History Hoydens

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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

15 March 2007

Runnymede with Janette Kenny

Don't forget that Jan is giving away a copy of her debut novel, One Real Cowboy, to a lucky poster!

I'm a research slut and love digging through old books and discovering little known facts. So I was delighted when I was browsing though Kansas history and came across a settlement called Runnymede. If you immediately think of the Magna Carta, you get five bonus points, because the town was named after that.

And that's the sum total of reasoning behind the name. Runnymede, Kansas had a wild and exuberant existence and is the stuff cons and scams are built around. It all started back in 1885 when Irishman Francis "Ned" Turnly bought 1,700 acres of land in Harper County Kansas. Ned was a promoter of the first water, and promptly returned to England to launch his scheme.

Ned pitched his ideal town proposal of Runnymede to a group of wealthy Englishmen. His town would have no violence or crime, no 'riff-raff', and no liquor due to Prohibition, and would teach young men responsibility and the latest farming to implement on their own estates. All this for a mere $500 dollars a year from the wealthy fathers.

To the Englishmen who were pulling their hair out over the antics of their wild sons, it sounded like a dream come true. In the summer of 1889, Ned Turnly and his first group of young Englishmen returned to Kansas to build the town.

With in two years, Runnymede had grown to 500 British citizens, and boasted a lavish three-story hotel, nursery, livery stables, grocers and meat markets, stage lines, billiard hall and bowling alley, an Episcopal Church, a tennis club and art gallery, and many more businesses that catered to the Englishmen's' wants. The citizens lived in English-style homes and a few mansions. But the Kansas legislature refused to run a railroad spur to the town of foreigners, and the young bloods' passion for gambling, whoring and drinking soon took precedence over farming. They had horse races, steeplechases, polo matches and fox hunting, and bootlegging, and delighted in flying the Union Jack over Old Glory which didn't endear the lot of them to the Kansas farmers and ranchers.

There are several theories why Runnymede became a ghost town: the depression and panic of 1893, the withdrawal of funds from the English fathers, or ennui coupled with a good dose of homesickness for England. When the majority of the citizens returned to England, neighboring farmers and ranchers swarmed into Runnymede and dismantled the buildings for the much-coveted wood. The church was moved to Harper Kansas, and all that's left of Runnymede is a lone tombstone. And a fascinating host of what-ifs.

7 Comments:

Blogger Maureen said...

What an interesting history. Thanks for sharing it.

3:47 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Now it that isn't an amazing setting for a book I don't know what is!

7:55 AM  
Blogger robynl said...

Wow kalen, does it mention who the lone tombstone belongs to? This is fascinating history.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

I've never heard of anything like this. How great!!! Thanks for sharing, Janette!

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Janette Kenny said...

Thanks Maureen.

Exactly what I thought, Kalen.

And Robyn, yes, I do have the name on the lone tombstone but can't find it now, wouldn't you know.

I hadn't either, Victoria, and it really got my muse fired up. :)

1:14 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Cool. Would love to hear the stories of the women who were amongst the first 500 settlers.

Thanks for posting!

6:30 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I enjoyed reading that. It was very interesting. Thank you!

8:06 AM  

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