Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Kansas Local History
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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.


The CARNEGIE LIBRARY, NW. corner Poyntz Ave. and 5th St., erected in 1904, is a two-story brick and limestone building of neoclassic design. Operated as a municipal library, it contains 30,000 volumes.

The FIRST METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, NW. corner Poyntz Ave. and 6th St., erected in 1925, is of English Gothic design, constructed of native limestone. In the church is the old bell of the steamer Hartford that brought the settlers from Cincinnati in 1855. The original congregation was organized in 1858.

ST. PAUL'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, SW. corner Poyntz Ave. and 6th St., built in 1865 of native limestone, was designed by Richard Upjohn. It is an excellent example of the Gothic Revival style of architecture.

CITY PARK, nth St., between Poyntz Ave. and Fremont St., is a 45-acre tract equipped with playgrounds, a swimming pool, and tennis courts. It is attractively landscaped, containing approximately 1,000 trees. Near the Leavenworth Street entrance is a band pavilion with a seating capacity of 1,000, erected under the sponsorship of the Manhattan Ministerial Alliance, where band concerts and open-air church services are held during the summer. Rose gardens, sponsored by the Manhattan Kiwanis Club and a rock garden sponsored by the Rotary Club attract visitors from all parts of the country.

Near the center of the park is the TATARRAX MONUMENT, a shaft of grey marble, ten feet high, resting on a truncated base of limestone four feet high. The monument was designed by J. V. Brower, one of the founders of the Quivira Historical Society.

An OLD STAGECOACH, formerly used in Yellowstone Park, stands just west of the monument. It was donated to the city by the Union Pacific Railroad. Near the stagecoach is the LOG CABIN MUSEUM; containing a number of pioneer relics.

The KANSAS STATE COLLEGE, 14th and Anderson Sts., has an attractively landscaped 155-acre campus on which there are twenty buildings of native limestone construction and modified Gothic design.

In 1857 an association was formed to build a college in or near Manhattan. Under the direction of the Reverend Joseph Denison, Isaac Goodnow, and Washington Marlatt funds were raised for the purchase of a farm one mile west of the present State College campus. A three-story building was erected in 1859 and the college, opened under the direction of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was given the name of Bluemont College. The Reverend Joseph Denison was chosen president. The college did not prosper and in 1862 it was offered to the State as an agricultural and mechanical college under the provisions of the Merrill Land Grant Act. A resolution of the State legislature, approved by Gov. Thomas Carney, February 3, 1863, created the Kansas State Agricultural College, a coeducational institution. Kansas State has graduated engineers, journalists, and scientists in addition to its trained agronomists.

In 1931 the State legislature changed the name of the college from Kansas State Agricultural College to Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. It took Kansas sports writers quite a while to forget the habit of referring to Kansas State athletic team as "The Aggies" but the new appellation "wildcats" finally superseded the traditional nickname.

In the early fall of 1934 Kansas State became the center of a controversy on compulsory military training. The Morrill Act, under which the college was established, reads as follows:

. . . where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanical arts.

The school year of 1934 opened with a military training strike by three freshmen who refused to drill and gave their abhorrence of war as a justification. College authorities were insistent. Patriotic organizations took up the fight for compulsion. Pacifist groups offered legal and moral support to the striking students. Eventually the question was referred to the State legislature at the session of 1935. Proponents of the forced drill prepared legislation making it compulsory. Backed by the American Legion and the college authorities the bill was passed. Students who object to drill must seek their education at other colleges.

Prof. Fred A. Shannon of the department of history won a Pulitzer award for historical research in 1929. In 1933 the Kansas Magazine was revived by Russell Thackery of the department of industrial journalism (see LITERATURE). Prof. John Helm, Jr., of the department of architecture, is now (1938) director of the Kansas State Federation of Art.

Kansas State had an enrollment of 4,457 in 1938.

In ANDERSON HALL, the college administration building, is a MUSEUM, that contains a collection of antique furniture, a pottery collection, and other articles of interest.

In THE COLLEGE LIBRARY, is an art collection, including portraits, oils, and water colors. Some of the paintings and murals, by WPA artists, were presented to the college by the Federal Art Project of Kansas. On the fourth floor of the library is an arch of stone letters forming the words, Bluemont College, 1859. This arch was set above the entrance to old Bluemont College. It was taken from an old barn a number of years ago and placed in the library.

FAIRCHILD HALL contains a large MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. There are many specimens of mounted animals and reptiles as well as a collection of live snakes, lizards, and alligators. Other exhibits include a large collection of mounted birds, Indian artifacts, and a geological collection.

Kansas State College owns 1,428 acres of land, much of which is used for agricultural experiments. At the extreme southwest corner of the campus is a MEMORIAL STADIUM where the Kansas State athletic teams compete with the other members of the Big Six conference. The stadium was completed in 1922.

SUNSET CEMETERY, Sunset and Evergreen Aves. (R), on the crest of a hill overlooking the city, contains the SOLDIERS MONUMENT, erected in 1898 by the Lew Gove Post, Grand Army of the Republic. It is an oblong shaft surmounted by an old cannon. A singing tower has been erected in a new section of the cemetery.

DENISON CIRCLE, in the center of a winding drive at the intersection of Evergreen and Sunset Aves., a sodded plot of ground 100 feet in diameter has in its center THE REVEREND JOSEPH DENISON MONUMENT, a memorial of red glacial boulders to the first president of Kansas State College.

MEMORIAL ARCH, Evergreen and Poyntz Aves., was erected in memory of Amanda Arnold, one of Manhattan's first school teachers. The arch was taken from the old Central School building.

Websites About Manhattan Kansas:

  1. Kansas Facts: Riley County Facts
  2. City of Manhattan, Kansas 
  3. KSU  | Facebook 
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