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Walking to school, Franklin/Arma

Address: 502 S. LaSota, Franklin, KS 66735
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Phone:
Website: www.franklinkansas.com/sidewalkinfo.htm

Custom:  Walking to school. 

Place that exemplifies that custom in a unique manner: 
The Historic Franklin Sidewalk.


Walking to school
became much easier in 1936 when the longest sidewalk that connects two towns was built between Franklin and Arma.

Sources of information:  Phyllis Bitner
  • The Historical Geography of the Impact of Coal Mining Upon the Cherokee-Crawford Coal Field by William E. Powell
  • Morning Sun Newspapers (formerly Pittsburg Headlight & Sun), Pittsburg
  • Kansas Highway Commission
  • Verbal interviews with early residents

ABOUT THE SIDEWALK
Constructed in 1936 with federal funding assistance, the Franklin Sidewalk connects two rural mining communities in Crawford County -- Arma and Franklin. The three-foot wide sidewalk begins at the south edge of Arma and stretches south 1.7 miles to the south edge of Franklin, and runs parallel along the east side of Business Highway 69.

The sidewalk is a product of the evolving changes in the mining industry which encouraged immigrants to settle in the area as they searched for jobs. The miners came to this area of the country in hopes of finding a better way of life and jobs that would allow them to send funds to their homeland to bring other family members to this country.

HISTORY BEHIND THE SIDEWALK CONSTRUCTION
In the early 1900s southeast Kansas was a melting pot of immigrants. It was known as the Little Balkans area denoting the immigrants from a variety of Balkan countries. The most numerous European nationalities laboring in the underground mines were Italians, Austrians, Germans, Yugoslavs (largely Slovenians), British (English, Welsh, Scots), French, and Belgians. The area boomed along with the mining industry. Mining communities emerged as more and more immigrants came to this country. Schools and businesses prospered. The number of employees in underground mines of the Kansas portion of the coal field reached almost 10,000 during the early years of World War I.

During the late 1920's and 1930's, a series of debilitating factors, acting in combination, caused the steady decline of underground mining in the coal field. The main causative factors were the economic impact of the depression, the rise of mechanized surface mining, competition from oil and gas, labor problems in the coal field (strikes), and competition from Eastern coals. Commercial underground mining, principally shaft mining, stimulated the beginning and growth of numerous agglomerated mining communities in the Cherokee-Crawford coal field.

A sizable number of the present-day rural and urban communities can trace their origins back to a camp near an underground mine. As a result of adverse economic conditions during the 1920's and 1930's and technological improvements in mechanized surface mining, shaft mining steadily declined in output and importance. The decline had a debilitative effect upon the many mining communities and their inhabitants. Miners and dependents departed, and most camps were moved or fell into physical decay. Where crops now grow or cattle now graze on many sites, there were once busy mines and mining communities. With the cessation of the last shaft mine in the coal field in April, 1960, a colorful and important era of mining ended which had a profound impact upon the history of this portion of southeastern Kansas.

A SIDEWALK WAS NEEDED

Due to the decline in the mining industry businesses were forced to close and schools were downsized and in many instances combined. Franklin High School saw it's last graduating class in 1928. Children then walked the two miles to school in Arma. Several accidents and deaths were reported as the children walked along the edge of the road. Businesses in Franklin also were downsizing and residents transacted their business in Arma. While there is no written documentation, memories of local residents indicate there was much concern for the safety of residents and children.

The sidewalk was constructed in 1936 which gave residents and children a safe place to walk. The Franklin Grade School closed in 1970. At this time there were bus routes established and children were not required to walk to school in Arma. Most families had transportation to conduct business in neighboring communities. This was a reflection of the national trends of that era. The sidewalk reflects changes in patterns of transportation throughout the 20th century.

NEW USES FOR AN OLD SIDEWALK
When the devastating tornado of 2003 destroyed much of the community of Franklin residents banned together to ensure that the town would be rebuilt. One of the major plans was restoration of the historic sidewalk. While the sidewalk is still under restoration it is once again used in much the same manner. It is used as a walking/exercise/biking path and for neighbors visiting neighbors. Residents can recapture the feelings of times spent walking to school on that sidewalk. It has retained it's integrity, historic physical features and characteristics and is easily recognizable to any observer. The sidewalk uniquely reflects the trends of the area due to changes in jobs, shopping, education and transportation.

IT'S FAMOUS!
It has also become well known for it's listing in either Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley's Believe it Or Not as the longest sidewalk connecting two towns in the United States. Many early residents remember the excitement as newspaper, radio and television carried stories about this record. The story about the sidewalk appeared in Life Magazine circa 1938.

ON THE NATIONAL REGISTER

Franklin Historic Sidewalk is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places as a means of transportation for education and commerce related activities.  A marker at the Franklin Community Park, which is midway, denotes the listing on the Historic Register. Other informative signs along the sidewalk denote its significance.