Descendants of two of the 16 founding members of Americus met for a historical tour and dialogue at the beginning of June.
The Hill descendants, consisting of the third- and fourth-great grandchildren of Thomas C. (“T.C.”) Hill, came from New Jersey, South Carolina, Montana and Florida. In total, they traveled more than 6,000 miles to gain information on, insight into and love for their ancestors.
T.C. Hill and William Grimsley were original members of the Americus Town Company, an organization established to locate and build upon land to create the town of Americus. There were many smaller settlements in the area prior to Americus, but the town itself was established in 1857.
The Hill Family
T.C. Hill, originally from Maine, moved to Council Grove where he had a mercantile business. He then moved to a farm on Allen Creek, outside of Americus, and became deeply invested in developing the town of Americus.
T.C. initiated and supported multitudinous business endeavors, including the construction of a sawmill and a corn-mill. T.C. was also a member of the Kansas House of Representatives; T.C. blamed the job and subsequent lack of sleep for the illness that quickly led to his death.
T.C.’s wife Lucy Goddard Hill was previously married to George Thatcher Goddard.
In 1855, Lucy, George, Elisha, Lucy’s sister and Geroge’s mother moved from Massachusetts to Rock Creek, outside of Council Grove, upon the doctor’s request to assuage George’s health problems. Elisha joined Americus Town Company and opened “The Americus House” hotel, which was later known as “The Goddard House,” directly on Main Street. The Goddards befriended the Hills, and upon George’s death in the spring of 1858, T.C. bought George’s land and married Lucy in October.
The Hill descendents visited the lot where The Goddard House formerly stood. Main Street was composed of 16 lots, one for each Americus Town Company member.
For about 20 years, Lucy worked as the postmaster and allegedly even lived in the back of the building for a short time. The post office where this occurred is the current Americus City Hall, where the family gathered the morning of the Americus tour.
“We have, as a family, so much history wrapped up in this little town,” third-great-granddaughter Robin Boyle said.
“I love history. They all love history too,” fourth great-granddaughter Christine Dutton said. “It’s a realization — okay, this is where we came from. Our family was here.”
Lucy and George had three children, all of which died early on. She and T.C. had six children, three of which survived to adulthood, including Thomas Stanley Hill.
From 1905-1912, Thomas Stanley Hill owned the Saddlerock Cafe in Council Grove, where the Hill descendants shared breakfast together. Also in Council Grove, the Hill descendants ate at Trail Days Cafe and Museum, where they were warmly welcomed as family by Lucy Hill reenactor Shirley McClintock. McClintock read from Lucy’s diary and truly put on an emotional performance about the trek to Kansas, losing her babies and what it was like to build a life in Americus, the family said. The food, decor and clothing were in period.
“Sometimes we don’t even remember what year we’re in,” Boyle said.
In 1910, Thomas Stanley and his family moved to Wisconsin, where Donald Hill (a.k.a. “Popper”) was born. Donald and his wife had Myrtle and Jean. Myrtle’s children, James Dutton and Robin Dutton Boyle, and Jean’s children, Jeannie Pritchett Bernstein and Kenny Pritchett, are the family members who participated in this trip. James’ daughter Christine came along, too.
Thomas Stanley was buried in Great Bend. The Hill descendants visited his grave, coincidentally exactly 102 years after his burial.
“We didn’t realize it,” Robin said. “I had no idea.”
She recalled that a newspaper article published on May 31, 1917 pronounced his death and mentioned that the funeral would take place the next day.
“There we stood, June 1, 102 years to the day of his funeral,” Robin said, visibly awestruck.
After over 17 years of DNA and ancestral research, Robin started planning this trip last May. She said she has no intention of slowing down and is excited to delve deeper into the Hill family and into the other branches of her family tree.
Next, the family would like to look into their ancestry in Maine and Massachusetts, with a future trip there in the works.
“It’s really neat to be able to come together and remember these people and remember what they did and learn about them and learn about everybody else around here,” Christine Dutton said.
The Grimsley Family
William Grimsley, Senior moved from Iowa to the Americus Township, with his wife and children in 1856. He soon became active in community affairs and joined the Americus Town Company.
Two of Grimsley’s sons, William Jr. and Abram, fought in the Civil War. Abram was killed, and William Jr. returned home. William Jr. married Alice Laughlin. They continued residency in Americus and had eleven children.
One son, John Grimsley, was born in 1893. In 1916, he married Anna Christensen. Together, they stayed in Americus and had seven children. Of the seven children, four stayed in Americus or nearby into their adulthood.
Dale Grimsley, second youngest child, attended Emporia State University and moved around Kansas as a teacher. Eventually, he and his wife Belle, 81, settled down back in Americus. Dale is currently 87 years old and the last remaining of his siblings.
The house they live in was built in 1885 and functioned as the Presbyterian manse. Dale and Belle told of how the minister who first lived in the house was known to rollerskate in circles around the top floor, where all of the rooms were connected.
The Grimsleys invited the Hill descendants to look at their home and discuss family history and the places and times during which their ancestors interacted.
Together, the Hill descendants and Grimsley family wondered if perhaps the Hills mingled in the space in years past.
“There would be a good chance that Lucy and Stanley walked through those doors,” Robin said.
Another point of interaction is how Lucy succeeded Dale’s uncle Wiley Grimsley as postmaster.
Where the Grimsleys keep their tractors, across the street from their home, is also one of the historic Americus buildings. It had once been a blacksmith shop, filling station, real estate office and craft shop.
The Grimsleys showed the Hill descendants around town, providing historical information at the various locations, such as the location of the cheese-mill, built in 1865.
After the town tour, the families trekked out to the Americus cemetery. They each found their ancestors’ plots. Dale and Belle already have their plot marked — a living memory of rich history and true Americus roots.
The Hill descendants expressed their deep appreciation of Dale and Belle for their ability and willingness to provide more historical information, to take them to locations specific to their families, as well as for the history their ancestors share.