United Kansas Portland Cement Company (Le Hunt)

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City/Town:
Location Class:
Year Built: 1905 | Year Abandoned: 1918
Status: AbandonedGuttedPrivate Property
Photojournalist: Emily CowanJohnny Fletcher

The town of Le Hunt got its start when the Independence Kansas Portland Cement Company purchased 1,500 acres to begin the project. They chose the area because Kansas was ranked 4th in portland cement production with Montgomery and eight other surrounding counties dominating the economy and profiting off the areas’ abundant supply of portland cement minerals. Leigh Hunt, president of the Hunt Engineering Company, was whom the town was named after. Table Mound was picked as the ideal location for the cement plant but manufacturers were concerned with the location of the quarry in relation to the plant. They situated the quarry atop the mound and a gravity system to transport materials was designed. A feature that eliminated the need for elevators & expensive conveyors helping to cut production costs.

Construction

Filling up carts at the quarry to send to the plant

Of course, Hunt Engineering Company was chosen to oversee and handle construction. Leigh Hunt had handled multiple other plants including the one at Iola. Construction officially started on October 20, 1905, because of the size of the behemoth plant it continued for ten months before being completed in August of 1906.

Following the construction of the Independence Kansas Portland Cement Plant, 200-400 people were employed there. Mostly immigrants, they came with little and hundreds of tents were temporary houses. The population had risen from a few hundred in 1905 to over a thousand by 1906. The Hunt Engineering Company started to build the community and housing in the town offering a school, store, church, and bars. The housing, schools, and medical care were provided by the company, which deducted fees from the workers’ wages to cover the services.

United Kansas Portland Cement Company

The cement industry experienced an economic decline due to overproduction, this resulted in many mills consolidating to control demand. In January of 1908 the cement plants at Le Hunt, Iola, and Neodesha consolidated to become United Kansas Portland Cement Company. The capitalization of the new company was $12,750,000 and as a result of the consolidation maintenance and operation costs were reduced.

Decline

Approx. 1910

Although the consolidation helped keep the company afloat for a while longer the demise of the Portland Cement Company was one that didn’t come swiftly. Starting before the consolidation the cement industry was already experiencing hardships and overproduction. Another blow came when railroads raised their long-haul freight rates. This led to an application being filed for a review of rates amongst four railroads by L.T. Sunderland who represented UKS Portland Cement Company. Ultimately the higher rates led to less production in the cement plants of southeastern Kansas. In addition to these challenges came the depletion of natural gas in the area incapacitating the cement industry. In June of 1913, the UKS Portland Cement Co. Under the stress of all these issues led to the cement plant temporarily being shut down to make repairs and sell surplus stock. The plant never opened back up again. With all the odds stacked against them and years of financial irresponsibility cause the United Kansas Portland Cement Company to file for bankruptcy on January 15, 1914. This ultimately led to the shutdown of the school, business, and houses to become vacant.

Sunflower Portland Cement Company

Donated by Independence Historical Museum

In May of 1915, the Le Hunt plant was bought by Sunflower Portland Cement Company for $199,950. Immediately, repairs were underway and on September 12, 1915, were back in production. Within thirty days of the plant being back in operation the houses of Le Hunt were being filled, businesses were coming back, and the small school was reopened. The new company employed over 300 people and had a capacity of 1,500 barrels per day. Their start-up experienced a surge in production with cement prices hitting an all-time high throughout 1916-17.

Closing

Sunflower Portland Cement Company was short-lived, World War 1 diminished the demand for cement causing a steep drop in production. Their inability to adjust, new consolidations, and meet new conditions needed to fill war contracts led to the closure and selling of the Sunflower Portland Cement Company to the Western States Portland Cement Company. After purchase, the equipment and machinery were sold and most of the houses were moved to nearby Independence.

Tragedy

On March 25, 1913, The Evening Star newspaper reported that there had been an accident at the Le Hunt plant injuring three employees. There was sudden superheating of the oil in a tank that was feeding the machinery engine. This resulted in an explosion at about 6:30 a.m. causing Leonard Ioeger, Frank Anderson, and Calhoun all to be severely burned. Dr. Shelton of nearby Independence was called out to dress the wounded men at the plant since all refused to go to the hospital.

Brian Durnil had just moved to the area three months earlier when tragedy struck. On Oct 30, 1997, Keayon Hadley, 19, lured the victim to the abandoned grounds on Table Mound where he bludgeoned and shot Brian multiple times with a .357-caliber handgun. Emergency personnel found the victim alive around 6:45 p.m. but passed before he could be transported to the hospital. Hadley surrendered to police the next day and was charged with first-degree murder with his bond being set to $100,000. In April of 1998, the jury convicted Hadley of second-degree murder. County Attorney Robert Claus alleged that Keayon was attempting to steal the .357 caliber-gun from Brian Durnil while the two were target shooting, Hadley shot him multiple times and then beat him with a baseball bat. During Hadley’s trial, his attorney unsuccessfully argued that two teenage girls who were the main witnesses against Hadley were the real killers and that they were Satanists who used Le Hunt as a meeting place to perform human and animal sacrifices. Hadley was sentenced to life in Lansing Correctional Facility.

The fabled story goes that a laborer by the name of Bohr (Boars) was working on one of the 15 foot high walls, somehow got pinned inside when the wall was being poured and died. The laborers decided since he was already dead and that nothing could be done to help him they abandoned all hope and left him in the wall continuing on to fill the forms with concrete. The workers built a memorial to Boars to honor the fallen worker. There are three sections of the wall dedicated to Boars. One section has the remains of his pickaxe and shovel embedded in the wall. The weather and elements have over time destroyed the wooden handles which have since fallen out. The shovel’s blade is still evident though but it’s unfortunately defaced by buckshot from vandals. In the next section, his wheelbarrow protrudes from the wall. In the very next section, the name Boars is sculpted and engraved into the wall. In today’s time, no one would leave somebody buried in a wall but in 1905 the world was quite a bit different.

Article by AKS Photojournalist Emily Cowan.

Gallery Below




Bibliography
A very special thank you to Sue Prince & Sylvia Augustine of the Independence Historical Museum for providing the historical photographs.
“American Cities.” Google Books, Google, www.google.com/books/edition/American_Cities/Zc_euUr_X4MC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=robert%2Bratzlaff%2Bcement&pg=PA273&printsec=frontcover.
“24 Apr 1915, Page 1 – The Iola Register at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/853306/?terms=united%2Bkansas%2Bportland%2Bcement%2Bcompany%2Ble%2Bhunt.
“1 Nov 1997, 8 – The Iola Register at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/636463845/?terms=keayon%2Bhadley.
“25 Mar 1913, Page 1 – The Evening Star at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/93037289/?terms=united%2Bkansas%2Bportland%2Bcement%2Bcompany%2Ble%2Bhunt.m
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3 months ago

[…] was high for Portlands products like many of the other cement plants in the area like Concreto, Le Hunt, and Carlyle they all experienced financial troubles. The plant was sold just five years after […]

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5 months ago

[…] plant became profitable. Like many of the cement plants in the Midwest around that time such as Le Hunt, Concreto, and Lehigh the Carlyle cement plant couldn’t stay afloat and closed its facility. […]

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11 months ago

[…] cement plants were popping up in southern Kansas such as Lehigh, Lehunt, and Carlyle. This caused a nation-wide problem, too many plants producing too much cement and […]

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