Catharine is a small community of approximately 80 to 90 residents located in north central Ellis County. A visit to Catharine coming from Interstate 70 at exit 163 begins with a scenic 4 mile drive on paved rural roads past the rolling hills of limestone outcroppings. The road curves as you go down along the north fork of Big Creek and you can see the steeple of St. Catherine church in the distance. Take time to discover the sites in our community and visit the beautiful St. Catherine Church. All are welcome to attend the traditional Catholic Mass service that is held each Sunday at 9 am.
Founded - April 8, 1876
Population - 86
Elevation - 2,047 feet
U.S. Post Office
1676 St. Martin Street
Catharine, KS 67627
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The founding of Catharine, Kansas
The town was established on April 8, 1876, by a group of German immigrants who had moved from Katharinenstadt, Russia. These early settlers of Ellis County were part of the same group of Germans who had lived along the Volga River in Russia from 1764 to 1875. They left their homes in Germany after the end of the Seven Years War in Europe. After a century of prosperity and building their lives and communities along the Volga, they learned that many of the promises made in 1763 by Catharine the Great, where being removed by the reigning Czar of Russia. The Germans found out about land that was available in the United States and set out to make a new homeland for themselves.
Their journey from Katharinenstadt, Russia took them through Saratov, to Berlin, Bremen and then they sailed to Baltimore. They arrived in Topeka, Kansas on November 28, 1875 where they spent the winter and worked. The first of March they arrived in Hays and for about a month they went back and forth by horse back or buggy from Hays to build their new town site and homes. This original group of settlers was made up of approximately 7 families. In July, September and November 1876 additional families arrived in Catharine.
Soon after their homes were built they made provisions for a site suitable for Mass services. They did not have a priest yet, so Jacob Schmidt, popularly known as "Der Schulmeister" (the schoolmaster), conducted the services outdoors around a cross that was erected at the new town site. Mr. Schmidt was also the leader and director of the choir and performed all the services that were required for teaching and holding services in the early days of Catharine.
In the early days of the town, a system of living arrangements the immigrants brought with them from Russia required two homes – one on the farm and a house in town. Their town home was used on Sundays and during the winter. The farm home offered a place to rest and eat during the farming season. This system gradually changed with better transportation and the impracticability of maintaining two homes.
The town and the church are spelled differently because the town was named for Catharine the Great and the church was named for Saint Catherine.
ARCHITECTURAL & HISTORIC SITES OF INTEREST
St. Catherine Church
Box 18 - 1681 St. Joseph Street
Catharine, KS 67627
In the summer of 1876, Rev. Adolph Wibbert came from Salina to celebrate the first Mass Service. It was held in the sod home of Justus Bissing Sr. In 1879, a stone building built as a school also served as a place of worship for Sunday services. It wasn’t until May 1890, that work began on the current church with the corner stone laid on June 29. The parishioners provided much of the labor for the construction. They also contributed toward the building fund through pew rent, taxes on their wheat crop and each communicant was assessed $7. The men quarried and hauled the limestone from as far as 15 miles away along the Smoky Hill River. Native soft limestone was quarried locally on the farm of Jacob Staab and stone came in from Steineberg Hill, which is visible about a mile south of town. On Oct 6, 1892, the Rev. John J. Hennessy officiated at the ceremonies of the church dedication. The church is 60’ long and 40’ wide at the front of the church. The church tower rises 116’ tall. During the next several years, the pews, altars, and pulpit were installed. Church furnishings were obtained as the parishioners became more prosperous. Statues, crosses, vestments, angels and other items were added to make it a beautiful and divine place of worship. The beautiful stained glass windows bear the names of parishioners who donated or honored loved ones. The church was featured in the list of the Register of Historic Kansas Places in 1979. The small parish is still an active and a vibrant group that maintains the church and keeps it open. The church is open for tours by appointment - 785-625-5394. A traditional Catholic Mass service is held each Sunday at 9 am. All are welcome to attend. Mass times for Holy Days varies.
2135 St. Anton Street
Catharine, KS 67627
The first school house (School District #4) in Catharine was built in 1879 and was made of native limestone. Prior to that, lessons were taught at the home of Jacob Schmidt "Der Schulmeister" (the schoolmaster). He was a teacher in Katharinenstadt, Russia and continued that role in Catharine. The small stone school house (46’ x 23’) was used as a public school until 1897 when it was changed to a parochial school after the parish purchased it from the public school district. A few years later, this one room school was becoming too crowded and the current two story limestone structure located just north of the church was completed in 1902. It was erected at a cost of $4238 and for 33 years operated as a parochial school. In 1935 the school changed back to a public school with grades 1st through 8th attending. The Catharine School Board met in March 1965 with the Hays School Board and discussed consolidating with Hays School District #489. With the formal consolidation on July 1, 1966, Catharine retained ownership of the school building and in 1968 the seventh and eight grade classes began attending at the Junior High School in Hays. It continued to operate as the Catharine Elementary School until 1972 when the property was sold for $1 to the Unified School District 489. Due to declining enrollment and budget issues with keeping it open, the Hays School District officially closed the school on August 1, 1999 and the building was deeded back to the parish.
Currently, this building is used on Sunday mornings after Mass for religious education classes for children pre-school thru 8th grade. The St. Catherine Knights of Columbus and the Christian Mothers Altar Society hold meetings, functions, bingo, card parties and annual gatherings at the old school house. The building is also used by parishioners to rent for birthday parties, family reunions, bridal and baby showers, Christmas parties and small wedding receptions.
The school playground equipment is still maintained for the neighborhood children to enjoy. When you stop by the school to look around, you will notice the school mascot is still out front, the deep chisel etching patterns from preparing the limestone and the date “1902” carved in the stone above the door.
The Church Rectory
1675 Saint Joseph Street
Catharine, KS 67627
The first pastors of the St. Catherine Church had no place to reside in the village in the early years, and for the most part, the home of John Geibler served as the place to stay. When the church was built in 1892, a 35’ x 40’ x 28’ annex was built on the east side of the church to serve as a rectory. The sacristy was part of this annex and six other rooms consisting of living quarters, an office and kitchen. This served as the rectory until 1899 when two Sisters of St. Agnes arrived to teach at St. Catherine School. Because there were no living quarters available for the Sisters, Fr. Jerome Mueller O.F.M. Cap. turned over the rectory to them. A two-room frame house was built and served as the pastors living quarters until 1908 when a new two story frame house convent was built for the Sisters. The rectory was then reestablished as a monastery and all of the priests who served St. Catherine over the years resided there. In 1952, a new Sister’s convent was built north of the rectory (east of the schoolhouse). The Sisters of St. Agnes used this home until 1967. With a lack of nuns available for assignment to staff the school, and changes with the consolidation into the Hays School District, the home, that was only 15 years old, was now left vacant. In 1968, Rev. Howard Bich, O.F.M Cap decided to relocate the parish rectory to the house. In 1983, the two south rooms of the main level of the monastery were remodeled into one room. This allowed it to be used as a community room and used for special gatherings or meetings.
The building is currently used mainly for storage. What was once called the "Community Room" can be used by future brides to prepare themselves and dress prior to their wedding. As people drive by the old part of the rectory, they probably wonder if it is still being used, how many priest and brothers lived there at one time and what the rooms themselves might look like. The parishioners would love to see this old part of the church fixed up and heated again, but it would be quite a financial burden to make the needed repairs.
"Der Schulmeister" (the schoolmaster) Jacob Schmidt home
1667 Saint Catherine Street
Catharine, KS 67627
When the town of Catharine was founded in the spring of 1876, Jacob Schmidt was one of the immigrants who provided great vision and leadership to make the successful relocation of hundreds of Germans from Katharinenstadt Russia. He was born to Andreas and Maria Eva (Saltzmann) Schmidt in 1824 in the colony of Louis, Russia along the Greater Karaman River (a tributary of the Volga River). In 1845 he married Anna Maria Matz from Katharinenstadt and in 1851 he accepted a teaching position in Katharinenstadt. He served as the organist, school master, “Schulmeister” and took the lead role in preserving the ancestry for his family.
When the German immigrants arrived in Kansas and began building their homes in Catharine, they filed the papers as Katharinenstadt in honor of their former home in Russia. Their first homes were small and simple dugouts called semolinka. They lived in these sod houses while they built larger homes of native Ellis County limestone. Three of these old rock house are still standing today.
Jacob took the lead role in organizing devotions and prayers services for the new immigrants to Catharine. He carried a large processional cross that was erected to serve as their gathering place until priests were able to serve Mass at Catharine. He also taught religion to the children and resumed the role as school master. When a regular priest was available to lead Mass, the home of Jacob Schmidt was used as a temporary church until a stone building was built.
Jacob passed away in 1906, just short of his 82nd birthday. He and his wife are buried in the original settlers section of the St. Catherine cemetery with ornate hand crafted iron crosses marking the location of his final resting place. You will find the iron cross marking his grave in the far north west section of the cemetery. As a reflection of Jacob’s devotion to the church and his influence on his family, 30 of his descendants to date have adopted the religious life (7 ordained priests and 23 nuns).
Catharine Post Office
1676 Saint Martin
Catharine, KS 67627
The first Post Office in Catharine was established on November 23, 1882, by Jacob Schmidt. The building used for the Post Office was actually a home that was made of native limestone. That home is still standing today at 1667 Saint Catherine Street and is the home of Pam and Greg Schmidt, the great grandson of Johann Schmidt. In 1919, Post Office service was discontinued at Catharine. When the Post Office was re-established on January 12, 1926, it was located in the back of the town grocery store that had been built in 1925. The store sold groceries, hardware, implements, shoes and even suits. That same building still houses the current Post Office, but it is no longer in the back of the building. In the 1980’s, all of the wood, metal and glass framed mailboxes were replaced by all metal boxes with key locks.
Over the years, the Schmidt family has played an important role as the postmasters for Catharine. Jacob Schmidt’s son Johann took over as postmaster on June 3, 1904, and held that office until Aug 23, 1915. Joseph Wasinger was postmaster from 1915 to 1919 and in 1926, Fidelis Schmidt (great grandson of Jacob Schmidt) ran the post office until October 24, 1931. Other Schmidt post masters included: Raymond Schmidt-1931 to 1951; Aloysius(Alois) Schmidt-1951 to 1982; Al Schmidt-1982 to 1984 and Ramon Schmidt-1984 to present. Ramon Schmidt’s wife Kayleen Klaus Schmidt ran the store when Ramon took over the store & Post Office from his brother, Al. It was Ramon Schmidt’s great-great-grandfather (Jacob Schmidt) who got it all started.
In the 1930’s, Raymond Schmidt took over the grocery store from his brother Adolph. Eventually his son, Aloysius(Alois), took over the store. His wife also worked in the store and all of their children helped in the store or delivered groceries to the elderly.
The grocery store was able to maintain a pretty good business for a number of years. Salesmen would call for groceries, cigarettes, meat and beer. Eventually ordering was done by mail or telephone, but after losing their grocery supplier, the grocery store part of the building was closed in August 1991, just six months shy of being open for 100 years. Post Office hours are 7 am to 11:30 am Monday-Friday and 9:30 to 11 am on Saturday. Visitors are welcome to stop by, purchase stamps or visit with the current postmaster about the history of the community. For more information, contact Ramon Schmidt - 785-259-7643.
ART RELATED & HISTORIC SITES OF INTEREST
St. Catherine Cemetery
West Adolphus Street (on the southwest edge of town)
Catharine, KS 67627
In 1876 when the site of the village was chosen, a three acre plot south and west of the town was set aside as a cemetery. The first burial occurred a month or two after the settlers arrived and it was that of a little boy who was the son of John and Agnes Karlin. More than half of the first 25 recorded deaths through 1892 were children under the age of 10. In the spring and summer of 1899 there were 25 young children that died of diphtheria. Many were only three or fours years old.
Visitors will notice the beautiful iron cross grave markers on the far east end of the grounds, which is the oldest part of the cemetery. There are 68 of the iron crosses. Some are simple markers made of pipe or straight iron, and others – like the three in the photograph are ornate and decorative crosses handcrafted by local Volga German blacksmiths. Using a hammer, anvil and forge, these early artisans crafted crosses of iron, steel and other metals, often times using pieces of scrap material. The cross represented the sacred and the iron represented strength--attributes of the pioneers they honored. The iron crosses were particularly suited as prairie monuments. Unlike wooden crosses, those made of wrought iron or other metals were tough enough to withstand prairie fires, storms and even time itself. The blacksmiths would use various scrollwork to create shapes of flowers, vines, circle patterns, hearts and geometric shapes.
The marble Alter and granite cross in the middle of the cemetery were erected on October 19, 1966. It replaced the iron crucifix that was then moved to the back of the cemetery where the first settlers were buried. The original crucifix was erected during the time when Fr. Matthey Savelsberg, O.F.M. Cap was the priest at St. Catherine in 1910.
Old limestone homes
As you drive around the community you will notice some of the early limestone homes that were built over 120 years ago. These are some of the original limestone homes built by the immigrants and are still used as private residences.
Codell Road and Saline River Road Scenic Drive
North of Catherine - Codell Ave & Saline River Road
Drive north of Catharine on the Codell Road towards Rooks County, and you will see some of the most wide open ranges in Ellis County. The area in northeast Ellis County features miles of vast ranch land, large bluffs, hills, streams and rugged valleys. The website that Jackie Langholz has created features many of the historic sites, landmarks and points of interest along the Saline River Valley and provides interesting historical facts, photos, maps and stories associated with the area in Northeast Ellis County. As you depart from Catharine and then go north on the Codell Road, you can take a side trip to drive by the ghost town of Emmeram and see the ruins of the Sacred Heart Church. The church was built during 1899 to 1901 with the first Mass on Christmas day 1901. Due to declining population at the parish, it was closed on August 6, 1967. On October 12, 1998, the church was destroyed by fire. The cause of the fire was suspicious and only the limestone walls remained. Directions to Emmeram – from Catharine drive 1 ˝ miles east to Codell Road. Go north two miles to Emmeram Road and turn right to go east 3 miles to the intersection of Emmeram Road and 350th Ave. The remains of the church are on the north side of the road.
COMMERCE & BUSINESSES
Big John’s Saloon
Owner - John Meier
2111 Catharine Road – Box 58
Catharine, KS 67627
785-621-4700 or 785-623-8114
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Hours: Mon-Fri 11 am to 2 am, Sunday 4 pm to 2 am. Closed on Monday during the winter.
Big John’s Saloon is located ˝ mile west of Catharine at the intersection of 300th Avenue and Catharine Road. The bar first opened as Dick’s Corner Club on April 18, 1963 when an old school house was moved in to use as a tavern for Catharine. Back then, it was a private club for men, and the toilets were outside privies. Fidelis “Dick” Staab was the original owner and after he passed away in 1975, his brother Al Staab continued to run the business. For all those years when Dick and Al Staab ran the bar, many of the patrons worked in the oil fields and it was known by the nickname of The Petroleum Club. At some point in the 1990’s it became Dicks Bar & Grill and then Peggy Sue’s around 2004. In March 2009, John Meier opened it as Big John’s Saloon and it continues to be a popular place to grab a cold beer, eat a good burger, play pool and visit with friends.
It is a full service small town bar and grill with lunch and dinner served. The menu includes American food, sandwiches, pizza, fast food and traditional favorites from the grill. Big John’s Saloon is known for their ˝ pound burgers made from fresh beef patties and their chicken drummies. The favorite on Wednesdays is John’s homemade burritos, which are pretty much 90% meat. Great tasting food and a reasonably priced menu with prices ranging from $5 to $10. The grill stays open until closing time at 2 am. Features include a “mini” pool table (you gotta see it to believe it), darts and table top electronic games. Everyone is welcome to stop in for a drink or food! Seating capacity – 32.