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Manhattan, Kansas is the seat of Riley County. It lies in a natural bowl carved out of a limestone formation during the glacial age. The Big Blue River flowing from the north through the upland pastures meets the Kaw River one mile east of the city limits. Before the great flood of 1903 the Big Blue ran past the city at the foot of Poyntz Avenue, the main street, but the flood formed a new channel one mile east of the old river bed, washing away hundreds of acres of rich farm land.


Encircled by low hills, Manhattan is an oasis of green during the late summer months when the blue-stem grasses that cover the hills are turned to an autumnal brown by the sun. With streets well shaded by spreading elms, the city, seen from the adjoining countryside gives the appearance of a great park. Here and there the outline of one of the taller buildings is visible above the mass of green.

The city extends a little more than a mile west from the old river channel, spreading to the north and south from Poyntz Avenue, a wide thor-oughfare that ends abruptly as it encounters the first slopes of the limestone hills. The State College campus adjoins the city on the northwest and most of the new residential development is in this area. South of Poyntz Avenue an older section of modest homes extends to the Rock Island tracks. Along the railroad is a small area inhabited by Negroes and Mexicans.

Many of Manhattan's business houses and residences and all of its public buildings, including those of Kansas State College, are built of native limestone.

Kansas' second largest educational institution, the State College, is the center of activity in Manhattan. Stores depend upon the patronage of the farm territory and the 4,500 students. The city supports four newspapers. These include a morning and an evening daily and two weeklies of city and rural circulation. Five periodicals are published by educational groups.

The city has two business districts, one downtown and another adjoin-ing the college campus. The uptown district has been known as "Aggieville" since the days when the college was known as the Kansas State Agricultural College and its students as the "Aggies."

Successive settlements of Germans, Swedes, and Irish have placed descendants of the New England and Ohio founders in a minority in contemporary Manhattan but the spirit of the crusading pioneers prevails. The city supports eighteen churches and these religious groups exert a strong influence in its social life.

Manhattan was one of the last towns in the State to lift the ban on Sunday theaters. This compromise with the champions of strict Sabbath observance was the result of a heated controversy between church leaders and business men. State College students flocked to Junction City, Wamego, and other neighboring towns to attend Sunday night movies and proprietors of cafes and soft drink emporiums in the college town complained that they were losing trade because of this weekly exodus. In 1934 the question was submitted to a vote and proponents of Sunday amusement won by a small majority. Since then Manhattan has been more successful in keeping students' dollars at home.

Years before the first white settlers came, a large Kaw Indian village stood near the mouth of the Big Blue. The exact site of this village is undetermined, but it is believed to have been in the area between the old river bed and the new channel. Early explorers reported the existence of the village, which disappeared before the first settler arrived.

Two towns were established on the present site of Manhattan late in 1854. Col. George S. Park of Parkville, Missouri, platted a townsite and called it Poleska. Soon afterward a second settlement, called Canton, was established near the mouth of the Big Blue by a committee from the New England Emigrant Aid Company. This settlement was soon consolidated with Poleska under the name of Boston. On April 27, 1855, a party of colonists left Cincinnati on the steamboat Hartford, destined for the new Boston. They navigated the Ohio River to its junction with the Mississippi and then to St. Louis where they were delayed for several days by authorities who suspected them of being abolitionists. Resuming their journey toward Kansas City by way of the Missouri River the Ohioans arrived at the mouth of the Kaw late in May. There they were delayed because of low water.

Tardy spring rains finally raised the river to what was believed to be a navigable level, but near St. Mary's Mission the boat, carrying, in addition to the colonists, a load of freight that included ten portable houses, stuck on a sandbar. The passengers were unloaded and proceeded to their destination by land, but within a few days, after another rise in the stream, the boat arrived.

The Ohioans at first selected a site for their colony near the present Junction City, and named it Manhattan. The leaders of the party, John Pipher, Andrew J. Meade, and H. Palmer finally, however, closed a deal with the Boston Association whereby they were given half of the Boston townsite, and by mutual agreement Boston was renamed Manhattan.

Manhattan's pioneers were Free State men, and before the arrival of the party from Cincinnati, the New England group had voted to install one of their number, Samuel D. Houston, as Free State representatives to the First Territorial legislature. Houston was the only Free State man elected to this body.

With the development of agriculture in the fertile river valleys, Manhattan became important as a trading center. Two railroads, the Rock Island and the Union Pacific, extended their main lines through the town in the seventies and eighties and it became a shipping point for farm produce and for cattle from the upland grazing areas.

In 1859, Bluemont College, the forerunner of Kansas State College, opened its doors. As the college grew, the city prospered. In 1910 the city endeavored to expand its trade territory by voting $20,000 in bonds for the construction of an electric railway between Manhattan and Fort Riley. This line brought a proportion of the soldier trade from Camp Funston to Manhattan during the World War, but with the advent of the paved highway it went into decline and was finally abandoned.

Although Manhattan's economic structure is largely based on agriculture and livestock raising, the city has a number of small industries including two hatcheries, a creamery that manufactures butter, cheese and ice cream, a monument works, a flour mill, two packing companies that process eggs and poultry, and a serum plant. Two planing mills turn out cabinets, door frames and boxes, and a third manufactures egg cases and shipping crates.