Atchison, the seat of justice of Atchison county, located in the eastern part on the Missouri river, was founded in 1854 and named in honor of David R. Atchison, United States senator from Missouri, who, when Kansas was opened for settlement, interested some of his friends in the scheme of forming a city in the new territory. However, it seems that all were not agreed upon the location he had selected, and on July 20, 1854, Dr. J. H. Stringfellow, Ira Norris, Leonidas Oldham, James B. Martin and Neal Owens left Platte City, Mo., to decide definitely upon a site. They crossed the Missouri river near Fort Leavenworth and continued to travel up stream along the western bank until they reached the place where Atchison now stands, where they found a site that was the natural outlet of a remarkably rich agricultural region just open to settlement. They also found that two men named George M. Million and Samuel Dickson had staked claims near the river. Million's claim lay south of what is now known as Atchison street and consisted of a quarter section. Dickson had built a small cabin on his claim, and this cabin was the first structure erected on the site of the present city. Million had a ferry, on which he crossed to the Missouri side to his home, but on the day the prospectors arrived he was on the Kansas side. From a map in his possession, the prospectors found that they were at the location decided upon before leaving Missouri.
As all the men in the party, except Dr. Stringfellow, had already taken claims in the valley of Walnut creek, he was the only member of the party who could select a claim. He therefore took a tract north of Million's. The proposition of forming a town company for the future city was laid before the first settlers. Dickson was willing, but Million did not care to cut up his claim. He offered to sell his claim for $1,000an exorbitant price for the landbut the men from Platte City had determined to found a city on that particular spot, and the purchase was made. A town company was formed and a week later a meeting was held under a tree on the bank of the river, about a half block south of where Atchison street now runs. There were eighteen persons present when the town company was formally organized by electing Peter T. Abell, president; James Burns, treasurer; Dr. J. H. Stringfellow, secretary.
The site was divided into 100 shares by the company, of which each member retained five shares, the remainder being reserved for common benefit of all. By Sept. 20, 1854, Henry Kuhn had surveyed the 480 acres and made a plat, and the next day was fixed for the sale of lots, an event of great importance as it had become understood that Senator Atchison would make a speech upon the political question of the day, hence the sale would be of political as well as business significance. At his meeting on the 21st, two public institutions of vital interest to a new community were planned fora hotel and a newspaper. Each share of stock in the town company was assessed $25, the proceeds to be used to build the National hotel, which was completed in the spring of 1855 on the corner of Second and Atchison streets, and $400 was donated to Dr. J. H. Stringfellow and R. S. Kelley to erect a printing office. In Feb., 1855, the Squatter Sovereign was issued. (See Newspapers.)
For years there had been considerable trade up and down the Missouri river, which had naturally centered at Leavenworth, but in June, 1855, several overland freighters were induced to select Atchison as their outfitting point. The most important firms were Livingston, Kinkead & Co. and Hooper & Williams. The outfitting business done in Atchison was one of the greatest factors in establishing her commercial career. Some of the first merchants to open stores in the new town were George Challis, Burns Bros., Stephen Johnston and Samuel Dickson.
On Aug. 30, 1855, Atchison was incorporated. The corporation was granted the privilege of holding land "not to exceed 640 acres" and the stock of the company was to be regarded as personal property. The town company had required every settler to build a house at least 6 feet square upon his lot, but when the survey was made it was discovered that some of these buildings were upon school lands. The title to the school lands remained in question for some time, but in 1857 all lands embraced within the corporate limits of the town were acquired by the town company from the general government, and in turn conveyed the lots to the individual purchasers, the titles being finally confirmed by the court.
Dr. Stringfellow had North Atchison surveyed and platted in the fall of 1857. This started a fever of additions. In Feb., 1858, West Atchison was laid out by John Roberts, and in May Samuel Dickson had his property surveyed as South Atchison. Still another addition was made by John Challis.
On Feb. 12, 1858, the legislature issued a charter to the city of Atchison, which was approved by the people on March 2 at a special election. The first city officers were elected at a second special election on March 13, 1858, and were as follows: Mayor, Samuel C. Pomeroy; treasurer, E. B. Grimes; register, John F. Stein; marshal, Milton R. Benton; attorney, A. E. Mayhew; engineer, W. O. Gould; assessor, H. L. Davis; physician, J. W. Hereford; board of appraisers, Messrs. Peterfish, Roswell and Gaylord; councilmen, William P. Chiles, O. F. Short, Luther C. Challis, Cornelius A. Logan, S. T. Walter, James A. Headley and Charles Holbert.
At the outbreak of the Civil war there were three militia companies organized in Atchison, whose members enlisted in the Kansas regiments. They were known as Companies A, C and "At All Hazards." Early in Sept., 1861, a home guard was organized in the town to protect it in case of invasion from Missouri, and on the 15th of the month another company was raised, which was subsequently mustered into a state regiment. In 1863 the city of Atchison raised $4,000 to assist the soldiers from the county and after the sack of Lawrence a like sum was subscribed to assist the stricken people of that city. Citizens of the town also joined the vigilance committees that so materially aided the civil authorities in suppressing raiding and the lawless bands of thieves that infested the border counties.
Atchison was one of the first cities in Kansas to be connected by telegraph with the east. In 1859 the St. Louis & Missouri Valley Telegraph company extended its line from Leavenworth to Atchison. In 1911, the following railroads all ran into the city: Burlington & Missouri River, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, Hannibal & St. Joseph, Kansas City, St. Joseph & Council Bluffs, and the Missouri Pacific.
The first postoffice in Atchison was established April 10, 1855, with Robert S. Kelley as postmaster. It was opened in a small building in the block later occupied by the Otis house. In July, 1883, the free-delivery system was inaugurated and today Atchison has one of the best equipped, modern postal services in the state. The first schools in the town were private. One of the first was opened in 1857 by Lizzie Bay. The first school district was established in Oct., 1858, and a month later the Atchison free high school was opened at the corner of Atchison and Commercial streets. Since that time progress in the establishment and maintenance of schools in the city has been uniform and today Atchison has a well regulated system of public schools. Besides the public schools there are a number of private educational institutions.
The first religious services in Atchison were held by James Shaw, a Methodist minister, who visited the city in May, 1837, and delivered the first sermon at S. C. Pomeroy's office. (See history of churches under denominational name.)
Soon after the war, when industrial life became normal, manufactories began to spring up in Atchison. Elevators and mills were erected in the late '60s and early '70s; a flax mill was built; the Atchison Foundry and Machine Works, one of the most important commercial enterpries, was started; also many wood working factories, and carriage and wagon works. Since that time her progress as an industrial center has been steady. Civic improvements have been of paramount interest to the citizens of Atchison, and today there are many miles of paved streets, an excellent waterworks system, sewer, telephone, electric lighting and electric railway systems. Natural gas, piped from the southern part of the state, is utilized for lighting, heating and manufacturing purposes. The city has gained a reputation for its fine flour mills, car-repair shops, foundries, wooden ware, and furniture factories. It is also a large jobbing center for groceries, hardware and drugs. In 1911 Atchison had a population of 16,429, making it the fifth city in the state.Pages 108-111 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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