United Kansas Portland Cement Company
Of all the ghost towns in southern Kansas none has more mystique and legends than the defunct town of Le Hunt, which is located northwest of Independence, Ks.
Le Hunt was once a thriving community. The United Kansas Portland Cement Company was the epicenter of the town. A behemoth sized concrete plant constructed in 1905 and built into the side of Table mound. The company had purchased 1,500 acres to begin their project. Leigh Hunt president of the Hunt engineering company of Michigan personally supervised the construction of the plant. Following the construction of the plant Portland helped build a town of its own to house it’s employees. Hunt named the town after himself. The former town has many stories just as much as the spellings of it name: Le-Hunt, Lehunt, La Hunt, Lee Hunt and Lahunte.
Table Mound was an ideal location for a cement plant. The land was rich in raw materials needed for cement production. The quarry was located atop the mound and allowed engineers to design a gravity system to transport materials, a feature that eliminated the need for elevators & expensive conveyors which helped reduce the cost of production.
The town began to grow and many buildings in the town began to spring up offering a school, store, church, and bars. The population had risen from a few hundred in 1905 to over a thousand by 1906.
In a “company town” ones life was usually tied to ones work. The housing, schools and medical care were provided by the company, which deducted fees from the workers wages to cover the services. In many ways it was a controlled life. It was the epitome of industrial paternalism. Close to the school was a large church which had company overtones. To please all members with out causing a ruckus, the church was kept non denominational.
Town recreation was centered around the pool hall & bar on Saturday nights and baseball fields on Sunday afternoons.
The need for law enforcement came about and the town had brought in Tom Mix to serve in Le Hunt as town Marshall before he became a silent movie actor. Mix served the town well keeping the peace and rounding up the drunks and villains in true cowboy movie matinee style.
A couple of stories circled on the departure of Mix from his position as Marshall. One was that Tom’s personal life was not well received with townsfolk. It turns out Mix was a womanizer. One evening Mix was caught with another man’s woman and he was loaded up in a wagon in the middle of the night and dropped off out side town limits. Tom Mix isn’t alive to tell his side of the story but it is well known his relationships with women did not last. Tom was married at least 5 times.
Another story has Mix being an umpire at a Sunday afternoon baseball game. One player chose to disagree with a call Tom had yelled out. After a brief argument, Mix pulled out his pistol and bopped the player on the head with the butt of his gun. The act infuriated the home team and they chased Tom out of the town. For Tom Mix and his fans the event may have been a blessing in disguise as he made his way to Hollywood staring in many silent western movies and eventually became a cowboy hero of the silver screen.
The decline of the Portland plant was swift, a sudden economic down turn in the industry in 1911 preceding the Great Depression which had hit the area hard. Three factors added to the fate of the plant. One was that there was a depletion of natural gas in the area and the other was an over expansion of other cement plants across the mid west. Another factor was a sudden hike in railroad rates. The plant first shut down production in 1913. The town began to dwindle. The employees, their families and townsfolk had gone elsewhere looking for more stable work. In 1915 the company had attempted a brief revival. The School was reopened & new employees began to refill the vacated homes.
Their new start up plan failed and along with beginnings of World War 1 the cost of fuel and materials sky rocketed, this made production unprofitable. Portland Cement went bankrupt in 1918 and closed its doors forever. Many houses were moved southeast to Independence. The Le Hunt School stayed open as country school for area children until 1947
Fast forward to present day. If not for the many legends surrounding the monstrous cement plant one would not know the town of Le Hunt even existed. One can now meet a road closed sign and locked gate just down the road from the still existing School
If one was to make the ¾ mile journey down the dirt road you will see remnants of sidewalks and foundations from the houses that were once a neighborhood for the residents and employees. The old road goes right by the main complex of the cement plant. “The Warehouse” it was once a giant of a building about the length of a football field or more. It is divided in to 3 large sections. Many of the 25 foot walls still stand and are covered in graffiti. Signs of late night parties, camp fires, and satanic rituals were evident. Nature is taking back what was rightfully hers though with tall evergreens, cedars, vines, and shrubs which now inhabit the floors of the complex.
The rest of the plant was built west up into the hillside of Table Mound. Like the ruins of ancient Rome you can still see many columns and pillars that used to hold pipes, tanks, and machinery. Once you take a hike up the hill you can find lonely stair steps peaking up from the ground. The biggest land mark is the area is the towering smoke stack, which stands visible above even the tallest trees. Hawks can always be seen swirling around it in lazy circles. Parts of the top are now crumbling and many chunks of its concrete sit in small piles below. It will be quite a sight when the stack decides to fall. Soon the weather will take its toll and it will be gone.
Just when you think you have heard it all, there is a star attraction! One that has drawn many to the area and made lots of urban legends surrounding the plant. Many immigrants including Negros, Greeks & those of Mexican descent came from all over to help construct the plant and the town.
The fabled story goes that a Mexican laborer by the name of Boars was working on one of the 15 foot high walls, some how 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.
The memorial still stands today just a short distance up the hill from the smoke stack. There are three sections of the wall dedicated to Boars.
One section has the remains of his pick axe and shovel embedded in the wall. The weather and elements have over time destroyed the wooden handles which have since fallen out. The shovels blade is still evident though but it’s unfortunately defaced by buckshot from vandals. In the next section, his wheel barrow protrudes from the wall. In the very next section, the name Boars is sculpted and engraved in to 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. As with many urban legends Boars ghost is said to haunt the plant.
Many more urban legends and ghost stories have been handed down through the ages. One is of a ghost dog heard moaning, howling, and rustling bushes as it walks through the wooded area. Another tale is the sighting of an old man walking near the crumbled and buckling sidewalks at twilight. Yet another tale is of whispering voices being heard through out the plant site and many have claimed to feel a heaviness in their chest near the Boars memorial wall.
If one wanders down the road a ½ mile further and around the bend they can see the Le Hunt cemetery. Grave stones have been vandalized and toppled over. A few volunteers over time have tended to the cemetery and tried to clean up some of the head stones. Even though it is somewhat cared for the weeds and brush does not seem to grow as wild inside the cemetery boundaries as it does in other areas. Five of the marked graves were for children and oddly enough there is only one grave of a person who did die in Le Hunt in its 1905-1917 heyday. The most prominent headstone in the graveyard is of the Murphy family who as it turns out donated the land for the cemetery. Sometime in the early 80’s vandals and grave robbers came along in the middle of the night (probably due to the cemeteries remote location) and dug up some of the graves looking for valuables buried with the dead.
On Oct 30 1997 (The day before Halloween) Brian Durnil aged 19 of Independence, Ks died after being brutally beaten and shot in the woods near the plant. Keayon Hadley also 19 was convicted of the murder in Durhil’s death and sentenced to life in Lansing Correctional Facility. 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.
Today, there are some signs of illegal dumping and fewer signs of partying debris. The plant and cemetery are mostly free of trash with the exception of old school pull tab beer cans obliterated with buckshot.
A sign on the gate that blocks the road to the former plant and gives vague instructions to get a key from the “engineers office” most likely a reference for the Corps of engineers who manage the nearby Elk city lake located on the other side of Table mound.
A very special thank you to Sue Prince & Sylvia Augustine of the Independence Historical Museum for providing the historical photographs.
For more information please visit The Independence Historical Museum