You might miss the tiny town along the Platte River, a few miles shy of the Missouri River. Aside from a red brick church with the tall steeple, it would be easy to overlook.
In many ways Farley is typical of the small towns that popped up across America in the 1800s, many of them founded by people who tilled the land.
But Farley, off Missouri 45 between Interstate 435 and the Leavenworth cut-off in Platte County, is unique because of the people who settled it.
That church tells the story. It was founded in 1872 as St. Johannes Kirche by families of German heritage. People with such surnames as Kisker, Oberdiek, Meyers, Lutte and Niemann are still on its rolls. But the best-known surname belonged to the town’s founder.
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In 1850, Josiah Farley submitted the plan for the town. He was listed in the U.S. census that year as a farmer born in Tennessee in 1812. Some historians speculate that the Platte Purchase of 1836, which opened American Indian lands to settlement, was his incentive to move west.
Much of the story of Josiah Farley and his family was chronicled by a fifth-generation descendant: Jim Farley, a longtime Platte County lawyer and historian who died April 13. Like his ancestors, Jim Farley grew up in the village and raised a family there.
Farley wrote a book that describes Farley’s darkest day. In 1900 the town doctor, who was most likely intoxicated and on drugs, shot and killed three people. Future generations of those who were gunned down know the story well, and the doctor’s tombstone in an old cemetery is a well-known landmark for longtime residents. Its inscription, “Gone But Not Forgotten,” inspired the title of Jim Farley’s book.
Jim Farley’s grandfather organized Farley State Bank in 1907, and four generations of Farleys managed it until it was sold to BankLiberty in 2008.
Longtime Farley resident Gary Oberdiek recalls that his great-grandfather came from Germany with nine children and moved into a one-room log cabin on the land they bought. They saved money from their income as farmers and added a room. Then they saved more money and built a house.
“People today can’t understand how people could live that way,” he said. “But they were glad for the opportunity for a better life.”
Farley is officially a village, governed by a board of five elected trustees, one of whom is the chairman. Farley also has a part-time city clerk and a treasurer. Board meetings are held the first Tuesday of each month.
Unlike many small towns, Farley is growing. Its population increased to 269 in 2010, up from 226 in 2000 and 125 when Jim Farley began his law career there in 1952.
Several years ago the town annexed some land and adopted zoning laws to control what was built, said former board chairman Chuck McCardie. He’s a descendent of several longtime village families.
Stories abound among what Farley native David Hendrix calls the Farleyites. One story leads to another, and it becomes obvious that growing up in Farley was, as Hendrix put it, “awesome.”
Sue Farley remembers stories that her husband, Jim Farley, told about growing up in the village.
When he was a teenager, he and his friends “would congregate at the store,” she said. “You could buy a Coke and a candy bar for 5 cents.”
From there, she said, her husband and his friends would head to Leavenworth for a movie matinee, then top off the evening by hanging out in a car and listen to its radio.
Her husband also told her about a few pranks he and his chums pulled, Sue Farley said. On Halloween the group would “tip” outhouses, but Jim had to be a little cautious since his father served on the school board.
Hendrix’s uncle, Son Hendrix, 102, laughs as he recalls such an adventure around 1925. Teens told 12-year-old Son and his friends to hide while they upset an outhouse belonging to the influential Minnear family. The outhouse fell on its door with Mrs. Minnear inside.
The Farley native says it took a lot of strength to free her, but there were no dire consequences for the culprits.
Son Hendrix now lives in a senior citizen home in Weston. He had farmed the area where the bank was later built, David Hendrix said.
“He never married,” he said. “He helped care for his mother, Sudie Wallace Hendrix.”
Uncle Son bought a new car every two years, said Eddie Hendrix, David’s brother, adding that the retired dairy farmer drove from Farley to Weston twice a day at 40 miles an hour.
“Natives knew that if traffic backed up, Son was probably the cause,” Eddie Hendrix said.
Son Hendrix and Jim Farley were second cousins, and Jim visited him on a regular basis, taking notes of their conversations. Son was a great source of events for Farley’s books, the most notable of which was “Gone But Not Forgotten,” the story of the murders in Farley in 1900. Two of the victims were their ancestors.
For many years, the village was relatively self-sufficient, providing services residents needed. Traveling by horse and buggy on unpaved roads made reaching out to other communities difficult in the days before Missouri 45.
In 2006, the general store that had provided groceries and gasoline closed for the last time, The building is for sale.
McCardie and Beverly Kincaid, the mother of the trustee board’s chairwoman, Teresa Bing, remember the general store, the Farley Mercantile.
“If we (kids) wanted a pop or candy bar,” McCardie said, “we’d go to the store, get it, and it would be added to our parents’ bill.”
These days, say the longtime Farley residents, people think nothing of jumping in a car to shop in Parkville, Leavenworth, Platte City or Weston.
Farley was well-known for its sports teams, especially baseball. The town team played in the Mid-Continent League.
“We had the best team in the league,” David Hendrix said. “Summer was baseball. We played Platte City, Parkville, Weston.”
McCardie, a volunteer fireman for South Platte Fire Protection District for 20 years, recalls when fire protection in Farley was all volunteer.
His grandmother, Mary Jane McCardie, had two phones in her house. The fire-call phone had its own number and was hung higher than the other so children could not reach it. When a call came, he said, “Grandma would push a button to sound the alarm.”
The volunteers responded quickly, Kincaid said, jockeying to be first to drive the fire truck.
Eddie Hendrix recalled a roller rink above the fire station. It also was used for basketball, movies and plays.
Eventually a fire destroyed the building as well as the fire truck. The 1890 Christian church next door survived.
McCardie’s ancestors owned the phone company for many years. Everyone had a party line, which led to some eavesdropping. Until technology caught up with the phone system in Farley, any call made outside the city limits was long-distance.
Children in Farley are bused to school in Weston, but it was not always that way. Jim Farley once told a reporter he would not trade his one-room school experience in Farley for anything.
Eddie Hendrix attributes the closing of Farley’s school to newcomers who wanted their children going to school Weston. Eventually the Farley school had so few students that it was not economically feasible to keep it open. Today it’s a residence.
Life in Farley had a Norman Rockwell-Americana painting ambiance for generations. Families sat out in the evening visiting. Youngsters were safe, as everyone in the town was a played the role of guardian to the children.
“We’d spend time at the river,” Oberdiek said. “My mother didn’t know where we were.”
As in many small towns, people took on more than one job. The same person who answered the fire calls might also fix bikes, shore up the Platte River Levee when floods threatened, and coach sports.
Ask longtime residents of Farley whether life is the same these days as it was before, and they say “no” without hesitation.
Farley is much like other other places now, they say. People don’t know their neighbors as they once did, Oberdiek said. And like Teresa Bing, they commute to work out of town.
Jim Farley lamented at the celebration of Platte County’s 175th anniversary in 2014: “Society is impersonal today. I miss that from the old days. You don’t know people as well now.”
When asked what was best and what was the worst of his times, Son Hendrix replied: “Good is staying alive. Bad is not feeling good”
However, as is true for many who grew up in small towns, it doesn’t take much to make Son Hendricks happy. As long as his Royals are playing and he has his A&W Root Beer and packs of Beech-Nut Chewing Tobacco, life is good.
The crime that
stunned the town
Aug. 20, 1900, wrote the late Jim Farley in “Gone But Not Forgotten,” was a day remembered forever by the people who lived in the town of Farley. Four persons were shot to death that morning in the small community. Jim Farley gathered these details in his book:
Dr. Sterling Price Harrington was a town doctor married to a local woman, May Wallace, who came from a well-respected family. The newspaper account of the wedding congratulated the happy couple on their good fortune.
The couple’s daughter, Maude, was 10 when her father went on a rampage.
But all was not pretty behind closed doors in the Harrington household, newspaper reports say. The doctor was reported to drink excessively and was suspected of taking drugs to which he had easy access. There was talk in the community that he abused his wife. On the evening of Aug. 18 screams were heard coming from the doctor’s home. The next morning, May Harrington sent Maude to get milk from a relative, and then ran to the neighbor’s house where she secreted herself in the attic.
When the doctor was unsuccessful in his hunt, he took Maude and in their buggy went to the home off his mother-in-law, Mary Wallace. He left his daughter holding the reins telling her that “if your grandmother tells me where your mother is, I will not harm her, but if she does not, I will kill her.”
No one knows what was said between the doctor and Mary Wallace, but he killed her. He returned to the buggy where he told Maude he had killed her grandmother and was going to “Uncle Jim’s” (Wallace).
At the home of James and Sarah Wallace, Dr. Harrington shot James Wallace, who was a grandfather of James Wallace Farley, and an inspiration for the book.
From there he proceeded to Leavenworth where he bought ammunition and two revolvers. Returning to Farley, he went to Henry Wiehe’s store on Main Street.
At the store he got $4 from the clerk. From there, the accounts as to what happened vary. It’s possible that there was gunfire between the doctor and the clerk, but what is known is that the Platte County Sheriff, John Dillingham, received word of the murders and with his son and deputy, Henry Dillingham, and two others drove a buggy to Farley. Dillingham hoped to arrest the doctor, but instead was shot on the porch of the store. Henry Dillingham then killed the doctor.
The three victims were buried the same day and records show all services were well attended. May Wallace Harrington left Missouri with Maude several years later to go west. James Wallace’s widow, Sarah, then lived with her daughter and son-in-law J.W. and Emma Farley.
The doctor is buried in the Farley Cemetery with a large tombstone that says “Gone But Not Forgotten.”