Farm History

Early History of the Harry Kastens Farmstead
as principally provided by Rev. Dennis Kastens, January 2007

This information pertains to the “home” quarter of land, legally described as the SW quarter of Section 15, Township 1 South, Range 32 West, in Rawlins County Kansas. Since the quarter had considerable pasture land, it was not filed for homestead until September 21, 1885 by Daniel Mahoney, who arrived temporarily to sign the papers. He earlier resided in eastern Nebraska 1881-1885 alongside Sidney Garland, and it appears that the two men decided mutually to make the move to Elk Township in Rawlins County, Kansas.

It must have been moist that fall, enabling the two men to erect their sod houses at that time, completing Garland’s first and then erecting Mahoney’s. Mahoney’s was an actual sod house (not a dugout), with 11 x 23 feet as interior dimensions. It contained 4 windows and a door, and had a frame roof with waxed paper under the sod shingles. It had a wooden floor and the sod interior walls were plastered. The sod house, valued at $250 at the time ($4,660 in today’s dollars), was completed November 13, 1885 and the family (wife and 2 children) arrived from Nebraska and took occupancy February 3, 1886. It was accompanied by a 14 x 24 foot sod stable, a 10 x 16 foot hog shed, and a 10 x 16 foot henhouse.

It is likely that these 3 buildings were built into the hillside. These structures were located on the bank below the cultivated 10 acres west of the current Kastens’ farmstead (the current farmstead is “across the draw” to the east of the original Mahoney farmstead). On that hillside, not far from the entrance to the 10-acre field, was a hand dug well that was 178 feet deep but which had no mill yet in 1888. The well was valued at $178 ($3,318 in today’s dollars). The stable, likely due to framed stalls and manger, was valued at $100 ($1,864 today), and the hog shed and henhouse were valued at but $10 each ($186 today). Some 500 trees, valued at $100 ($1,864 today), were planted to remind the Mahoney’s of Nebraska, in hopes they would grow since the weather was adequate moisture-wise in Kansas at the time.

From Nebraska, the Mahoney’s brought with them a stove, table, 5 chairs, a cupboard, a bureau, two bedsteads, and a clock. By 1888 they had 10 hogs, 2 cows, 3 horses and 2 colts, 2 plows, 1 cultivator, and 1 wagon. The 50 cultivated acres (10 acres on the hill and 40 acres east of the current farmstead) were broken from sod in April/May 1886 and April 1887, so that all was in cultivation by the time of farmstead completion. The Mahoney’s remained on this farmstead about 15 years prior to Richard Walsh’s 1902 purchase. By that time some of the farmstead (according to Ted Bolte’s account) had moved to the current farmstead location east of the draw, with several outbuildings facing south to take advantage of the sunlight (especially to benefit the hogs), something that was missing at the former location since the hillside slanted somewhat to the north.

The brisk, chilly north winds made the original farmstead uncomfortable, especially since the 500-tree windbreak never survived to provide desired wind protection. Since the Mahoney’s and other neighbors had children, they were instrumental in activating District 23 School adjoining their property shortly after their 1886 arrival. By 1890, District 23 was known as the “Mahoney School.” That title changed after 1902 when the Mahoney’s departed. It later came to be known as the “Walsh School,” a caption that remained until the school’s closing in April 1953. A similar transition occurred regarding the farmstead, which changed from “Mahoney” (1886-1901) in 1902 to “Walsh,” and after 1940 it became known as the “Kastens” farmstead, a title that continues to the present (with the Kastens completing in 1951 the farmstead purchase after having lived there as renters since December 1940). The farmstead’s 125th anniversary will occur in 2010, which year will mark also the 70th year of the Kastens’ occupancy.

Walsh School circa 2009. In 2005, we did a lot of repairs on this structure as well as put a new roof on and gave it a fresh coat of paint. The interior of the building (although not restored) is still much like it appeared on the last day of school in 1953, with posters and school children’s drawings still in place.

Looking NE at the original farmstead. March 2009.

Looking SE at the “new” farmstead developed in the early 1970′s after Terry and Gary had moved back to the farm. March 2009.

View of whole farm taken from Ernie Wicke’s field at wheat harvest time.

Shown in this picture from left to right. Locust tree is last remaining tree of the original trees found on the place in the 1940′s when Harry and Paula began renting the place. In the center of the picture is the barn which was built in 1915 and served as the base of all operations for 50 years. The brick building is a tank house (the windmill was taken down in the 1990′s). The tank house served many rolls on the farm from providing water to the house and cattle, providing an always cool environment for storing milk, cream, eggs and other perishables to even housing hired men over the years.

In 1973, Gary and Terry finished their degrees at Fort Hays University and Kansas University respectively and moved back to the farm. As Harry was still actively farming and a long ways from retirement, Gary and Terry opted to get started in the area with a dairy. The dairy operated until 1984 and at it’s peak milked 200 Holsteins.