I’m in Western Kansas.
And there exists about 11 miles West of Oakley the unincorporated town of Monument, KS. Monument is a small spec of a town. It was once considered a large town for the area, but like many other prairie towns it is on the decline. Now it is populated mostly with elderly folk who grew up in the area and chose to stay.
About a block or so away from the main highway is an old church that was beautifully lit by the late afternoon sun. Within seconds I found myself standing on a grassy corner in awe of this magnificent find!
I learn from a local woman that the town was originally settled by German and “White” Russian immigrants. I’m not exactly sure what she means by “White Russians”. She wasn’t all that sure either what it meant. It was a term that had been used to describe her family heritage. The best explanation was a group of Russians that first went to Germany before arriving in the states… All I could think about was the drink..
At first I was kinda nervous about photographing the church with all the little houses and their occupant around watching me. Most people don’t really mind me poking my head around, but normally I am out of sight from town and its denizens. With Simone parked on the side of the road, I managed to wave a passing local resident down to ask if she knew anything about the church. Being that I had planned on walking around the property I thought it best to see how someone local would react to my presence. Sorta feel out the place a bit.
The woman, Crystal, was more than friendly. She knew who owned the property and drove home to get the owner’s phone number. Since she couldn’t get ahold of the owner she then called the owner’s Daughter. Crystal then came back to where I was and waited with me until the Daughter called back with how to get ahold of her mother.
20 minutes Later Jolene, The owner, drove up with her grandkids and unlocked the church door for me!
I felt so grateful and fortunate! I really didn’t think that someone would drive from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere just to let me inside a decaying church. But here she was more than happy that someone was wanting to know about her little church.
The church was constructed in 1930 and used by local Methodists until maybe 20 years ago, when the congregation then united with a Methodist group in Oakley. Around this time Jolene’s father bought the building in hopes of preserving and maybe doing something with it. Sadly nothing was done with the building except being used to store all the random antique items collected by Jolene’s father. Sometime in August of 2010 a strong gust of wind blew a large portion of the roof off during a storm. Since then the pigeons have taken over even more of the inside and thus created a mess not worth cleaning up. There was some talk on repairing the roof, but the costs are too much for the people of a small agricultural town to conceive on paying.. eventually they will salvage what they can and let everything fall…
Its a sad story.
Jolene hasn’t been able to enter the building for a while. She grew up in this town and went to Sunday school in the church basement. Seeing it in this condition is hard for her, but with me she decided that now was the time to see it again before it gets worse. She talks about the items inside, what they once were used for. Some of the items belonged to her family from when she was a child, other items were picked up at shop sales by her collecting father..
Inside were maybe 50 pigeons. They were all over the place. Most of them flew out through the ceiling gaps. A few remained behind. The place was filthy. Everything was covered with pigeon droppings. But at least the wooden floor was sturdy and I didn’t have to worry about falling through into the musty basement with all the shit covered antiques.. 🙂
After rummaging around inside the Church with Jolene we walked next door to the parish house. i looked through windows as Jolene immediately went for the front door. I was impressed. She was just as ready to see inside as I was. 🙂 The place has been empty since the mid 70’s and was once occupied by an old widow. Jolene had no recollection of the widow’s husband. She once heard that he worked with the trains. There was no bathroom inside and the outhouse that once existed was used as kindling for a school spirit bonfire last year.
It was a very informative photo excursion! Jolene was more than kind and generous for spending so much time walking and talking with me.