Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Kansas Local History
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
By Ichabod (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

The EMPORIA PUBLIC LIBRARY, 6th Ave. and Market St., is a one-story brick structure designed by Felt & Co. of Kansas City, Mo., and built in 19051906. It contains 30,000 volumes, complete files of all Emporia newspapers, including the Kanzas News (1857-59), an d a valuable collection of old clippings, magazines, and secretarial books.

PETER PAN PARK, Randolph and Rural Sts., a 50-acre landscaped tract, has at its northwest corner a lake from which radiate winding paths that open on picnic grounds and a wading pool. A natural amphitheater, equipped with a stage and a loudspeaking system, is used for Sunday evening vespers, amateur theatricals, and various public meetings.

Peter Pan Park was donated to Emporia by Mr. and Mrs. William Allen White in memory of their daughter, Mary, who was fatally injured while horseback riding in 1921. Destined to be Mary White's permanent memorial is the tender editorial that her father wrote upon her death. This prose threnody has been reprinted in a score of anthologies. "Probably if her father has any sort of lasting fame beyond the decade following his death," William Allen White has said, "it will come from this editorial."

SODEN'S MILL, 1017 S. Commercial St., a three-story corbel stepped structure of cement and rough stone, was built in 1860 by W. T. Soden. For many years before it ceased operating in 1924 this mill supplied most of the flour used in Lyon County. After almost a decade of idleness the building was restored by L. S. Anderson and F. J. Alderson and reopened as a mill. The walls of the first floor, near the water line, are six feet thick, reinforced by steel bars. Rafters and beams are of black walnut, pinned and braced with pegs. The second floor is similarly constructed of lighter timber. The upper walls are eighteen inches thick. Much of the old machinery, including the rollers, is in use. A new water wheel, propelled by about half the water formerly used, supplies about twice as much power as did the old wheel.

The SODEN HOUSE (private), the west side of Commercial St. near the Soden Mill, is a two-story Victorian mansion, built in the iSyo's for W. T. Soden. The brick walls are broken by bay-windows and an irregular out thrust cornice, which forms a series of hat like profiles around the structure. The mansard roof, effusively ornamented with wrought iron railings, is capped by a lookout tower.

The WILLIAM ALLEN WHITE RESIDENCE "RED ROCKS", 927 Exchange St., a large two-story house of Colorado sandstone, with Victorian-Gothic gables and dormer windows, was built in the i88o's for Judge Almerin Gillette. Since 1900 "Red Rocks" has been the home of William Allen White.

White was born in Emporia on February 10,1868. A part of his youth was spent in El Dorado where he attended high school. Following his graduation he studied at the College of Emporia for two years, working during vacations for the El Dorado Republican and the Emporia News. In 1886 he enrolled at the University of Kansas, working part-time for the Lawrence Journal. He left the university before graduation to follow a career that took him successively to the Kansas City Journal, the Topeka State Journal, and the Kansas City Star.

In 1895 he returned to Emporia, borrowed $3,000, and bought the Emporia Gazette, a small daily and weekly. As an editor young White attracted no particular attention until the appearance of his "What's the Matter with Kansas?" editorial in August 1896. His vitriolic answer to the question thus posed was widely circulated by the Republican party in the presidential campaign of that year. Editor White, elevated to Nationwide prominence overnight, thereafter consolidated his position with a score of books and numerous articles.

Despite attractive offers from metropolitan newspapers, he remained in his home town. Dubbed the "Sage of Emporia" for his interpretations of national affairs, his counsel was sought by the leaders of the Republican party. Not always a deep dyed party man, he several times bolted the Kansas G.O.P. In 1924 he ran for Governor as an independent candidate to protest against the growing Ku Klux Klan complexion of the Republican party in Kansas. Although defeated he polled votes sufficient to discourage the entry of the Klan into subsequent contests.

White has received honorary degrees from three colleges and four universities. President Wilson appointed him United States delegate to the proposed Russian Conference at Prinkipo in 1919, and in 1931 he served with President Hoover's Organization for Unemployment Relief. He is a trustee of the College of Emporia, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Will Rogers Memorial Association, and, since 1925, a member of the Institute of Pacific Relations.

The EMPORIA GAZETTE BUILDING, 517 Merchant St., is a two-story structure of pressed-brick. Part of the first floor and the entire basement are used to publish the Emporia Gazette, White's widely quoted newspaper. Among past employees of the Gazette, is Walt Mason, the "rippling rhymer," who began working for White in 1907. His prose-poems, which he began writing while working as a reporter on the Atchison Daily Globe, gradually caught the public's fancy, outgrew the Gazette's small audience, and, as a syndicated feature, appeared in the largest dailies in the country. Mason lived in Emporia until 1920 when he moved to California, his present home (1938).

The SECOND CHRISTIAN CHURCH (African American), SE. corner 8th Ave. and Congress St., is a small box-style structure built in 1859 for use by the white congregation of the Christian Church. Shortly afterwards the building was moved to Americus to serve as the courthouse while that town was seat of Lyon County (1858-60). It was subsequently returned to Emporia and again used by the Christian Church until the early 1890's when it was sold to the Negro congregation of the Second Christian Church. Excellently preserved, the structure appears much as it did in pioneer days.

The COLLEGE OF EMPORIA, W. end of iath Ave., an accredited co-educational institution with an average enrollment of 400 students, was founded in 1882 by the Kansas Synod of the Presbyterian Church. On the 50-acre campus overlooking Emporia are the administration building, Lewis Hall of Science, Thomas Hall (men's dormitory), Mason Gymnasium, and Emporia and Dunlap Halls (women's dormitories). A semi-circular drive (entrance at the southeast corner of the campus) skirts the main buildings, the most prominent of which is the ADMINISTRATION BUILDING or KENYON HALL, a three-story brick and stone structure of modified Gothic architecture designed by Felt&Co. of Kansas City, Mo., and completed in 1929 at a cost of $275,000. It contains classrooms, administrative offices, a little theater, and society meeting rooms. In the north wing is a WAR MEMORIAL CHAPEL, the walls of which bear plaques commemorating several past presidents of the college and those students who served in the World War.

Another building on the campus is the ANDERSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY, a two-story new-classic building of Kansas limestone fronted by a Grecian portico, was designed by Charles Squires of Emporia and dedicated in 1902. On the second floor is MISSIONARY HALL, which contains a library of missionary literature and a collection of curios gathered by alumni of the college employed in foreign missionary work.

The library is named for Col. John B. Anderson, a railroad official who died in 1897. While a division superintendent of a railroad in Pennsylvania, Anderson had invited the employees to use his library. Among those who accepted was Andrew Carnegie, then a telegraph operator. Following Anderson's death in later years, Carnegie, grown wealthy, proposed to commemorate his early friend by financing the construction of a library in Pittsburgh, Pa. Mrs. Anderson of Manhattan, Kans., preferred that the library be established at the College of Emporia, an institution in which her husband had been interested. Carnegie assented. Books from Colonel Anderson's private library supplied the nucleus of the present collection which includes more than 22,000 volumes.

The KANSAS STATE TEACHERS' COLLEGE (Emporia State University), 12th Ave. and Commercial St., is a co-educational institution with an average enrollment of 1,500 students. As the Kansas State Normal School, the college was organized in 1865. The opening sessions, held in the upper room of a stone schoolhouse, were attended by 18 students. The first building was erected in 1867 through private gifts and a legislative appropriation. The present name was adopted on February 20, 1923.

The 46-acre campus, enclosed by a low brick wall, is shaded by more than 70 varieties of trees, including Russian olive, Chinese elm, and Irish juniper. The main entrance at the foot of Commercial Street opens on a sunken garden which contains a fountain and a lily pool. The garden is bordered by peach, pecan, catalpa, and mulberry trees.

Directly north of the sunken gardens is PLUMB MEMORIAL HALL, a four-story, T-shaped structure of brick and stone, its main entrance flanked by two massive columns. The building was designed by Charles H. Chandler and completed in 1917. The front wing houses the administrative offices of the college; the rear wing contains Albert Taylor Hall, an auditorium which seats 2,000.

Southeast of Plumb Memorial Hall is the LABORATORY SCHOOL, a three story building of brick and terra cotta, designed by Charles D. Cuthbert and completed in 1929. The structure incorporates advanced ideas in school planning. It contains kindergarten classrooms equipped with stages and fireplaces, a library, a clinic, a science laboratory, and an auditorium-gymnasium.

South of the Laboratory School is the Music HALL, a three-story building of brick and terra cotta, designed by Charles D. Cuthbert and erected in 1928. It contains 18 studios, 33 practice rooms, several rehearsal halls, and an air-conditioned auditorium where weekly student recitals and monthly public concerts are presented.

Near the drive that extends from Commercial Street is the KELLOGG LIBRARY, named for Lyman Beecher Kellogg, first president of the college. The structure was designed by John F. Stanton, and completed in 1903. The library contains more than 70,000 volumes. NORTON SCIENCE HALL, a three story building of brick and terra cotta, is named for Henry B. Norton, first instructor of natural science at the college. The structure was designed by John F. Stanton and built in 1907. It houses the departments of physics, biology, chemistry, and health education. A MUSEUM, in the hallways on each floor, contains fossils, minerals, industrial exhibits, and biological specimens.

Facing Lake Wooster at the north of the campus are the women's dormitories, Abigail Morse Hall and Morse Hall Annex. The remaining buildings on the campus include the gymnasium, the Student Union building, and the power plant.


Websites about Emporia Kansas:

  1. City of Emporia, Kansas 
  2. Emporia, Kansas on Wikipedia 
  3. Emporia, Kansas Chamber of Commerce 
  4. Emporia Online 
  5. Historic Downtown Emporia 
  6. Lyon County Government 
  7. Lyon County Historical Museum 
  8. Emporia State University 
  9. William Allen White's Home (Now a museum)
  10. The Emporia Gazette (local Newspaper) 
  11. Kansas Facts: Lyon County Facts
powered by social2s