Historically, there have been several core entities that make for vitality in the small towns of Kansas...
For each one of these that a town loses it becomes harder for it survive. Some towns lose most or all of them and then become ghost towns.
In preparing for my trips across Kansas I was looking at an old railroad map and saw that Russell Springs was marked as the county seat for Logan County - out in western Kansas. This was confusing to me when I looked at a modern state highway map and saw that Oakley was marked as the county seat. As it turns out, Russell Springs lost the county seat after a controversial election in the early 1960s. A new courthouse was built in Oakley. The cornerstone was dedicated in 1965. The old one became a museum. Both buildings are still standing today.
This quite obviously was a sore spot for the residents of Russell Springs and the surrounding rural areas. Oakley has grown more populous because of its proximity to the interstate, but it's also in the far northeast corner of the county. Elections had been held in 1937 and again in 1945, both going in favor of Russell Springs. But the issue kept resurfacing -- particularly when the one hotel in Russell Springs closed. The only option for lodging for visitors was to stay in the jail or sleep out on the open prairie. In the case of court trials, sometimes all parties - plaintiffs and defendants, prosecutors and defense attorneys - had to stay at the jail...
Fortunately the old courthouse wasn't torn down (which is something that has happened in too many Kansas communities). Instead, it was turned into a museum of local history and artifacts: The Butterfield Trail Museum. I had a chance to visit it. The building still has the feel of an old courthouse.
One room was devoted to memorabilia from the old high school, which closed in the late 1960s. It was interesting to see that they were the Russell Springs Hornets, with the same mascot and colors as Emporia State University...
Russell Springs is like other similar Kansas towns (e.g. Dunlap, Wabaunsee, Bushong) in that it has a little bit of town spread over a very large grid, with street names that would suggest a larger city (Grand, Broadway, Vine, etc.). In their heyday the population was at least 800; today there are somewhere around 15-20 residents. One church remains, but the school, the post office and most all of the businesses are gone.
But I was still really impressed with what a nice little town they have, and what a peaceful country setting it provides. Much of the townsite is set up like a large park, perhaps to accommodate campers for the big trail ride event they have each year to raise money for the museum.
And the old hotel has been reopened! The Logan House hotel was redeveloped a number of years ago after sitting idle for sometime. It's about as close as you can get to the feel of an old-time hotel -- having 9 rooms upstairs and three bedrooms downstairs, in addition to a kitchen, two full bathrooms, a dining room, and a couple living/family rooms. It's a wonderful place for a church and/or clergy retreat, a large family gathering, or just an overnight accommodation as you're passing through (which was how I used it).
I was really impressed, given all that the citizens of Russell Springs have lost through the years, at how they have responded in creating such a nice little town. We can't always control the things that happen outside of our sphere of influence -- and we're bound to hit some disappointments. But what matters most is how we respond. It's easy to spend too much energy fretting over things outside our control. This can only distract us from what we can really do to make a difference, hence Reinhold Niebuhr's famous prayer: "God, give me the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."