An old stage backdrop from a theater in Coats now resides in the Pratt County Historical Museum
A new acquisition at the Pratt County Historical Museum is evidence that the little town of Coats, in the southwestern part of the county, was once a thriving community.
The advertising banner now hanging on the south wall of the Main Street Gallery was the stage backdrop of the movie house in Coats, which closed prior to World War II, according to longtime resident Mildred Eubank. She moved with her parents to Coats in 1927, and she doesn’t ever remember a talking movie in Coats, so she supposes it may have closed earlier than the 1940s.
She does remember seeing local pianists sitting in the left hand corner of the old Odd Fellows building, providing accompaniment for silent films.
When the building was demolished, a Coats resident took possession of the banner and kept it rolled up in a garage for many years. After the woman’s death, her daughter consulted Eubank about what to do with the banner.
Eubank suggested the museum and the daughter agreed. Curator Charmaine Swanepoel has done some restoration to stabilize the fabric so it can be hung.
The banner testifies to some hard times — as does the City of Coats, population 86 in 2013, a 32 percent decline since its peak in 1990.
“I can remember it,” Eubank said of the banner. “My daddy’s cash market was on it — phone 6.”
The Cozens cash grocery was one of three in Coats. Toews General Store had a horse-drawn hearse stored in the back. There was also a Staats General Store.
The cash market was a diversified store — they even sold shoes, according to Eubank, and stocked bananas on a hook, that had to be cut with a special knife. There were drawers of bulk items, like beans, that were scooped out and sold by weight, and big buckets of peanut butter. The market bought eggs from farmers and candled them in the back to make sure they were good.
Melvin Cozens butchered out in the country, and sold meat in his store. He also rented lockers to community members to store their own meat or garden produce. Eubank remembers putting in a lot of rhubarb and strawberries.
Eubank worked 41 years at the Coats State Bank, one of two banks in town when she was growing up. The Coats State Bank closed in the mid 1980s and the building stands empty.
She recalls the weekly newspaper, the Coats Courant. There was a drug store and pharmacist, a bakery, a hotel and a rooming house. Coats had a doctor and its own telephone service, several mechanics and three service stations. There was a Ford agency in town. The building is now the Coats city office.
Dwight Lyman ran the hardware store and won several state awards, Eubank said. Her husband Shorty bought the first self-propelled combine in Pratt County. She watched him and Lyman assemble the thing while she worked at the bank. She had her doubts that a combine could work without being pulled by a tractor.
There were two churches — the Methodists on one corner and the Baptists on another. Both were full at one time; now the Methodists survive, but membership is small.
The school closed when the Skyline district was organized, and was later torn down.
Kanza Co-op is the only remaining business in a town that at one time supported three grain elevators — Shriver, General Mills and Clark and Bartlett. Before the Shriver family sold to Kanza, it was one of only three independently owned elevators in the state, according to Eubank.
The town can be reached by blacktopped county roads, but sits well away from a major highway. Children and grandchildren of early-day residents farm in the area, but “that doesn’t keep anyone on Main Street,” Eubank said.
Still, she is “perfectly happy in Coats,” having lived there all but three years of her life. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”