Granite monument and resting place of Minnie Henline at Springfield Cemetery. A white unmarked limestone monument of another individual lies next to it. Courtesy photo
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
On Dec. 10, 1892, Joe Fuest signed a proclamation declaring Liberal the county seat of Seward County.
That news came following a rivalry between Fargo Springs and Springfield that involved threats being made from Springfield residents to influence polls which would later decide where the county seat would be located.
The Springfield Town Company was chartered on Sept. 18, 1885, but the town was not laid out until the spring of 1886.
Springfield was straight north of Fargo Springs, and the Canyon Road between the two towns was the scene of the killing of Seward County Sheriff Sam Dunn during the county seat war in Stevens County.
Springfield grew to a population of 800 in a few years. Later a $30,000 water system was built, along with a large brick school house, two hotels and public square filled with business buildings.
The post office and several newspapers would soon follow, and Springfield’s population would eventually exceed that of Fargo Springs after Springfield won the county seat war.
Springfield would need only a railroad to become the central city of the region, but the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska railroad, building west through neighboring Meade County in 1887, crossed the Cimarron River below Fargo Springs a few miles.
Many opinions flew about regarding why the railroad decided to build to the southwest, but the simple fact was that the railroad crossed the river, leaving Springfield setting on the high plateau above the Cimarron and the town doomed.
Soon, a new town called Liberal became the county seat, and Springfield, which had blossomed and bloomed, then faded and died. The town’s post office would continue until Feb. 15, 1913.
Now, one Liberal resident is looking to preserve some of the history of the forgotten Seward County town of Springfield.
Tony Whisenant talked to Seward County commissioners at the board’s May 6 meeting about making some upgrades to the now dilapidated Springfield Cemetery.
Whisenant, a longtime Liberal resident, said he became interested in the location after researching some local history, and that research led him to the exact location of the former Seward County community.
He would later use the Internet site, Google Earth, to find the cemetery, and after visiting the site, he said what he saw was sad.
“It was desecrated,” he said. “There was only a few tombstones left.”
Whisenant later contacted local historian Lidia Hook-Gray and discovered there were no records for at least 23 of the interments at Springfield Cemetery.
In his conversations with Hook-Gray, Whisenant also found that one of those buried at the cemetery may be a Civil War veteran.
Whisenant said he has heard some good ideas he would like to see put into action to fix the cemetery. One of those ideas was to put a fence around the land where Springfield Cemetery once stood.
“I think that’s great because you need to mark where that cemetery is, especially now that somebody’s plowed through it,” he said.
Whisenant would likewise like to see a plaque showing the names of people who are buried at the cemetery on whom records exist.
“That’d be great, as well,” he said.
Whisenant said some markers are still in Springfield Cemetery, but some are not placed how they should be.
“One of them, I know, has been turned upside down,” he said. “Another one’s been moved. Another one’s still in place.”
Cleaning up, correcting the situation, placing markers as they should be, doing a little maintenance and putting a fence and marker up, Whisenant said, would not take much money.
“I don’t think it would be very expensive,” he said. “I think it would show our respect as people and a county to some of the pioneers that came here early on to help make this place what it is today.”
Whisenant said preserving Springfield Cemetery would serve as a way to remember part of what made Seward County what it is today.
“All in all, it’s worked out, and all these connections these people had with each other and the things that they did has got us to what we are now,” he said. “I think it’d be a great thing for us to show what kind of people we are by doing this little bit and going out there and taking care of their final resting place.”
Whisenant urged commissioners to get moving right away on the project.
“Take action as soon as possible and get it done quickly before it gets put on the back burner somewhere and forgotten about it again,” he said. “It’s been forgotten about now for over 100 years.”
County commissioner C.J. Wettstein agreed that immediate action was necessary.
“I think we do need to move expediently on it and try to get it done,” he said. “We are working on it.”
Commissioner Jim Rice praised Whisenant for his efforts.
“I’d just like to thank Tony for all of his work here,” he said. “I appreciate you taking the time to do that and present this good information.”
County administrator April Warden told the Leader & Times Friday that she and Seward County Road and Bridge Supervisor Tony Herrman have met with the owners of the land where Springfield Cemetery sits, and they will do so again this week.
“Once we get their OK, Road and Bridge will begin pulling out stones and salvaging the ones that are there,” Warden said. “Some are under dirt.”
The administrator said landowners have been given an outline of the county’s plan, which does include a fence around the property and a stone honoring the 23 people that are buried there.