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By Ichabod (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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Emporia, Kansas is the seat of Lyon County, division point of the Santa Fe Railway and trading center of a farming and dairying region, lies on a low ridge between the Neosho and Cottonwood Rivers. Although its streets appear to have been laid through a forest of elms and maples, Emporia was in fact platted on a treeless plain carpeted with bluestem grass and on the surrounding slopes and valleys broad pastures of bluestem still flourish near fields of corn and wheat.

The business district, centered at 6th Avenue and Commercial Street, is composed of two and three story brick structures that range architecturally from the beetling-corniced roof of the 1890's to the bland utilitarian facade of the 1930's. Four blocks past the business district Commercial Street runs plump into the Kansas State Teachers' College which, with the College of Emporia, enables local civic leaders to call their town the "Educational Center of the West."

The residential area consists largely of frame houses interspersed with brick bungalows and an occasional Victorian structure. Trees are plentiful; lawns are frequently marked with profuse shrubbery. Berkeley Hills, a restricted neighborhood at the northwest of the city, contains trim modern houses of English and Dutch Colonial architecture. The streets in this section deviate from the usual gridiron pattern and follow curved courses.

The inhabitants are mainly of Welsh and English extraction. St. David's Day, honoring the Welsh patron saint, is annually observed by a program at the Bethany Congregational Church and the serving of tea with "bara brith," a Welsh shortbread.

Emporia manufactures cheese, candy, mattresses, stock feeds, patent medicines, and flavoring extracts. There are three grain elevators with a combined storage capacity of 75,000 bushels. The Santa Fe Railway maintains stockyards and feeding pens for livestock temporarily quartered here enroute to eastern markets, that can accommodate 12,000 cattle and 60,000 sheep.

Emporia was established in 1857 by the Emporia Town Company, four of whose five members were residents of Lawrence, Kansas. The townsite was bought from the estate of an Indian, A. Hicks, for $1,800. George W. Brown, president of the town company and editor of the Lawrence Herald of Freedom, named the proposed town for an ancient city in northern Africa which, according to Rollin's History of the Carthaginians, was a place of great wealth and importance.

Set down on the prairie where bluestem grass grew shoulder-high, the settlement consisted of an inn, a store, and a shanty in which Preston B. Plumb, only member of the town company to reside in Emporia, published the Kanzas News. The first issue of this sheet, dated June 5,1857, contained the town charter, a section of which prohibited the use and sale of "spirituous liquor" within the town site. Thus Emporia was the first "dry town" in the Middle West.

A stage line was established between Emporia and Lawrence in the latter part of 1857. Aided by publicity in the Kanzas News and the Herald of Freedom, the settlement made comparatively rapid strides. The population of the township numbered 541 by the summer of 1859. Throughout that year and into the next a severe drought withered the countryside and impoverished its settlers. No rain fell for sixteen months. The water supply at Emporia gave out, necessitating laborious journeys to the Cottonwood River.

Heavy rains fell in 1860 and Emporia resumed its progress. At a Fourth of July picnic given in the village that year, Preston B. Plumb mounted a rough platform beneath a brush arbor and delivered a bitter denunciation of slavery. In 1862, practicing what had been implied in his previous preaching, Plumb organized a company of 144 men and served in the remaining years of the Civil War as captain, major, and, finally, lieutenant-colonel of the nth Kansas Cavalry. On returning to civilian life he was elected to the Kansas legislature. In 1877 he was elected United States Senator from Kansas, an office he held until his death in 1891.

In post-Civil War years the Emporia region attracted cattlemen who, buying gaunt Texas steers for as little as a dollar each, "put taller" on the animals by turning them out to graze the long bluestem grass. About $80,000 worth of cattle were sold in Lyon County during 1866. The "fattening" industry was subsequently blighted by settlers who fenced off the land. The cattlemen objected to the "spoilage" of the range, but their protests were brushed aside by the incoming army of homesteaders.

In 1867 the citizens of Lyon County voted $200,000 to insure the construction of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad into Emporia. The first train on this route arrived December 22,1869. A similar sum was appropriated by the county government in 1869 to aid the extension of the Santa Fe Railway. The first Santa Fe train entered Emporia on September 14, 1870. In that year Emporia was incorporated as a city of the second class.

Equipped with railroad transportation and situated amid a fertile farming region, Emporia thereafter prospered as a trading center. Gas for illumination was installed in 1880; streetcars drawn by mules were put in operation the following year; and in 1885 an electric light plant was established. The Santa Fe Railway built a stockyard in 1887, which was enlarged between 1905-1909 at a cost of $90,000. A railroad yard construction and improvement project undertaken by the Santa Fe in 1923 was completed in 1926 at an estimated cost of five million dollars.

Lack of an adequate reserve of water was for many years the Achilles' heel of Emporia. In the drought of 1859 John Hammond, town carpenter, had sunk a well on Mechanic Street and found water at 180 feet, but this supply was not sufficient to satisfy the needs of a growing community. In 1880 a water plant was built by the Cottonwood River, but the quality of the water obtained from this stream proved inferior and, six years later, the plant was moved to the Neosho River.

The level of Neosho River, however, frequently dropped to an extremely low point under the summer sun and Emporia was periodically threatened with a water shortage. In such an emergency during July 1913, Emporians were forbidden to water their lawns and advised to boil all water used for drinking. Dan Dryer, commissioner of public utilities, was mildly ridiculed by the Nation's press in August 1920 because of his quite reasonable demand that the amount of water in Emporia bathtubs not exceed four inches.

In 1926 Emporia, aided by the Federal Government, solved its water problem for all time. The Kahola Valley, 25 miles northwest of the city, was dammed. The 400 acres of water thus impounded assure Emporia of an inexhaustible supply. The project was completed in 1938.

Emporia is the birthplace of William Allen White, eminent journalist and publisher of the Emporia Gazette.