St. Patrick’s Church: How the Emerald Isle ended up in the middle of the nation’s most landlocked state


Three days each week, our travels take us down Old U.S. Highway 50 past a sign.  “St. Patrick’s Church. Emerald Parish. 6 1/2 miles south.” After passing by at least a dozen times, my husband and I gave in to the urge to follow it and turned south.

The sign drawing in visitors from Old U.S. Highway 50.

“Has it been six and a half miles yet?” I asked as we drove down a country road, with only a handful of farm houses in sight.

“I have no idea,” Jim said. “I’m not even sure what county we’re in.”

Suddenly, our road intersected Kansas Highway 31 at an angle and we were looking at a steep hill.

“You think it’s up there?” I said, doubtfully.

“Let’s go see,” Jim said. And we climbed the hill to find one of the most spectacular overlooks in central Kansas.

We were, in fact, in Anderson County. Belying its idyllic appearance is a county whose people and history are a touch contrary and more than a little accomplished. Named for attorney Joseph C. Anderson, a leader in the “bogus”  pro-slavery legislature that attempted to take control of Kansas, the county would as claim its own one Dr. J. G. Blunt, who, as a major general, was the highest ranking member of the Union army to settle in Kansas. The county would also be the birth place of Edgar Lee Masters, author of the Spoon River Anthology, and Dr. Martha E. Cunningham, one of the first women doctors in the state. And yet, the southeast corner of the county was known to be a hiding place for border ruffians during the Civil War and Jesse James thereafter. It is also believed that the first-ever picture of a tornado was shot from Anderson County.

But this was all in Anderson County’s future. In 1857, when Irish transplant John McManus was looking for somewhere to claim for his family, he saw the cheap land and excellent soil and staked a claim near the Ionthe Creek in Reeder Township.

At the top of the hill with its breathtaking panoramic view was a brick, Romanesque church.

St. Patrick’s Church, built in 1899.

“It’s almost all alone up here,” I said, seeing only a decrepit building next to the church.

Yet the church was maintained and, other than the fact that its bell tower had been removed, appeared to still be in use.

The McManus family was followed by a wave of others who made their way west after immigrating from Ireland, many from North Ulster. Soon names like Doolin, Collins, McEvoy, Glennan, McElroy, Cristy, McGrath, Reddington, Fitzgerald, Sullivan, McLindon, Campbell, and Grant populated the area. After the Civil War, the Fay, McGlinchy, Cotter, Swallow, Benedum, Hagan, McGlinn, Mooney, and O’Neill families settled into the highest eminence of Anderson County.

Many of the monuments at St. Patrick’s Cemetery attest to the Irish roots of Emerald’s original inhabitants.

“They built log houses, danced and were happy in a land of boundless opportunities where they were the landlords instead of the tenants as they had been in Ireland,” Harry Johnson wrote in 1936 in his History of Anderson County Kansas.

The Irish settlement, which spread into nearby Coffey and Franklin counties, did prosper. By 1870, they had outgrown the first church and replaced it with a structure built from locally quarried stone. In 1899, they replaced the stone church with the brick Romanesque building that is said to have been decorated by artists from Luxemburg.

“One of the finest church edifices in Kansas,” Johnson wrote, “…this brick structure, built Roman style, forms the nucleus of the Emerald settlement today.”

The area became known as Emerald, and with no town per se, the church, which stood at the settlement’s highest point, served as a beacon to the community’s Roman Catholic population.

“Look at this cemetery,” Jim said as we walked behind the church. At a glance, it was clear that we were seeing a prosperous community who could afford substantial monuments to honor their dead. Some family stones were adorned with statues eight feet tall, artistry infused with enough emotion to take your breath away.

The monument honoring the Collins family in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

McGlinchy Angel

A close-up of the angel that stands eight feet tall over the five-foot base of the McGlinchy family monument.

By World War I, Emerald was home to 75 families, and its schools (the final building, St. Patrick’s School, is the empty structure next to the church) produced five lawyers, two doctors, numerous nurses and teachers, and a member of the Kansas Authors Club. Eighteen men from the area would serve in the Great War, two losing their lives.

Then, like so many other rural areas in Kansas, the settlement experienced a population decline beginning during the 1930s. The number of local families dropped to 48, with a slight resurgence after World War II. Despite the decline, many with Irish roots still call this area home, and the church and cemetery are still in use. While the bell was removed from the church roof during the 1990s, it is preserved at the entrance to the cemetery, where visitors can activate the clapper, causing it to resonate a deep, rich sound that can be heard for miles.

At a time when so many Roman Catholic churches are closing their doors due to financial shortfalls and a shortage of clergy, St. Patrick’s Church continues to serve the community of Emerald. Though the settlement may only be a shadow of its former self, at five o’clock each Saturday evening, the church that otherwise sits quietly on the hill is renewed with members from the surrounding farms and ranches.

Panoramic View Emerald Kansas

It took 10 snapshots to build a panoramic view of the sweeping countryside east of the steps of St. Patrick’s Church in Emerald, Kansas.

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15 thoughts on “St. Patrick’s Church: How the Emerald Isle ended up in the middle of the nation’s most landlocked state

  1. Fred Miller

    So glad to see this. I worked the farm land around that church as a kid. Your word “breathtaking” is not too strong to describe that view. In fact the entire spirit of the place is powerful in its serenity. I still intend to buy land there when I make my fortune.

    Reply
    1. Diana Staresinic-Deane Post author

      Oh, I wish I had thought to use the word serenity, because it is the right word for that spot. Uplifting, not just physically, but emotionally. It was so quiet and peaceful, without feeling abandoned. I’m glad you feel like I’ve captured the essence of the spot.

      Reply
  2. Angela

    I forgot, Fred, you know that area well! It’s so lovely. Serenity is a good word. Fred knows Scipio, also, Diana. Probably a lot more about it than I do!

    Reply
  3. Kevin Traynor

    Growing up in Ireland I heard so much about landlords, most of it bad, so I loved the idea of the immigrants to Emerald being landlords instead of tenants. Absentee landlords were the worst, living in the city and using their agents to gouge the peasants. I have yet to see this place and i hope to do so ASAP. Thanks for the blog. And what an unusual church!

    Reply
  4. Eleesa

    Thank you for authoring this delightful tribute to St. Patrick’s, where my great grandparents and other relatives are buried. As a neophyte genealogist working from across the country, this provided a treasure trove of information on the Irish settlement at Emerald, Kansas that I would not have otherwise known anything about. I was delighted to learn this background for my ancestors. After reading the list of names of some the early settlers, I did not see our family surname listed, although I do find it in the transcript of graves at St. Patrick’s.

    I have ancestral ties to all three last names beginning with the letter “G” that I found among the transcript of last names in the cemetery at http://genealogytrails.com/kan/anderson/stpatrickcemetery-eh.html. I also saw our surname in this contribution:
    http://www.kansastowns.us/hdkt/towne.html

    Which got me to wondering. Could the name typed in your article as “Granis” actually be “Grants”?

    Reply
    1. Diana Staresinic-Deane Post author

      Eleesa, thanks for your post! Amazingly, no one else (including me) has caught the typo. Yes, it should be “Grant.” I will go in and make the correction.

      You might want to check in with the Anderson County Historical Society – they’ve done a lot of research and writing on the history of the Emerald Community, and they’re a nice group of people! I have no doubt they’ll point you to additional information when you’re ready for it.

      Reply
  5. Mary Jaffe

    Diana,
    Since the 1950′s our family has been searching the whereabouts of an infant, Annie Quigley, who disappeared from her siblings during a tragedy that occurred while they were very little children. One of the children, my grandmother Mary Quigley, was the daughter of Mary McManus whose father founded the town. Annie was the daughter of Mary McManus, born in 1877. However, today, 137 years later, I (her grandniece of 70 years) have found her, named after her Aunt and Uncle Drum, at peace in the St. Patrick’s parish cemetery. To find your lovely story and know that she was placed where she should have gone is of great comfort to me. When I was about nine, I secretly promised my grandmother that I would find the baby sister for whom she mourned all of her life. Being a devout Irish Catholic, she would have been happy to know that she was taken by the angels and lies among the souls of her family and friends. I cannot tell you what the power of your story is. It came to me at the very moment and for the very purpose for which it was intended: to bring happiness in a moment of grief. I hope to go to that cemetery and ring the bell. If I do, I will think of you and will be even more grateful.
    I shall, indeed, dance on Annie’s grave and tell her of her wonderful Quigley descendants. She never got to hear about them!!
    Mary Elizabeth

    Reply
    1. Diana Staresinic-Deane Post author

      Mary Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your family’s amazing story. If you haven’t already, you might want to check in with the Anderson County Historical Society. They have a lively group of historians who might be able to help you further with your family research. And definitely ring the bell!

      Reply
  6. Pingback: Diphtheria, the O’Marra Family, and the Rest of the Story | Diana Staresinic-Deane

  7. lBi

    Love your blog about the church and the area. The parish there will be having a fundraiser March 15 for St Pats Day. They hope to one day have enough money to rebuild the steeple. You should check out Mineral Point and the rock house that is on top of the hill. It’s just a few miles southwest from the church.

    Reply

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