On the road: Abandoned Manter school

  • The road to Manter, Kansas, is lined with wheat fields.

In Manter, Kansas, just over the Colorado border in the southwest corner of the Sunflower State, the only paved road is U.S. 150, which parallels railroad tracks and grain silos.

The dusty roads and abandoned school tell the story of shrinking rural population in Kansas.

“Farm consolidation in Kansas was a process inherently linked to urban concentration, embedded into the general transformation of rural America,” according to the Kansas Policy Review, a publication of the Institute for Policy & Social Research. “In 50 years, the number of farms declined more than 50 percent, while their average size doubled. The farm population of the state declined from almost 500,000 to less than 100,000.”

In 1930, Manter had 224 people, according to the U.S. Census. In 2010, it had 171.

Down one dirt road you can find the U.S. Post Office by the words painted on the plate-glass window. Farther along, the Manter water tower is visible through tall trees.

A little farther and you see the school, a beautiful brick façade with lovely art-deco tiles over the windows and doors. The sign in front is missing so many letters that you would be hard-pressed to know that it was a high school. Trees that once shaded the walkways are now lifeless stumps. Peeking through the window of the auditorium, you see the worn hardwood of the basketball court. Gym shoes have not been heard there since 1974.


  1. Reply
    OB June 17, 2016

    Lots of talk recently about the “end of work” resulting from the increasing use of robots and artificial intelligence. Agriculture, the forgotten industry, was a precursor for the broad industrial landscape. Increased automation/mechanization made agriculture a capital intensive industry not a labor intensive industry. The number of farms shrank, the number of farmers shrank, the number of farm towns shrank, the number of big ass combines and tractors exploded, yields exploded, “productivity” exploded.

    Fast forward to today. Factory labor under attack from robotics. White collar work under attack from enterprise software available to even small business through the cloud. Service jobs under attack from self service kiosks. Retail jobs under attack by Amazon and their warehouse robotics. Western populations onthe broad scale shrinking just like those forgotten farm towns.

    Hard to see the end point but the farm town as a prequel to the world at large is not to be ignored.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols June 19, 2016

      Interesting analysis. Thanks for the thoughtful response. It is hard to see where it all ends. – Judy

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