You know you’ve arrived by the sign: “There’s no place like Home — Home, KS.”
Home is another one of those blink-and-you-miss-it type of towns along the northern edge of Kansas on U.S. 36, almost in Nebraska.
The rolling horizon in this Marshall County town is surrounded by windswept prairie, wheat, corn and soybean fields. Cattle outnumber people. The sky hangs like a big dome overhead.
It’s Pony Express country, where more than 150 years ago riders on horseback thundered across the prairie facing hostile Indians, thieves and who knows what else to deliver the nation’s mail from coast to coast.
Home, population 150, has its own uniqueness. But it also is like of other small towns scattered across the state of Kansas.
“Home is one of those perfect examples of a small town,” said Jada Ackerman, public relations and community development director for Blue Valley Telecommunications, which has an office on the west side of Home. “It is a community whose residents care about one another. It is just like family, when something happens to someone, it happens to everyone. Everyone joins forces to protect.”
The company serves four counties – Marshall, Nemaha, Washington and Pottawatomie. It has an angel tree up for area residents in need.
On Home’s Second Street, Jim and Pat Schramm have run the family business, Lewis Seed & Fertilizer, for the past three decades. It’s a century old — the oldest business in town — and located in a former bank building that still has the cashier’s cage, worn wooden floors and a front-window view to life in Home. Two worn wooden benches are stationed outside the store, beckoning strangers and friends to sit a spell.
“It’s quiet. It’s slow-paced, at times,” Pat Schramm said. “It’s frustrating when we start losing our businesses and the services we’ve had.”
Freight trains whistle and rumble past about every 15 minutes. None stop.
Like 129 other communities across the state, Home’s post office is on the list for possible closure. Elaine Roever, the officer in charge at the Home Post Office, said she’s been told the post office will remain through Christmas and much of the tax season. It’s scheduled to close sometime in March.
The town boasts 150 residents. When Shelby Brockman has her baby girl in six weeks, it will boost the population to 151.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” the 21-year-old Brockman said. “We don’t have any problems here, like they do in Topeka with shootings and robberies. We avoid crime.”
More than 140 years ago, the town folk wondered, “What do we call this town?”
At first they wanted to call it Dexter. But postal authorities told them there already was a Dexter in Kansas.
There was then talk of naming it “Lewis” or “VanCamp” after some of the locals. Nobody wanted the town named after them, said Jim Schramm, a fourth-generation Home resident.
For a time, Gottlieb Messel ran the post office out of his home.
Folks said, “Well, let’s just call it Home.”
So they did.
What Home is like
Home isn’t like we might imagine.
Sure, it has its mom-and-pop businesses. But chances are Mom and Pop live in Marysville or other surrounding towns and commute to Home. Land seldom comes up for sale here, and when it does, it’s at a premium.
And besides, the school shut down years ago and there’s no active church in town or a grocery store. It’s unincorporated, which means the only form of government is the county and local township.
“The fact that the majority of business owners don’t live at Home but choose to do business there makes it unique,” said Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, which promotes rural cultures and communities. “Home symbolizes a rural community.”
Locals call it Home City so people will know the difference between going to their own personal homes or into town.
Regina and Robert McAnerney have operated a memorial stone business along U.S. 36 for the past 10 years. Each day they commute the seven miles.
“Home offered a better location and a higher traffic area,” Robert McAnerney said. “Being on the highway gave us more exposure.”
Down the road, Shane Hartner runs Fisher Rock, a speciality custom rock-carving business that churns out limestone rocks with college logos and cute sayings (a personal favorite, “Grow, Dammit.”) He has 60 dealers that sell for him throughout the central United States.
Loyal Husker fans are his biggest supporters.
“If we have a rock that we don’t know what to do with it,” he said, “we’ll put something red on it and someone from Nebraska will buy it.”
He drives each day from Axtell.
“I’d live in Home, if somebody would leave,” he said.
Ron Schmitz has lived on a farm near Home since 1979.
“Home is a good place to be,” Schmitz said across the table at Little Hap’s Bar and Grill. He’s with the lunch crowd, which sometimes fills the city block surrounding Hap’s with cars and pickups, making Home look like a happening place.
“Everybody knows everybody and everybody cares about everybody, mostly,” Schmitz said.” Whenever you go anywhere and somebody asks where you are from, ‘I’m from Home.’ Usually, you have to spell it for them, like ‘Home’ as in ‘Home in the Range.’ ”
Schmitz said that when he served in the Navy, his mother would send him the Marysville newspaper each week.
“Those guys from New Jersey and New York would get to the point they’d read my newspaper. … They got the biggest kick out of it. It had little sections in there like so-and-so visited their aunt. They’d ask, ‘Do you know all these people?’ They couldn’t believe this was news. But I decided this was a pretty special part of the world.
“Before, when I was a kid growing up, I thought about states like California, New York and Texas, and I thought, ‘Boy, that’s where a person wanted to be.’ When I got out of the Navy, it was pretty good to come back to Marshall County.”
What home is to Kansans
Talk with various Kansans and chances are they’ve never heard of Home, but they have definite ideas of what home is.
It’s because home is embedded into our state consciousness. We have “Home on the Range” as our state song. And Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” proclaiming, “There’s no place like home.”
“Part of it has to do with the unique location of Kansas,” said Thomas Fox Averill, a Kansas historian and a professor of English at Washburn University in Topeka.
“The time period we were settled was right after the Civil War. And there was so much violence and upheaval in that war and leading up to it that there was a real desire by the people who resettled the country to create a home. Lincoln pushed that hard by creating the Homestead Act.
“The song ‘Home on the Range’ is as much a plaintive cry for home as it is in celebration of hope. L. Frank Baum has Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ taken away from her home. And all she wants to do is get back. That strikes a chord in the American culture.
“We are land of immigrants trying to find a home, a safe home.”