Atchison, Kansas Territory
Recorded history goes back to 1724, when the expedition of M. de Bourgmont, military commander of the French colony of Louisiana, crossed what is now Atchison County to establish friendly trade relations with the Indians of the Platte region. Francois Marie Perrin du Lac, another French explorer, passed through in 1802-1803 and his journal tells of finding stones that he carried away to be analyzed. Although he lost them, the stones are believed to have been iron ore.
Lewis and Clark while encamped on Independence Creek six miles north of Atchison, were the first to celebrate Independence Day on Kansas soil. On July 4, 1804 they fired a salute in observance of the occasion and issued an additional gill of whiskey to the men.
In the winter of 1818, a detachment of soldiers, members of the First Rifle Regiment of Maj. Stephen H. Long’s Yellowstone expedition established the first military post in Kansas on a large island in the river six miles south of Atchison. French trappers had previously discovered this island and christened it Isle au Vache (Cow Island). When Major Long joined the detachment in July 1819, he brought the first river steamboats seen in this section. Many members of this expedition were prominent in the development of the West. Maj. John O’ Fallen became one of the wealthiest and most influential leaders of St. Louis, Mo., and a private, Bennett Riley, became military Governor of California and was honored by having Fort Riley (see Tour 3) named for him.
A council was called for August 24, 1819 after the Indians fired on the soldiers encamped on Cow Island. At the last moment, several chiefs refused to attend because of their disagreement as to precedence in rank, but peace was declared, according to one account, rather “because of the gunfire, rocket and flare displays, and flag hoisting, than because of Major O’Fallon’s eloquence.”
By 1850 the California gold rush and the general western trek had brought settlers to this desirable river landing. Most of the homesteaders were anti-slavery but the Missouri settlers determined to use Atchison as a wedge in making Kansas a slave State. They filed claims there for the privilege of voting and kept the community in a constant state of unrest. They even named the city in honor of an ardent slavery advocate, David R. Atchison, United States Senator from Missouri, and, at one time, Acting Vice President of the United States. Although he was not a Kansan, Atchison attended the celebration for the opening of the town site, and in his speech, exhibited his broad tolerance by admitting that “some Northerners are fairly worthy men who wouldn’t steal a nigger themselves.”
The city was incorporated August 30, 1855, by a special act of the territorial legislature, and the toss of a coin decided the first mayor. At this time the Southerners raised $400 to start their newspaper, the Squatter Sovereign, a vehement champion of slavery, which fought so bitterly with the Free State paper that a duel between the two editors appeared inevitable. Indeed, the editor of the Sovereign issued a challenge, but his rival refused to accept it.
The drifting population of the 1850’s and 1860’s contributed to the lawlessness that characterized the ribald frontier days. The first minister to come to Atchison (1855) lost most of his audience to a chuck-a-luck game across the street. The Reverend Pardee Butler, a Free State minister, attempted to reform the city in the 1850’s and, for his efforts, was rewarded with a lone and hazardous voyage on a raft down the “Big Muddy.” Ignoring the threats of his attackers, he returned to Atchison a few months later, and narrowly escaped hanging. According to the minister’s subsequent report of the proceedings, “after exposing me to every sort of indignity, they stripped me to the waist, covered my body with tar, and then for want of feathers, applied cotton wool. Then they sent me naked upon the prairies.”
The Northerners, however, gained in power and by 1857 their arrogance led to violence. Some of them purchased the Sovereign and completely reversed its policies. Others began to pilfer from Missourians in the hills across the river.
John Brown, Free State protagonist, also figured in Atchison’s history. Hearing that Brown was traveling nearby in 1857, a group of Southern sympathizers went out to capture his party, but were captured instead. Brown ordered one of the prisoners to pray.
“I only know, ‘Now I lay me . . .’ ” the man objected.
“Then say it!” Brown commanded, and the frightened prisoner knelt and recited the child’s prayer.
Though they remained but two years, the Mormons, an independent group, established the first large settlement in 1855. Their farm, four miles west of the city on the south side of US 73, was enclosed by ditches, which have been obliterated by cultivation and erosion. This encircling moat was used to prevent cattle from straying.
Lincoln visited Atchison December 2, 1859, and addressed a group here, using the same speech with which he won the Presidency later at Cooper’s Hall in New York City. The Atchison Champion, published by John A. Martin, did not report the visit because the editor, like most Kansas Republicans, was supporting Seward. Even the man who introduced him had to refer to his notes before naming a “Mr. A. Lincoln.” But Lincoln won his audience, although it consisted mostly of hecklers and the curious. It was reported that he admonished his audience with these words: “You cannot secede from the Union! If you do, you will hang as surely as John Brown hanged today.”
From Atchison in 1859 the first telegraph message from the West to the East was dispatched and in the same year the city achieved the distinction of being the first west of the Mississippi to have direct connection with St. Louis and the East. At the first city council meeting, it was decided to issue $100,000 in bonds to establish a railroad from St. Joseph, Mo., to Atchison, 15 miles west of any other railroad point. A charter was obtained from the Missouri legislature and in the winter of 1859-1860 the new line was completed and in operation.
With the advantage of a good steamboat landing and the best wagon road leading West, Atchison flourished from the first. Early day trail and river traffic was tremendous. The city directory of 1860 casually remarked that the entire trade carried on by private enterprise with Utah and the forts was from Atchison. In 1862 Ben Holladay bought the equipment of the bankrupt Russell, Waddell & Majors Freighting Company and moved its headquarters from Leavenworth to Atchison. At one time, following its organization in 1856, the company boasted 6,000 teamsters, 50,000 head of oxen, and more than 5,000 wagons. According to the estimate of the original company, they carried 21 million tons of freight through Atchison. Sometimes as many as 1,600 wagons stopped here in a single night. Butterfield’s Overland Dispatch, established in Atchison in 1864, was one of the most important freighters, having 55 wagon masters, 1,500 drivers, 1,200 mules, and 9,600 head of oxen. Holladay acquired Butterfield’s Dispatch in 1866.
Carrying the mails from Atchison for the West on the overland stages was a million dollar business. Mail coaches departing daily took 17 days to make the round trip from Atchison to Denver. Postage was $5 an ounce and the finest of tissue was fashionable as writing paper.
The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway was another local enterprise. Ambitious to become the eastern terminus for a great south and west system, the municipality voted a bond issue of $500,000 as a basis for the venture, and in 1859 a company was incorporated by an act of the territorial legislature. Construction was delayed, however, and it was not until 1872 that the road to Topeka and Wichita opened, providing the first unit of a great railway system. Other roads were established and Atchison developed into an important railroad center.
In 1880 the city reached the peak of a steady growth in population and industry. It had three breweries, which were closed by State prohibition in 1881, two flour mills, railroad shops, and packing houses. Since 1900, it has become important as a wholesale and jobbing center. The city ranks fourth in Kansas and tenth in the United States in the production of hard wheat flour, three mills having a combined capacity of 5,600 barrels a day. A foundry established in 1871 is now one of the largest concerns in the United States exclusively engaged in the manufacture of locomotive parts. Atchison’s industrial output also includes overalls, leather goods, plumbing fixtures, and processed eggs and poultry. The newest industry, the result of several years of research and experimentation, is the manufacture of industrial alcohol for motor fuel.
The two spaces reserved for Kansas in Statuary Hall in the Capitol at Washington, D. C, are occupied by statues of Atchison men John J. Ingalls, author and United States Senator, and George Washington Click, a Kansas Governor and national leader in the Democratic party. Atchison was the birthplace of Amelia Earhart Putnam, the noted aviatrix; Maj. Gen. Harry A. Smith, a World War commander, who received several decorations for bravery, and later was commandant at Fort Leavenworth; and Mateel Howe Farnham, the novelist daughter of Ed Howe, who won a $10,000 prize offered by the Pictorial Review Magazine and Dodd, Mead & Company, publishers, with her book, Rebellion.
The SITE OF THE OLD MAYFLOWER HOUSE, SE. corner 2nd and Main Sts., is occupied by the Union Depot. The hotel, built in 1857-1858, was an important starting place for stagecoaches traveling into the West.
The SITE OF THE MASSASOIT HOUSE, 201 Main St., where distinguished visitors were entertained in the early days, is occupied by a wholesale drug company. Lincoln spent a night in the hotel after making a campaign speech. Fugitive slaves were hidden in the old hostelry during the days of conflict, and it was there that Horace Greeley ate his first dinner in Kansas.
In a tiny PARK, Main St. between 3rd and 4th Sts., adjoining the depot on the west, is a stone marker that commemorates the visit of the Lewis and Clark expedition, July 4, 1804.
The LOCOMOTIVE FINISHED MATERIAL PLANT, E. end of Park St., is the only plant of its kind in Kansas and one of the largest in the United States. Established as a foundry in 1871 by John Seaton, the plant has been engaged since 1906 in the manufacture of locomotive parts. Material is sold to nearly every railroad in the United States and to railroad companies in Mexico, Japan, and several European countries. The plant employs an average of 400 men.
An OLD BUILDING, NW. corner 4th and Commercial Sts., housed the first telegraph office. It was from this office that the first telegraphic message was sent from the West to the East in 1859. The building, a three-story structure of brick painted yellow, erected in 1858, is occupied by law and real estate offices.
PIONEER HALL, NE. corner N. 4th St. and Kansas Ave., a two-story brick building built in 1872, has served a variety of purposes. It housed the first congregation of the Christian Church of Atchison, organized in 1882, and served as a civic hall and headquarters for a volunteer fire department. The building, now used by a Negro club, has not been altered.
The BIRTHPLACE OF AMELIA EARHART PUTMAN, SW. corner Santa Fe St. and N. Terrace, a two-story brick and frame house of Victorian design, overlooks the Missouri River from the crest of a bluff. It was in this house, now occupied by another family, that the noted flyer spent most of her childhood with her grandparents. Former playmates recall the aviatrix as a studious child who, in moments of relaxation, liked to play Indian or go on “make-believe” trips in an old-fashioned carriage in a neighbor’s barn.
The ATCHISON COUNTY COURTHOUSE, SW. corner N. 5th and Parallel Sts., completed in 1897, is a three-story limestone structure with a clock tower, designed in the Romanesque style by George P. Washburn of Ottawa, Kans.
A marker on the lawn commemorates the address made by Lincoln December 2, 1859, although the speech actually was delivered in a Methodist Church on Parallel Street between 5th and 6th Streets.
The W. P. WAGGENER HOME (private), 819 N. 4th St., is a good example of the pretentious architecture of the i88o’s and 1890’s. Built in 1885 by the late Balie P. Waggener, father of W. P. Waggener, the three-story brick building has four porches and an arched main entrance. Typical of the architectural furbelows of the period are two copper griffins on the ridge of the roof.
A law library, on the third floor, has approximately 10,000 volumes including the statutes of every State and Territory.
ST. BENEDICT’S COLLEGE (campus open at all hours), NE. corner N. 2nd and Division Sts., is a Catholic institution for young men, with a spacious, well-kept campus skirting the Missouri River and providing a magnificent view of the river valley. Established in 1858 by the Order of St. Benedict, the college confers degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science and has an enrollment (1938) of 250 students. The present buildings, the first of which were completed in 1885, are designed in the Romanesque and Tudor Gothic styles.
The TUDOR GOTHIC MONASTERY (admittance only to office and parlors) is being erected on the campus. Designed by Brielmaier & Son of Milwaukee and modeled after the Benedictine monasteries of the Middle Ages, the Eshaped edifice of native stone with white trim will cost approximately a million dollars.
The ED HOWE HOME (private), 1117 N. 3rd St., where the journalist and author died October 3, 1937, is a simple two-story brick structure with white stone trim. “The Sage of Potato Hill” was the author of numerous magazine articles and several books, the best known of which is the Story of a Country Town.
SOLDIERS’ AND SAILORS’ MEMORIAL HALL, 819 Commercial St., is a two-story brick and limestone building of classic design. It was erected in 1922 as a memorial to the Atchison County men who lost their lives in the World War. The AMERICAN LEGION MUSEUM (open on application to caretaker) is on the second floor. In addition to a number of Indian relics, the museum includes a captured German flag, brought from a fort near Coblenz, Germany, by Maj. Gen. Harry A. Smith, former resident of Atchison.
The ATCHISON AGROL PLANT, SW. corner S. 1 3rd and Main Sts., manufactures a blend of alcohol and gasoline for use as motor fuel. Established in 1935 as a research unit of the Chemical Foundation of America, the plant began operating on a commercial basis December 2, 1937, and has a capacity of 10,000 gallons daily.
The OLD McINTEER HOUSE, NW. corner N. i3th St. and Kansas Ave., built in 1881, and designed in the manner of an Irish castle, with a profusion of gables and towers, has been converted into an apartment building.
The GLOBE PUBLISHING PLANT, 123 S. 5th St., a two-story building of red brick with a stone foundation, is the home of the Atchison Daily Globe, founded by Ed Howe in 1877. Walt Mason began writing his rhymes in prose form while working as a reporter for Howe, who objected to the publication of “poetry” in his newspaper.
MOUNT ST. SCHOLASTICA, 801 S. 8th St., a Catholic high school and college for young women, has a 42-acre campus. Founded as a grade school in 1863 by the Benedictine Sisters, the college draws students from remote sections of the United States and from France and Canada.
The large administration building of brick and stone, designed in the Tudor Gothic style by Brielmaier & Son of Milwaukee, was completed in 1924. A new chapel of Roman design, with a facade of stone, and the remainder in mingled shades of buff brick, was designed by the same architects. A lacework of stone at the main entrance is surmounted by a large rose window of carved stone and colored glass.
The school has a total enrollment of 275 and the college awards the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science.
MAUR HILL, 1400 S. loth St., is a Catholic preparatory school for boys. Established in 1920 by the Fathers of St. Benedict’s College, Maur Hill is a successor of Midland College, an English Lutheran institution. Five modern buildings, four of which are Tudor Gothic in design, are on the spacious campus. A bronze statue near the campus entrance depicts St. Maur and St. Placid, teachers of youth, seated at the feet of St. Benedict, patron saint of the Benedictine Order.
JACKSON PARK, entrance 1600 S. 6th St., is a rugged i4O-acre tract with circuitous one-way drives that skirt precipitous bluffs. From the highest point in the park, Guerrier Hill, there is a good view of the Missouri Valley. Park facilities include a bandstand, small lakes, swings, and other amusements for children, and a small 200. A World War cannon and a large stone monument were placed in the park in memory of the Atchison men who served in the World War. The drives are lined with beds of iris of different varieties and colors, which bloom in May.
The KANSAS STATE ORPHANS’ HOME, 0.5 m. NE. of city limits on Waggener Rd., consists of nine buildings of modern brick construction on an attractive 24O-acre tract of land. The home, which provides broad educational, domestic, and recreational facilities, was established in 1885 as a refuge for orphaned children of soldiers.
Atchison is picturesquely located on hills and bluffs overlooking the Missouri River in the northeast corner of Kansas. The metropolitan area of Kansas City, Topeka, and St. Joseph, Missouri are within an hour’s drive.
Approximately 300 years ago, the area of present-day Atchison was home to the Kansa Indians. Their abandoned village was noted by Lewis and Clark when they explored the area on July 4, 1804. Fifty years after Lewis and Clark’s visit, the Kansas Territory opened, and Atchison was one of the territory’s first settlements. On July 20, 1854, a group of gentlemen from Platte City, Missouri crossed the Missouri River and staked out a
Atchison had one of the best steamboat landings on the west side of the Missouri River. Geographically, Atchison was located at a great bend in the Missouri River. This location was extremely advantageous because it was approximately 25 miles further inland than any other Midwestern city on the west side of the Missouri River; therefore, the town flourished as a leading commercial and transportation center because of it. The wagon roads west took full advantage of Atchison’s geographic location. Early freight shipments bound westward were brought from St. Louis to Atchison via steamboat and then hauled by mule ox or mule across the prairie. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, founded in 1859, was a successful venture that established the city as the eastern terminus for a railroad system stretching west and south. Even early mail delivery from the town to points west developed into a million-dollar business.
The boom years for Atchison occurred between 1870 and
Construction reflected the town’s prosperity. Many of the city’s wealthier residents built palatial homes in the city. The town’s reputation as a home to the affluent was reported in an 1898 article in the Topeka Mail and Breeze entitled “Atchison’s Rich Folks,” which described Atchison as possessing more rich men and rich widows than any other town in Kansas. An article in the Kansas City Star entitled “Seeing Atchison” discussed
The financial panic of 1893, supplemented by an area drought, setback several Atchison institutions, as it did to other Midwestern businesses, especially banks and railroads. Late in
The population of Atchison County dropped slightly every decade since 1900. However, construction within the community was not static. The town’s successful citizens continued to invest in Atchison’s industries, businesses
One of the oldest established towns in Kansas, Atchison played host in pioneer days to such notables as Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Horace Greeley, and countless others. It was the birthplace of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, and the starting places for some of America’s greatest railroad leaders. Industrialists, agriculturalists, entrepreneurs, writers, journalists, musicians, churchmen and statesmen have resided in this historic community.