Ellsworth, the county seat and largest city of Ellsworth county, is situated about 4 miles northwest of the center of the county, on the north bank of the Smoky Hill river and the Union Pacific R. R. It is also the terminus of a division of the St. Louis and San Francisco R. R. that runs southeast to Wichita. The town site was surveyed in the spring of 1867 by McGrath and Greenwood for a company of which H. J. Latshaw was president. E. W. Kingsbury built the first house, which was used for the double purpose of hotel and store and was known as "The Stockade." At that time it was thought by many people that Ellsworth would be the western terminus of the railroad for some years to come, and the place grew with such rapidity that in a short time it boasted a population of 1,000 or more.
The town was at first located on low ground near the Smoky Hill river, in sections 28 and 29. On June 8, 1867, that stream rose suddenly, and in a short time Ellsworth was in four feet of water, some of the frail frame houses being washed from their foundations. A new site was then surveyed in section 20, a short distance northwest and on higher ground. Those who had bought lots in the old town were given new ones in the "Addition." But the flood was not the only disaster the new city had to encounter. Scarcely had the new site been surveyed when the Indians began to commit depredations in the vicinity, and in July the cholera (q. v.) broke out both in town and at Fort Harker, about 4 miles to the southeast. Floods, Indian raids and cholera in such rapid succession were more than the people could stand, and in a short time the 1,000 population of Ellsworth dwindled to less than 50.
Then came a second growth, more substantial and more permanent in character. In the fall of 1867 Arthur Larkin built a second hotel, called the Larkin House, business enterprises sprang up, buildings of a better class were erected, etc. For some time Ellsworth enjoyed a large trade from the 1,500 soldiers stationed at Fort Harker, especially in liquors, and from the emigrant trains that passed through on their way westward. In 1868 Ellsworth was incorporated as a village, with J. H. Edwards as president of the council of five members. The first school was taught in rented quarters by a man named Wellington. In 1869 a one-story school house was erected, which served until 1873, when the people voted $9,000 in bonds for the erection of a larger and more modern building. The first number of the Ellsworth Reporter was issued in Nov., 1870, by M. C. Davis.
In 1873 a large share of the cattle trade came to Ellsworth, and with it came the usual turbulent element that concentrated in the western cattle towns. Shooting scrapes were common, gambling houses were run "wide open," and the better class of citizens were pleased when the cattle trade moved on westward, because its disadvantages more than offset its advantages. The pioneer church of Ellsworth was established by the Catholics in 1869, and it remained the only house of worship in the place until 1878, when a building was erected by the Presbyterian. Several other denominations came later and the city now has a number of cozy church buildings. The Mother Bickerdyke home for soldiers' widows and orphans is located here.
Ellsworth is a city of the third class. It owns its electric lighting plant and waterworks, has a telephone exchange, 2 banks, 4 grain elevators, a large flour mill, a salt plant with a daily capacity of 500 barrels, a good public school system, a normal training school, an international money order postoffice with three rural routes, express and telegraph offices, two weekly newspapers (the Reporter and the Messenger), machine shops, wagon works, and a number of well appointed stores in all lines of merchandising. The streets are paved with a by-product of the salt works, making a roadway that is both dustless and noiseless. Coal and building stone are found in the vicinity and are a source of wealth. The commercial club is always alert to the interests of the city, which in 1910 had a population of 2,041, a gain of 492 over the preceding U. S. census.Pages 580-581 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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