Yup, taking that home. Who wouldn’t want a plate with a boy riding on turkey on it? Little did I know that a week later I would mail it away to a relative of the owners of the Patten Mercantile Co., postal box: Ghost Town, Amy, Kansas.
Antique shopping in Summerland, British Columbia, just across the lake from Naramata, this strange gem was sitting high on a shelf. The purchase of this peculiar plate started me on a journey into the past of a tiny American ghost town and a 97-year-old store that burned to the ground in 2003.
With my new treasure by the computer, an internet search of “Amy, Kansas” brought me to Amy Bickel, an agricultural journalist for the Hutchinson News in Kansas. She has been chronicling Kansas’ dead towns since 2010. The town once had a lumberyard and a general store. It started out life as Ellen, Kansas in the late 1800s as a stop established by the railway and became Amy after the U.S. Postal Service wanted the name changed as there was already an Ellen in eastern Kansas. Names of local teenagers were submitted and a postal official settled on Amy, after 16-year-old Amy Bruner.
Amy was always small but it had a heyday. It prospered in and around 1906 with life centering around the general store. The store’s owner set up a swing set, baseball field, a merry-go-round and a band with snazzy uniforms often played at its adjacent band stand. During warm weather, the town drew a large crowd each Saturday. Wagons and buckboards, each hitched to a team of horses, covered about an acre of ground.
The Amy store’s counter and its coffee grinder were donated to the Lane County Historical Museum for its general store display.
After I reached out, Amy Bickel got in touch with Vance Ehmke whose farm is in the area of abandoned Amy. Amy Bickel recalled that Vance Ehmke had held onto an old sign from the Amy store. Ehmke filled in some more pieces of the mystery by saying that Guy and Rodney Patten owned the store in the 1920s (hence Patten Mercantile Co.). Ehmke’s grandfather was formerly connected to Patten Mercantile. The store closed in 1955 and the local grain elevator, the only business left in town, burned the store down in 2003 to make way for a new office and scales.
After e-mail correspondence with Ehmke I learned of his sentimental attachment to the store and his family connection. I mailed the plate to him and back to the ghost town of Amy where his farm is located. There are many reasons that more than 6,000 towns have been wiped off the map in Kansas. In the case of Amy and the store, it was the development of highways and interstates, making it easier for people to travel farther for their goods and services.
Ehmke, thrilled to have the repatriated plate, sent me a newspaper clipping with a photo of the store. It looks like one of those movie set false fronts. Pretty fair trade I would say. One plate with boy riding a tom turkey for one very good story.