Columbus, the county seat of Cherokee County, is situate almost exactly in the geographical center of the county. It is of easy access, from all points; and its broad streets, its well platted blocks, its comfortable, well-built homes, its churches, schools and other public buildings, make it a much desired place for residence. It is at the crossing of three railroads,--the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis, the St. Louis & San Francisco and the Missouri, Kansas & Texas. Recently, as I have noted in the chapter on railroads, the first mentioned two roads have passed under the management of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway Company, and the business of the two roads is now done through one office. The Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company s office is separate, and is conveniently located on East Maple street, the finest street in the city. The St. Louis & San Francisco station is in the northeastern part of the city, at the crossing of the tracks of the two branches of that road. It is the company's intention to build a station at a point more convenient for the public.
It is not very clear as to who was the first settler on the present site of the city of Columbus. There have been some contentions as to this matter, and the truth of it may never be precisely known. The original plat of the city contains 36 blocks, nearly in the center of section 13, township 33 south, range 23 east of the Sixth Principal Meridian, in the State of Kansas. The middle of the section is in Maple street, about one block and a half east of the Court House square. It is said that John Appleby built the first house. This was on the northwest quarter of the section, on what is now lot 17, block 16, of the original plat. This was a farm house. No effort had been made to lay off a town. It was in the year 1867, when most of the land was in wild prairie grass. About that time Martin Jones built a house, the second erected. Even then there was no town organization. The county seat was at Pleasant View; and there was no well organized purpose to make a change to the center of the county. H. A. Scovell, who now owns a hardware store on the north side of the public square, came to Cherokee County in 1867, and filed a claim on the southeast quarter of section 13. He sold his claim to S. S. Smith. His brother, Hannibal Scovell, sold his claim, the northeast quarter of the same section, to George Souder. The third house built was that erected by F. Fry, in 186 8. It was afterward used as a hotel, known as the Lagonda House. Mr. Fry dug a well from which a large quantity of good water was obtained. He had it analyzed, and finding it contained medicinal qualities, according to the analysis, he advertised it, with a view to inducing immigration to the place. Hannibal Scovell, in 1867, laid claim to the northeast quarter of the section which I have mentioned, and he afterward sold the claim to George Souder. Both men are yet living in Cherokee County. On December 25, 1868, J. N. Lee, who had bought John Appleby's claim, opened a general store, the first store of any kind opened in the place. Then Scovell & Hanson opened a grocery store. Then the town, if it might be called such, began to attract attention. It was variously designated. It was called The Center, The Geographical Center, Centralia, and finally A. V. Peters, who was from the State of Ohio, called the place Columbus, in honor of that State's capital. In August, 1869, C. E. Middaugh opened a dry goods and grocery store. Mr. Middaugh was the principal merchant in the town for many years, and he made his business profitable. He afterward built a hotel, known as the Middaugh Hotel, and it is so known to this day, and is the leading hotel in the city, having been, a few years ago, combined with the Palace Hotel, formerly built and owned by F. Fry.
The city of Columbus was organized through the election held in April, 1871. This was about a year after the coming of the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad. The first mayor was Leland J. Webb, and the following are those who have succeeded: J. N. Ritter, 1872; T. P. Anderson, 1873; J. H. Ludlow, 1874-75; C. A. Sanders, 1876; George Hoyt, 1877; W. C. Lykens, 1878; S. O. McDowell, 1879-80-81-82; C. E. Middaugh, 1883-84; E. A. Crewson, 1885-86; R. M. Cheshire, 1887-88; O. S. Butler, 1889-90-91-92; John Wiswell, 1893-94; S. O. McDowell, 1895-96; John Wiswell, 1897-98; J. O. Houx, 1899-1900; L. J. Slease, 1901-02; and W. T. Forkner, 1903-04. The mayors of the city have been chosen with a view to getting the best possible public service; and the affairs of the city have usually been in conservative hands. The expenditures, which have necessarily become larger every year, as the city has grown and has been compelled to look after larger interests, have been carefully guarded. As a rule the best men are chosen as councilmen. Sometimes the importance of this matter has been over-looked; but there is a growing tendency to avoid the mistake of electing other than well-informed, conservative men; for the people are watchful of such things, and they will not stand for the inefficiency of poorly informed officials.
The people of Columbus have maintained a constant watch care over the public schools of the city ever since the organization of the city. Every citizen had taken an interest in them; and while the members of the School Board have been selected from among all classes, a wise direction has been given the management and the very best results have been attained. Good and well furnished buildings have been provided, well qualified and painstaking superintendents have been employed, capable teachers have been chosen and everything else has been done to reach satisfactory results. Many graduates from the City High School have become teachers in the city and in the county. Some of them are holding responsible positions, too, in the government service at Washington; one is the State Geologist, and another is the dean of the medical faculty at the State University, whose articles on subjects in the science of chemistry have been copied in the London, Berlin and other foreign scientific journals and eagerly read by the best thinkers of the age.
According to an old history which I have been permitted to examine, the first church organized in Columbus was the Baptist Church, May 20, 1870. There were 12 members. Elder C. A. Bateman presided at the meeting when the organization was effected. There were a number of pastors in the early years, among whom may be mentioned Elders Maver, Lappin, Post, Floyd, and Bowman. More recently there were Elders Ferguson, Houston, Hudson and Essex. Elder John R. Wright is the present pastor. The first Baptist Sunday-school of which there is any record was organized in August, 1882, with L. D. Dana as superintendent. The old church house now belongs to J. L. Thomas, and is used as a blacksmith shop, on East Maple street.
The Methodist Church was organized, with 15 members, May 22, 1870. It grew rapidly in number. Among the ministers who had charge of the church in the first years of its work were: Elders Kirchner, Lowe, Bliss, Burrows, Combs, Scaggs, Thornbrue, Sibley, Marey, Kirby, Griffin, Thrall, McBirney and Robb. More recently there have been Elders Parker, Boaz, Vollmar, Murphy and Mulvaney. The present pastor is Elder S. L. Chase. The church membership is perhaps the largest in Cherokee County, being about 500.
The Christian Church was organized in October, 1870. I have not the names of the former pastors, in the order of their terms. Elder J. A. Murray organized the church, and he was the pastor for the first two years. Other pastors were: Elders Baxter, Dewees, Jenkins, Dutcher, Tout, Hooten, Witt, Yard, Derry and McFarland. Elder Frank Jewett is the present pastor. The church numbers about 250 members.
The Presbyterian Church was organized in 1871. Among the pastors the following may be mentioned: Elders Hawkins, Mayo, Coleman, Moore, Hatfield, Hillis, Theis, Smalley and Bliss.
The Seventh-Day Adventists have a church organization and a church building, but no resident pastor.
The United Brethren have a church and a pastor, W. L. Stone, but they have no church building. The church organization is just now making an effort to put up a church building. Elder Stone has one or two country congregations to whom he preaches regularly. In Columbus the congregation uses the Adventists' church house, situate in East Columbus.
In 1887 R. A. Long, president of the LongBell Lumber Company, whose main office was in Columbus at that time, and L. L. Doubleday, of the banking firm of Ritter & Doubleday, built a water supply system, at a cost of $60,000, one of the finest systems, at that price, there was in Southeastern Kansas. The city of Columbus, or certain citizens, some years previous to that time, had put down a well, 1,300 feet deep, and had secured a good flow of most excellent water. This well became a part of the water supply system. The very best of machinery was put in and a stand-pipe was erected on the original plat of the city. The City Council contracted with the firm of Long & Doubleday for putting in 50 fire plugs, agreeing to pay the firm $3,000 a year for their use. This was a heavy tax upon a city of no more than 2,000 inhabitants; and the burden, after being borne for a few years, gave rise to much complaint and dissatisfaction. The city got behind, and such was the pressure brought to bear upon the council by those who were complaining that the matter continued until about $12,000 was due the firm. In the meantime mandamus proceedings were begun to compel the Council to make a levy, which it had failed to do. The water supply firm also brought suit, for damages, against T. P. LaRue, J. E. Tutton, Wesley E. Best, members of the Council, charging conspiracy against the firm. This case was finally dismissed. The city employed W. B. Glasse and C. D. Ashley, to defend it in the mandamus proceedings in the Supreme Court, where the case was finally disposed of in favor of the city. Some time during the disagreement between the city and the water supply firm, the co-partnership gave place to a corporation, with L. L. Doubleday as manager; but this change did not improve the condition to the extent of bringing about an amicable adjustment of the trouble. Matters rather grew worse; and finally there began to spring up a sentiment favoring the city ownership of the system. The matter was discussed, from time to time, in the City Council, and everywhere else, the proposition gaining favor all the time. The city was deeply in debt to the water company, and there was a decided feeling among the people against any effort to pay the claim. Finally, in 1897, while John Wiswell was mayor of the city, the water system was purchased by the city, for the sum of $32,000, the city issuing bonds for $30,000, at six per centum annual interest. By this the city saves $1,200 a year, provided the water rentals which come from private use will pay the running expenses and provide against the wear and tear of the equipment. So far, the Council has not made any considerable effort to increase the earnings from private use, nor is it providing any fund against the necessity which will some time come for the renewal of the machinery, mains, branch pipe and other things needed for the effective operation of the system. It is claimed by some that all these precautions would be taken, if the system were under private ownership and control; that it is not a good policy to manage a public concern on other than along such courses as are followed in the management of private affairs; and such persons predict, and that upon safe grounds, that the city, maybe, at a time when it is the least prepared to met it, will find itself confronted with a condition under which it will be necessary to meet a big expense. Those favoring the city ownership believe that the city, after a little more experience, will begin to provide against the day of want; that it will learn how to get the most profit, at the least outlay, and that within a comparatively short time the system will be managed according to the best methods employed in directing private affairs.
In 1887, on the 15th day of June, the grand master of the Grand Lodge of the State of Kansas, A. F. & A. M., laid the corner-stone of the Court House, which the people had voted to build. The ceremony was impressive, and it will long be remembered by those who witnessed it. Hundreds were there, and to them it was a resting place in the long, patient, enduring through which they had passed, hoping the day when they would begin the erection of a house creditable to the county which they had made their choice. For years and years they had put up with the old, wooden building on the northeast corner of the public square, inadequate in every respect for the safe-keeping of the public records, a dim, dingy and dreary old house which had served its time and was awaiting the day of its removal. To them it was the beginning of a new era. The erection of the new house went on for a while; then came a delay. Some changes were made in the plans, and these brought a cessation of the work, and the sound of the hammer was for a while not heard. The building, however, was at last finished. and into it all the county records were moved. This was in 1889. The building, including furnace and furniture and such other things as are necessary to modern ideas of convenience, cost about $75,000.
In the year 1885 a most unfortunate affair occurred on the Court House square. While the county officers were occupying the old wooden building on the northeast corner of the square, there was no place in the building for keeping the records in safety. For the protection of the books the county built a brick vault in the yard, and into this vault the records were put at night. Lawton & Woodruff was the style of a firm which was at that time engaged in the real estate, loan and insurance business. They employed much of their time in making a set of abstract books from the records. About the time they completed the set of abstract b ooks, the vault in which the county records were kept was blown up, evidently with the intent to destroy the records of the county. Suspicion almost immediately rested upon the two members of the firm, but no arrest was made at the time. The ground of the suspicion was that it would be to the interest of Lawton & Woodruff, but to no one else, to have the records destroyed. Their abstracts would then be worth many thousands of dollars to them. There was another reason, which came to light later: The firm had negotiated a number of false mortgages, selling them to Eastern capitalists, and these mortgages would in time be shown as fraudulent, upon an examination of the records; hence the importance of getting the records out of the way. A thorough investigation was made of the matter, through the aid of detectives, and at the end of it Lawton and Woodruff were put under arrest; but it was not until after another attempt was made to destroy the records. After the vault was blown up, and it was deemed unsafe to keep the books in the Court House, old and dilapidated as it was, the records were moved into an upper room in the J. W. Tompkins Building. S. Y. Timberlake was the register of deeds at the time. In the fall of 1885, William H. Chew was elected register of deeds, and he took the office in January, 1886. Not long after he took the office, some persons got into the room one night, a very cold night, between one and two o'clock, saturated the books with coal oil and set them on fire. B. W. Martin, who kept a harness shop in the room beneath, and who roomed on the same floor where the records were kept, chanced to hear persons talking, and on making an investigation found the office on fire. He burst the door open, carried water in a bucket and got the fire under control. He also gave the alarm, and was soon joined by a number of others, with whose help the flames were at last extinguished. Following this a warrant was issued and the two men placed under arrest. The case against Woodruff never came to trial. It was not generally believed that he was guilty. His case was dismissed. Lawton was held under bond, and pending the trial he went to Ohio, the State whence he came. He was constantly under the shadow of a detective. At his hotel, in Cincinnati, the detective roomed just across the hall. It is a mere conjecture as to whether he ever suspected that he was being shadowed; but the detective watched his incoming and his outgoing; and when a certain day had well worn along, and Lawton did not come down, the clerk of the hotel made an entrance into the room, the death chamber of Richard H. Lawton, for there lay the man cold and senseless. The detective entered the room with the clerk, identified the man who had been followed from Columbus, Kansas, and the career of the pursued was at an end. J. R. Hallowell, one of the leading lawyers of the county, at that time, was Lawton's attorney. Lawton told him all. He went to the bottom of the matter, as clients sometimes do, and ought always to do, with their attorneys. Mr. Hallowell died some years ago, I believe, in the State of Indiana, whence he had come to this State in the early days. But before he died he told a friend, who now lives in this city, that Lawton made a full and complete confession to him; confessed that he was guilty; that he tried to destroy the records, for the purpose of making his abstract books valuable. As far as it has been learned, he did not implicate any one else with him in the crime. Richard H. Lawton was born in Marietta, Ohio, February 24, 1849. He graduated from Wabash University, Indiana, in 1865, at the age of 16 years. He then came West, and after being engaged in a number of different employments he went to what is now Crawford County, Kansas, and helped to lay out Girard, the county seat. He came to Columbus in 1878, for the purpose of disposing of the Railroad company's lands. Let us turn to brighter things.
For a long time after the beginning o f the upbuilding of the place the home owners of Columbus had many ups and downs, and especially downs. Times were hard, and the mortgage taker was abroad in the land. Twenty years ago from this good day of grace half the homes in Columbus were the abode of sadness because of debt; and in many of them sadness took up her permanent residence, to bide the time of the sheriff's coming. The people, in the years preceding, had reveled in speculative ideas of the dreamiest nature; the city had had a "boom," but when Nature had brought about an equilibrium, as Nature always does, many had the form of ownership, while lacking the real thing. About 15 years ago the sheriff was the busiest, best known man in Cherokee County, while many a mortgage holder was "a very sick man," and many a former home owner was looking about for a place to begin life anew. Things went down to bed rock, and some of them even crawled under it. In not a few instances the rental charge for a house was: "Move in and take good care of the property." There was a time, about ten years ago, when the money lenders of the East owned scores of houses and lots in Columbus from many of which they were receiving no returns at all. It is far different now. Those properties have been bought by the people who went through the trying times and came out wiser from the experience and are now holding their homes without incumbrance. Mortgage holders are much in the minority, and a case in foreclosure is now a rare entrance on the docket of the court. In many an instance it may be said that
Pictures of Some Columbus Residences.
In the earlier days, even before it was generally believed that Columbus would become a very desirable place for residence, a number of the more enterprising citizens built commodious, comfortable homes; and it was largely due to these, that others were encouraged to hold on and to grapple with adverse conditions, finally to succeed and do likewise. Among those who early built good homes the following may be mentioned: Lewis Prell, W. R. Cowley, Henry C. Mentzer, R. A. Long, Mr. Jarvis, M. A. Housholder, John N. Ritter, John E. Tutton, Milton R. Steward, B. F. Steward, A. H. Skidmore, J. P. Campbell, J. H. Smith, Isaac Wright, Chester Branin, E. A. Scammon, J. R. Hallowell, Slemons Lisle, Mr. Walbert, E. M. Tracewell, A. Hood, D. S. Freeman, Wesley E. Best and S. O. McDowell. More recently, and since the city has taken on new life, others have established good, comfortable homes, and among them are these: Robert Warren, W. J. Moore, Dr. Johnson, J. H. Hamilton, L. J. Slease, A. Hood, H. N. Furness, E. W. Youngman, A. H. Baldwin, C. A. McNeill, H. R. Crowell, Fred Scoville, C. M. Hord, J. C. Forkner, W. T. Forkner, Alexander Wilson, George Martin, Roy Wilson, Charles Bartlett, C. R. Aitchison, Dr. Winter, R. M. Willis, Dr. Huffman, Fred Simkins, John Wiswell, Hy Rains, C. D. Ashley, John Rawlings, H. B. Henderson, Mary Kraft, E. R. Pattyson, F. A. Jackson, Dr. Hendrickson, Mr. Hodge, J. Wilbur Logan, Judge W. B. Glasse, C. A. Middaugh and James Morrow. Some of the better suburban homes are those of Col. R. W. Blue, Judge R. M. Cheshire, Senator M. A. Householder, Ex-Treasurer Frank Hoover, Thomas A. Blake, Andrew Shearer, Dr. J. O. Houx, A. S. Dennison, T. J. Skinner, Phil C. Metzler and Wash Williams.
In the building up of business properties some of the citizens have done much for the city in the last half a score of years. T. P. LaRue and W. M. Benham have led in this respect, while H. A. Scovell, W. B. Lowry, J. Wilbur Logan, W. S. Norton, A. H. Skidmore and M. A. Housholder have done much toward helping the city into better conditions. All of these have put up good, substantial brick buildings which add to the good appearance of the city, while increasing its taxable wealth. In addition to what has been done toward building up business properties Mr. LaRue has bought and improved many residence properties which had been formerly neglected by the owners and allowed to go to sale for debt.
The establishment of the Cherokee County High School at Columbus, gave a better impetus to the growth and permanent improvement of the city than anything else that has taken place in the last 15 years. Immediately upon the determination of the fact that the people had voted affirmatively on the question, residence property began to advance in value, while a lighter stimulus was given business interests.
With its central location, where it is accessible from every direction; with its wide, shady streets, its good water for every purpose, its churches and schools and its well laid out homes, Columbus is a much desired place for residence. The people who live in it do not profess to be righteous above those of other places; there is a good deal of liberality and fairmindedness; views on all matters are liberally entertained and freely expressed; the truly pious are respected and they have their influence, which is always an uplift to others; those of wide religious views are not held in scorn, but there is no place for the trimmer, the artful dodger, the man of policy who joins a lodge or a church or keeps himself in touch with certain classes for the sole purpose of turning his affiliation in as merchantable asset that he may profit thereby.
There are no saloons in Columbus. The subject of the traffic in intoxicating liquors, whether it is materially profitable for the city to allow it or not, has been settled thoroughly and, it ought to be hoped, for all time to come. As a rule, the mayors of the city, as well as the other officers, have been against the traffic, and the sentiment of the people is that it shall never be tolerated within the municipal limits. The people of the county, in settling the County High School at Columbus, did so with the tacit understanding that the government of the city would not allow the saloon, with all its concomitant influences, to stand as a menace to the work of education, which it would do if permitted to ply its traffic where the students of the High School might be reached.
Many of the early citizens of Columbus have passed away. Few of the first settlers remain. Of those who lived here 20 years ago and were active in the interests of the city, many now gone will be well and kindly remembered. Capt. S. S. Smith, F. Fry, Dr. E. L. Enlow, Horace Brown, Capt. J. H. Smith, George S. Richardson, Samuel Megenity, R. H. Stott, Slemons Lisle, Edward McPherson, James Whitcraft, W. H. Timberlake, Judge John N. Ritter, J. W. Tompkins, A. A. Bloomfield, C. E. Middaugh, H. A. Hicks and A. Hood. And yet, out of a population of 3,000, there are 52 persons in the city who are over 70 years of age.
Heretofore, the city of Columbus has depended, for its business, upon the agricultural districts of the county, and it is yet almost so at this time; but within recent years the development of the rich coal fields just north of the city has added much to business interests. With the completion of the electric railroad now contemplated, which will connect the city with the lead and zinc mines on the southeast and with the coal districts on the north, the place will become more desirable, both for residence purposes and for the enlarged opportunities which will be offered for trade and commerce.
In 1889 the Lafflin & Rand Powder Company, of New York, established a system of powder mills about three miles north of Columbus, for the manufacture of blasting powder. The immense quantity of powder used in the mines of Southeastern Kansas and Southwestern Missouri first called the attention of the company to the importance of the undertaking which has been in constant operation since the works were finished and the company ready to supply the demand. These mills have cost the company about $500,000, and they have added much to the taxable property of the county, besides giving employment to a large number of men.
Within the last two years a company has been organized and incorporated by a number of the citizens, for the extensive manufacture of brick and tile. The works are in operation now, and the successful manufacture of vitrified brick and the other products of the plant has shown the good business judgment which led to the undertaking. The city itself has been much profited by this enterprise, as it affords an immediate supply of material for buildings of all kinds, and for paving the streets and sidewalks, which until recently had been so much neglected.
In 1870 the population of Columbus was 402; in 1880 it was 1,164; in 1890 it was 2,135; in 1900 it was 2,414 and in 1904, as taken by the city assessor, in the month of March, it was 2,952. The population is almost wholly made up of American-born people, there being very few of foreign birth living in the place.
The business of the postoffice of Columbus has never brought it up to the grade of a second-class office; but the rate of the increase as it now is will before long bring it to that class. Nearly all the territory within easy reach is supplied, in its mail matter, from this office; and four rural routes have been established. The postmasters of Columbus are here named, in the order in which they served: J. F. McDowell, S. O. McDowell, A. T. Lea, M. W. Coulter, H. V. Gavigan, W. P. Eddy, S. Y. Timberlake, N. T. Allison, Clarence R. Aitchison and Jesse Forkner. The amount of mail matter handled through the office has vastly increased within the last few years, while the transfer of mail pouches coming through the office and those handled at the railroad stations makes a showing of enormous volume. At Girard, Crawford County, 30 miles north of Columbus, a weekly newspaper has a circulation of 260,000 copies; and much of the mail matter which it sends out is transferred at this place. Twenty-two mail and passenger trains pass through Columbus every 24 hours, and from this fact it may be presumed that the mail matter handled here is of itself an important item.
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