In the heart of the
Ozarks is the small town of Elk Falls, which touts itself as the "World’s
ghost town.” Thriving as a mere shadow of its former self, the mid-nineteenth century
settlement attracts thousands of yearly visitors to its "Outhouse Tours”
and other eccentric attractions.
"Elk Falls is a state of mind... There's nothing
like it anywhere."
-- Mil Penner,
on a wooded bend in the road not far from the Oklahoma border, the
first settler to locate upon the town site was a man by the name of R.
H. Nichols in February, 1870. Soon after, the enterprise of
establishing a town site was conceived, and Nichols, with six other
businessmen, formed a town site company laying out lots and making
plans for the new settlement. Nichols built a small house, which also
served as a loan and real estate office, a general store was built, a
drug store and blacksmith shop opened, the post office was established
and school was taught to twenty-five pupils by Miss Dora Simmons at
her father’s residence.
By 1871, the site was named Elk Falls,
deriving its name from a nearby waterfall at the Elk River, and became
the temporary county seat of Howard County. The same year, a school
building was erected in a small one-story frame house, where services
for the Methodist Episcopal Church were also held.
elections in 1872 and 1873 failed to establish a clear choice between
Falls, Peru, Boston, Longton, and Howard for the county seat. After a questionable election of 1873, citizens of Boston raided Elk
Falls and took the county records and furnishings. The records
were hidden in Cowley County and the town of Boston posted armed
guards to keep out the Howard County sheriff.
bitterness became academic when Elk County was divided into Elk and
Chataugua Counties in 1875, with Elk Falls falling within Elk County
and the town of Howard becoming the county seat due to its central
In 1875, E. A.
Hall and L.J. Johnston constructed a grist and flour mill on the river
near the falls, from which the power was derived with a turbine water
wheel. The three story frame building was built at a cost of $1600.
Grinding wheat from both locals and others who shipped it in, the
mill provided flour throughout the entire state.
In order to create a water supply for severe
droughts that often plagued the area, several dams were built along the
Elk River, from logs, lumber, and timbers, but one after another they were
destroyed by high waters during floods. Finally, a man by the name of Jo
Johansen, a Swede from Minnesota, took over the mill and built the present
dam, made of sandstone rocks cemented together, which has withstood the
floods more than a century.
In 1879 a
Baptist Church was built and in the following year a new Methodist
Episcopal Church was built.
By 1883 the new
and rising town had attracted many prospects and numerous improvements had
been made, increasing the population to more than five hundred residents. Much of the population were children, as the school included more than 200