Doniphan, Kansas – River Ghost Town

Doniphan, Kansas School today.

Doniphan, Kansas School today.

In 1873, a brick schoolhouse was built by James F. Forman at a cost to the town of $8,000. This two-story structure measured 65×38 feet and contained four classrooms as well as a basement. In 1883, it had about 60 students.

By 1882, Doniphan had three general stores, two drug stores, a wagon shop, two blacksmith shops, a wholesale liquor house, a meat market, a hotel, a feed stable, three millinery and dressmaking establishments, two saloons, a printing office, four wine cellars, and a shoe shop. Professionals in town included two physicians, three carpenters, three stonemasons, a plasterer, a cooper, and a surveyor. There were three church organizations and two secret societies. The Atchison & Nebraska Railroad entered the town from the north, terminating between Sixth and Seventh Streets. This year, the last newspaper of the town, the Doniphan County Weekly News began in March but lasted less than six months.

A Doniphan, Kansas barn today by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

A Doniphan, Kansas barn today by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

By 1887, the railroad no longer entered Doniphan, instead, it bypassed it to the west, and only stopped at Doniphan Station, which was a few miles northwest of town. This bypass undoubtedly harmed the towns’ businesses. By this time, nearby Atchison, Kansas and St. Joseph, Missouri were flourishing as railroad hubs, drawing many people and businesses away from Doniphan.

In June 1891, the Missouri River flooded and a new southern channel was created, resulting in thousands of yards of railroad track washing away and leaving Doniphan landlocked. Where the steamboats once docked was now an inland village beside a large pool of water, which was called Doniphan Lake. The railroad rebuilt two miles to the west and Doniphan went into a steep decline.

The historic Catholic Church still stands in Doniphan, Kansas today by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

The historic Catholic Church still stands in Doniphan, Kansas today by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

By 1905, Doniphan had only a few businesses left, including a blacksmith, two general merchandise stores, and a grocery store. By 1910, the population was only 134 and the next year, the town was described by the Kansas City Star as “desolate and almost deserted.” The Brenner family winemaking enterprises finally ended in 1912.

However, the town continued on for several decades. Its post office closed its doors forever in August 1943 and its Rural High School Number 10 closed in 1947. In 1949, Doniphan still had a grocery store and a gas station but only about 50 residents. The Army Corps of Engineers emptied Doniphan Lake in the 1950s.

Today, there is little is left of Doniphan, except for a few buildings in various states of decay. However, its Catholic Church has been restored and continues to be utilized for special masses such as weddings and funerals. The Brenner Vineyards Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, which includes 4.9 acres, the St. John’s Catholic Church, a two-story winery building, a barn, corncrib and pump-house, a smokehouse, and the ruins of Adam Brenner’s house and winery. A still utilized cemetery sits nearby. A few residents still live in the area.

To reach Doniphan from Atchison, take River Front Road north from Riverfront Park, and follow it to Mineral Point Road for about seven miles. The historic district is located at the intersection of Mineral Point and 95th Roads.


Doniphan, Kansas Cemetery by Kathy Weiser- Alexander.

Doniphan, Kansas Cemetery by Kathy Weiser- Alexander.

© Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated May 2019.

Also See:

Ghost Towns Across America

Kansas Ghost Towns

Kansas Ghost Towns Photo Gallery

Kansas Main Page


Blackmar, Frank W.; Kansas Cyclopedia, Standard Publishing, 1912
Brenner Vineyards Historic District Nomination
Cutler, William G.; History of the State of Kansas, A. T. Andreas, 1883
Gray, Patrick L. Doniphan County history, Roycroft Press, 1905
Lost Kansas Communities


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