Fort Hays State University > About FHSU > Academic Divisions > Forsyth Library > Kansas Heritage > Runnymede
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Located nine and one-half miles northeast of Harper, the town of Runnymede was founded by an Englishman for the purpose of creating a colony that consisted of wealthy young Englishmen. Francis J. S. Turnley came to the area from England around 1880. He advertised for young men to come to "a western paradise where golden birds sang in the trees and silver rivers ran tinkling to the sea". (pg. 139 of The Harper County Story.)
There were two other communities in Kansas that were doing the same set up -enticing men to come from England and learn how to farm. Studley (Sheridan County) advertised for the middle-class, while Victoria (Ellis County) and Runnymede wanted the sons of well-to-do English families. In the cases of both Runnymede and Victoria, these men became known as "Remittance Men" because they would received a monthly remittance from their families. The British brought their fun-loving and free-wheeling nature to the Kansas prairies and never really participated in the one thing that they were supposed to learn - farming.
Mr. Turnley purchased 1700 acres and started a ranch called Chikaskia Ranch, which was named for the river that was close by. Another gentleman name Robert W. Watmough was the one who came up with the idea of starting a town. The town was laid out, businesses and residential properties lined up, and by January 1889, there was a store. Their plans came to fruition when the first boatload of English people, sixteen men and women (two of whom were Turnley's sisters) left England on May 29, 1889. By 1890, a church and a hotel called the Runnymede Arms had been built. The peak population was between 100 and 200.
Then came tragedy... Mr. Watmough was a guest of honor at a ball held at the hotel the night before he was to leave to return to Ireland. He was going to be married to Hilda Turnley, who had already returned to their home country. A fire in the community barn that night, May 14, 1890, killed him, and that was the beginning of the end for the town of Runnymede. By 1895, it was virtually empty, as all the buildings had been moved away and their occupants had moved back to England or to Harper.
Sanders, Gwendoline and Paul. "The Harper County Story". North Newton, Kansas: The Mennonite Press, 1968.
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