The famed Pony Express served as a speedy mail delivery service, beginning in 1860. Mail could make it from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California in just 10 days, less than half the usual 25 days for stagecoach delivery. Riders rode horses at breakneck speeds along ten-mile stretches, changed horses at a Pony Express Station, and continued on. At every third station, a new rider would quickly take over. The Hollenberg Pony Express Station, located in Hanover, Kansas, is one of the few remaining Pony Express stations remaining on its original site, and you are invited to tour it.
Hollenberg Pony Express Station History
It didn’t start as a Pony Express station. Rather, Gerat Hollenberg and his wife Sophia had been running a successful inn and tavern since 1857. Hollenberg bought the property located at a strategic point, just a mile from where two major branches of the California-Oregon trail joined to form a wide road. About 70,000 emigrants traveled past each year. Many travelers stopped to camp on his property, and others spent a night in the inn. Some stocked up on supplies, enjoyed a meal in the tavern, or had their horses re-shoed and wagons repaired.
The Hollenbergs expanded their business as their success grew. They added buildings and hired help. The start of the Pony Express only added to their success.
Pony Express Comes to an End
In October 1861, Western Union completed the transcontinental telegraph. The Pony Express was no longer needed, and the company that ran it went bankrupt. The Pony Express lasted just a year and a half, but it made its mark in history.
- Pony Express service was very expensive—five dollars per half-ounce. So, people using the service often wrote on very thin tissue paper to save money.
- Because of the cost, the Pony Express was used only for very important mail. Most mail continued to be delivered by stagecoach.
Times Continued to Change
During and after the Civil War, traffic on the California-Oregon Trail declined, and Hollenberg’s business declined with it. Ever the entrepreneur, though, Gerat Hollenberg changed with the times. He switched to general farming, raising cattle and growing grain. In addition, he invested well in real estate and founded the nearby town of Hanover. Gerat Hollenberg also served three terms in the Kansas legislature.
When You Visit the Hollenberg Pony Express Station
From the visitor center, walk the prairie path through what was once the camp. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to watch cooking demonstrations over the open fire, just as the early campers would cook.
Then, explore inside the cabin that served as the Hollenbergs’ home, tavern, and inn. Placards throughout the cabin and grounds explain artifacts and history of this early settler’s life and home.
The Hollenberg Pony Express Station, located at 2889 3rd Road in Hanover, Kansas, is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check the Kansas Historical Society website for admission rates and other details.