman) grew up in a farmhouse along what was once Highway 83 in Norton County. She graduated from Norton Community High School in 1973 and later moved to Topeka, Kansas, with her family. Contact her at shishijoy (a) 

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, available at and bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83. And The Last American Highway: Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma edition.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a)