Historic Burlingame Comes Together To Revive Community with Country Christmas

Located where the Santa Fe Railroad crosses the old Santa Fe Trail, as its heritage runs deep, long and continuing, Burlingame, Kansas, like most Midwest rural communities is having survival struggles.

But, the younger generation has now joined sides with more mature residents of the Osage County farming town to whip defeat and grow to thrive once more.

Mayor Ray Hovestadt, Pat Rusher and City Clerk Patti Gilbert talked about the day’s activities
Mayor Ray Hovestadt, Pat Rusher and City Clerk Patti Gilbert talked about the day’s activities

Evidence is obvious by the contagious enthusiasm during recent planning sessions for the Country Christmas Celebration set December 1.

Burlingame was originally established in 1855, and was an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail, with the brick main street made wide enough for an oxen team to turn around.

The Atchison-Santa Fe Railroad line was laid from Topeka to Burlingame in 1868, and still passes through the community.

With that sound pedigree, Burlingame’s resurgence is foremost to three-term Mayor Ray Hovestadt who’s operated a car body shop there more than three decades.

While Burlingame has lost businesses and population since he came, Hovestadt assured, “Population (about 950) has leveled off. We have thriving businesses, and we’re working to get a grocery store again, and other retail outlets.”

Admitting there have been soothsayers, Hovestadt said, “We are a historic community, but old buildings that were falling down are being torn down. For a community to grow, there must be development.”

A nursing home that sat idle for years was purchased by the city. “We’ll salvage what we can to retrieve some of our investment. Then, we hope it becomes a housing development with 10 homes,” Hovestadt related.

The Osage County Economic Development office has received a grant to help fund medium-income housing for Burlingame.

“Other assistance programs are available, that we’re working on. We plan to take advantage of everything President Obama has to offer,” Hovestadt said.

St. Francis Hospital has expressed intentions to offer regular scheduled services through a location at Burlingame, the mayor appreciatively noted.

City Clerk Patti Gilbert emphatically contended, “Burlingame is a way of life. We are not a bedroom community, like some people say. Burlingame is home where people live, work, and raise their families.

“The future is even brighter. We have joined together to assure that,” insisted Gilbert, pointing out that a simple thing like the brick streets helps make all generations bond.

“There has been dissection, but whenever there’s talk of destroying our streets, that’s when everybody rallies together to keep Burlingame’s history, and build on it,” said Gilbert, crediting the Burlingame Museum as an often overlooked community asset.

With no effort to contain her opposition to city shopping centers taking rural business, Gilbert said, “Burlingame people have been without a grocery store for eight years, and know how important one is. They have been surveyed and will support a store.”

Schools are the backbone of a community, Gilbert contended. “We are fortunate to have pre-school through high school, and Allen County Community College. Our education programs are highly recognized, too.”

Pat Rusher, enthusiastic community supporter-worker, evaluated, “Rural townspeople often are of the mindset that rural area’s struggles will take care of themselves, but that’s not the case. Everybody must work together to make it happen.

“We’re finally seeing that here in Burlingame. The younger generation has realized what we have, and are readily working with the longtime citizens to move forward,” analyzed Rusher, a leader in the Burlingame Saddle Club.

“Our annual rodeo has continued despite community setbacks. Saddle club events help make people aware of Burlingame,” Rusher noted.

The Burlingame Chamber of Commerce has struggled, too, but Kenna Burns, acting president, assured, “The city of Burlingame has ramrodded efforts to continue our 23rd annual Country Christmas at Burlingame, and the chamber is working closely with everybody to assure its success.”

A full slate of festivities is set Saturday, Dec. 1.  “Many other organizations have joined us, and committees have been formed for every unique activity,” Burns said. “All of the community businesses plan special events and sales.”

Among committee-coordinated activities are a cupcake decoration contest, Lion’s Club turkey dinner, Girl Scout’s lunch, Snow Princess pageant, holiday home tours and three dozen vendors will have special displays.

“Christmas is all about children, so we have a Candy Land planned for them with fun games and gifts,” Burns related.

“We have a Burlingame Angel Tree to offer assistance, and make Christmas a happier time for the increasing-number of families who are struggling this year,” Burns informed.

Climax for Country Christmas at Burlingame, December 1, is the chili feed, lighting of the Christmas tree on Main Street, and the Christmas Parade at 5:30.

As again-prospering Burlingame’s population expands to triple its size for Christmas kick-off festivities, one might want to take a second look as Santa Claus waves from the horse-drawn stagecoach, because Mayor Hovestadt revealed he has a “new suit just for the special occasion.”