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Salina is the seat of Saline County, lies in a basin four miles southwest of the confluence of the Saline and Smoky Hill Rivers. The main part of the city, extending across tablelands to the north and south, is shaped like a huge block "I." The Smoky Hill River loops through the east side of the "I," intersecting an arm of the city which reaches to the crest of low hills on the east.

The inner framework of the "I" consists of Santa Fe Avenue, an exceptionally broad thoroughfare that terminates north at St. Johns' Military School, and south at the Kansas Wesleyan University. The south segment of this avenue is lined with rambling mansions built in the 1890*5. Many of the structures are occupied by their first owners. The central segment of the avenue is walled with business structures which range from two to ten stories in height. A short distance north of the business district Santa Fe Avenue is crossed by the main line tracks of three railroads. Grain elevators and flour mills tower east of the avenue, bordering the tracks.

Salina's streets intersect at regular right angles except in the Highland Court section at the southwest corner of the city, and the fashionable residential area on the hills at the east. Curved drives and "Y"-mouthed boulevards in these neighborhoods are flanked by close-cropped lawns on which stand trim houses of contemporary design. In the body of the city the main east-west streets are continued over the river on concrete bridges. At other points the streets follow the contour of the stream.

Salina is the virtual metropolis of central Kansas. In the heart of the hard wheat country, the city is a trading and recreational center for thousands of farmers. On Saturday nights the business sections on Iron and Santa Fe Avenues are ablaze with neon signs. Rows of dusty motor cars are nosed in at the curbs and groups of rural shoppers crowd the sidewalks.

Wheat is the alpha and omega of the region. Remarks about the weather are not mere tokens of conversation for drought or prolonged rain may be the difference between a lean and fat purse. In June wheat becomes "The Wheat" of anxious inquiry. Under the brassy sun the yellowish stalks droop and turn golden. Blue-overalled men go into the fields and a burnished stream of grain pours into Salina. Often the storage bins are filled to overflowing so that the grain is piled on the ground like sand.

Salina ranks third as a flour milling center in Kansas and fifth among the cities of the United States (1937). The five local mills have a daily capacity of 10,000 barrels of flour. The granaries and elevators can hold seven million bushels of wheat, enough so townsmen boast to supply a loaf of bread to each person in the United States. Salina also manufactures flour mill machinery, furnaces, gravity pumps, cement products, bricks and tile, playground equipment, and agricultural implements. Two large oil fields are within forty miles of the city.

Salina is the home town of Guy T. Helvering, present U. S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (1938), and a former mayor of the city.

William A. Phillips, a Scotchman who had come to Kansas in 1855 as a special correspondent for the New York Tribune, journeyed through the unsettled section of the territory in 1857, searching for an attractive townsite. Of the places he saw he was best pleased with the site at the point where the Smoky Hill River twists sharply from its southern course and flows to the east. In 1858 Phillips returned to the region, accompanied by two fellow Scotchmen, James Muir and A. M. Campbell, and staked out a townsite.

Saline County was organized in February 1859. In the following month the Territorial legislature chartered a town company composed of Phillips, Muir, Campbell, and two newcomers, D. L. Phillips and A. C. Spilman. A. W. Phillips established a store and A. M. Campbell began operating a free ferry across the river. The settlement was at first dependent on trade with occasional Indian hunting parties, but, as the westernmost post on the Smoky Hill trail, it throve in 1860 as a "jumping off" place for gold-hunters traveling to Pike's Peak.

The Civil War stopped both the westbound traffic and the growth of Salina. W. A. Phillips promptly enlisted with the Union Army. In 1862 he was made colonel of a regiment composed of Cherokee Indians. Later he served as attorney for that tribe. In 1873 he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives.

In the course of the war Salina was twice jolted from its lethargy. In early 1862 word was received that hostile Indians were preparing to massacre the twelve families at the settlement. A stockade was hastily built. The Indians, presumably deterred by this defense, did not attack. But in the autumn of the same year Salina was caught unawares by twenty bushwhackers who robbed the settlers of their food, horses, munitions, and tobacco.

At the close of the war W. A. Phillips returned to Salina and laid plans to stimulate its growth. Through his efforts the Union Pacific Railroad was extended to the settlement in 1867. J. G. McCoy alert livestock dealer, visited Salina and proposed that it become the terminus of the cattle drives. Fearing that the "Texers" and their droves of "mossy horns" would disorganize their community, the citizens rejected his offer. McCoy thereupon departed in a pique to Abilene, a dreary cluster of huts which he subsequently transformed into one of the great western "cow towns." In commenting on Salina McCoy declared that it was "a very small dead place, consisting of about one dozen log huts, low small, rude affairs, four-fifths of which were covered with dirt for roofing. . . . The business of the burg was conducted in two small rooms, mere log huts."

The development of Salina was thereafter greatly accelerated by the railroad. Josiah Copley, correspondent for the Gazette of Pittsburgh, Pa., visited the settlement several months after McCoy and reported that the population had increased to almost two thousand. Large groups of settlers began to enter Saline County. A colony of 60 Swedes from Galesburg, Illinois, arrived in 1868; 200 homesteaders from Ohio came in 1869; and 75 ex-residents of Henry County, Illinois, arrived in 1870.

Despite the inhabitants' previous rejection of the cattle trade, Salina became a minor center of that industry in 1872. Gun-play and carousing were sternly suppressed, however, and the community remained comparatively placid. In 1874 the cattle trade gravitated farther west and Salina's "cow town" era ended. The resultant economic gap was more than filled by agriculture. Great crops of wheat began to pour into Salina during the 1870's. A $75,000 steam-powered flour mill was built at the town in 1878.

In the early part of 1874 Dr. E. R. Switzer of Salina obtained alfalfa seed from California for 50 cents a pound and planted it on his farm. Green shoots came up, only to be destroyed by drought and grasshoppers. Dr. Switzer considered the experiment ended. But rain fell in September and the alfalfa grew again. "I concluded," Dr. Switzer later said, "that a grass that would go through drought and grasshopper plague was the thing for Kansas." The doctor thereafter pioneered in introducing alfalfa to Kansas farmers. From Saline County the legume spread outward to become in 1935 the State's fourth largest crop.

By 1880 Salina was assured of a place among the principal cities of Kansas. Its population exceeded 3,500 and its industries included 3 flour mills, 6 grain elevators, a carriage and wagon factory, and an agricultural implement works. Between 1885-90 three railroads were built through the community.

Four-fifths of Salina was inundated by the Smoky Hill River in 1903. The inhabitants had ample time to retreat to the heights east of the city without loss of life. In June 1938 heavy rains again sent the Smoky beyond its banks and a small section of the city was flooded. Property damage was negligible and no lives were lost.