R. J. Kerans.
The Bank of Alma.
A. A. Johnson.
E. T. Linss.
Brown Drug Co.
F. C. Simon.
The Commercial Hotel.
C. E. Carrol.
Jno. W. Wilson.
Eck's Lumber Yard.
Grunewald & O'Neill.
Anna B. Dwyer.
The Alma Enterprise.
Dr. G. W. B. Beaverly.
W. G. Weaver.
J. E. Kitterman.
Alma, the "Shire Town," and most important point in Wabaunsee County, is located on Mill Creek. Most writers would say located at the junctions of the Rock Island and Santa Fe, but as Alma was here before the railroads, we claims that she is located on Mill Creek. With Hendricks branching from Mill Creek on the north and the Illinois on the south, the country about Alma is inclined to be hilly. The town nestling down among the green hills might admit of extensive description if we were disposed to write it all out. We simply borrow an expression from the Bible and say, "a city beautiful for situation" and pass on.
Alma is located about the center of the county and the only town of any size between Topeka and Herington. It is thus the hub of a large and prosperous territory. Its location in relation to large towns is thirty-six miles west of Topeka, twenty-two miles east of Manhattan and thirty-four miles northwest of Burlingame.
The question of how Alma came to be named is a mooted one. Most of the early settlers held an opinion of their own on the subject. Since it is a subject of which the writer knows absolutely nothing, we will give the different views pertaining to the name and let each reader settle it for himself. The settlement seems to have been called Alma in the '50s and so must have been named by some early settler. John Winkler, an early settler, says that the name was first applied to the postoffice kept by John Spiecker on a high point on his farm south of town, now referred to as lookout station. The Switzers, several families of whom lived in the vicinity, called this place "The Alma," meaning in Swizz a high open place, frequented by herdsmen and by lovers. Mr. Winkler says that Henry Schmitz is responsible for the name being given to the city.
Phil F. Johnson credits Gottleib Zwanziger with naming the place Alma, because he came from a place named Alma in the old country, also because the word in English signified a German Settlement.
Slightly akin to this last view is the one held by A. F. Thayer of Maple Hill, who suggests that the name came from the River Alma, on which a bloody battle was fought in 1854, his theory is that some of the soldiers of that battle found their way to this locality and named the town to commemorate the victory over the Russians. Personally we favor Mr. Winkler's account of the naming. However it came by it, Alma has a beautiful and appropriate name of good old Latin derivation.
As near as can be learned, the first white men to settle at Alma were Mr. Joseph Thoes and his brother, which was in the year of 1855. There was at that time to Mr. Thoes' knowledge five claims taken in the county. This was in January. In May of the same year a large company of the Germans arrived at Kansas City on their way west. A company had been formed in Cincinnati and this was the first division of the colony. They had been told at St. Louis that they could go to Kansas City and take the boat up the Kaw River. They were very much disappointed in not being able to do this and were about to disband when discovered by Joseph Thoes, who happened to be in Kansas City to get supplies. He at once gave up the idea of buying supplies on that trip, procured three ox teams in Westport and brought the whole colony out, bag and baggage. Mr. Metzer and Frank Schmidt each drove one of the teams. Mr. Thoes places the number of these people at about thirty, while other accounts say there were seventy, mostly young men, and that Ernest Honeke was their leader. It is hardly possible that two companies came in this year. The account which places the number at seventy says that those who came first laid out the grounds and prepared for the reception of those to follow, so it is possible that there were seventy in all, but only thirty in the first division. In a short time all the land within six or eight miles of Alma had been taken. The other division came on. The first comers, who had expected to sell out their claims to the later arrivals at a good figure, were disappointed. So the bubble burst and two-thirds of the settlers left. The town company went out of business. In 1857 the settlement was reinforced by a large colony direct from Germany. They formed a town company in St. Louis, chose Alma as a location and settled here. They also forfeited the right to the Townsite and it was pre-empted by Gottleib Zwanziger, who had come in 1856. In 1858 improvements were made. Two mills were erected on Mill Creek, but high water washed them away the same year they were erected. This was the great flood year all over Wabaunsee County, but it was especially destructive on Mill Creek, which during the high water was half a mile wide and from ten to twenty feet in depth. Settlers were driven from their homes and much property was destroyed. Only one life was lost, that of Mr. Moettcher, who was drowned while attempting to rescue Fred Steinmeyer and wife from their housetop. But worse than the flood of '59 was the drouth of '60, when all Kansas seemed for a year and a half to be reverting into a desert. In 1861 the war broke out and not much progress was made while the men were at the front. When peace was established and affairs were running smoothly again, Alma was organized into a town. A meeting was held in '66 to determine the location. There was strong rivalry between this place and the location out on Peter Thoes farm. Through the efforts of Henry Schmitz and Gottlieb Zwanziger, this place won when the vote was taken. The same year a petition was signed by Rudolph Arndt and one hundred and thirty-two others were presented at the January session of the County Commissioners for the permanent location of the County seat and Alma won out by twelve votes at the February election. Owing to the legality of the vote being questioned, the matter was deferred to the next year. S. H. Fairfield tells of the election in 1867 and of the moving of the county seat.
"One beautiful spring day in 1867 a German was wandering among the hills of Mill Creek. He came upon the high bluff east of where the City of Alma now is. When he looked over the beautiful landscape spread out before him with wooded streams flowing into the valley from the north, south, and west, and the valley itself clothed in the verdure of spring, he thought he had never seen anything so lovely. As he gazed upon the picturesque scene before him it held him spellbound and he said, There in the valley is the place for the capital of Wabaunsee County and there it shall be. Wabaunsee on the banks of the Kaw, was the county seat and had been since the organization of the county. The young German who had declared that the capital of Wabaunsee County should be on Mill Creek, stirred up the settlers of the valley and they became enthusiastic like himself. He then made an alliance with the settlements south. Wabaunsee heard the mutterings and threatenings of the coming struggle to wrest the County Seat from her and braced herself for the conflict. She said that the people of the county never would vote to remove the County Seat from the Kaw Valley and locate it over among the hills of Mill Creek. The election came off and the Dutch got away with the Yankees. The capital was located on a forty acres of a bare prairie covered with blue stem grass nearly as high as a man's head and just where the young German said the future capital of the county should be. The name of the County Seat was called, Alma - after the name of a territory that now composes the townships of Washington, Garfield, Farmer, Mill Creek and, Alma. The Alma post-office, for the whole territory, was located, near what was called "Devil's Lookout," in Farmer Township, a one and one-half story frame building was erected for a court house, the room upstairs to be used for a court room and public gatherings. The front room below was used for a general store and one of the rear rooms was used for a bed room for the employes of the store. The other rooms, fourteen by twenty feet, was reserved for the county officers. A small two-room house used for a boarding house just south of the court house, and a blacksmith shop, were the only buildings of the new capital of Wabaunsee County. One cold day the last of December, 1867, were seen two wagons coming over the hills from the north from Wabaunsee. In one wagon was a small safe, which held all the cash and valuable books that the county possessed. The other wagons carried the County Clerk and Treasurer and some miscellaneous papers and books. These composed all the property of Wabaunsee County, save a few books belonging to the Probate Judge's office. The wagons were driven to the rear of the court house, the Clerk and the Treasurer took possession of the fourteen by twenty room assigned them. The small safe and the balance of the county's property were deposited in these small quarters, which were to be for the use of all the county officers. We took supper with Father Dirker and his good wife in their two-room hotel. At night we spread our blankets on the floor of the office and slept the sleep of the innocent. The inhabitants of the little city soon became restless and wanted more liberty than the fathers of the country were willing to grant them, and they applied to the authorities to be made a city of the third class, and it was granted them. But this was not the end. The obtaining of the County Seat is an important thing and the other towns were not willing to let Alma have it without a dissenting voice. Every town then on the Wabaunsee County map entered the race. There was Dragoon, Wilmington, Zeandale, Maple Hill, Thoes Place, Newbury, and Eskridge. Some of these were the merest infants whose first cry was for the County Seat. Gradually they all fell by the wayside until the final pull was between Alma and Eskridge. In 1871 Alma received a majority of the votes cast, for the third time and was declared the County Seat. In 1872 Alma, according to an agreement, built an $8,000 court house, which she turned over to the county. In 1869 there were four buildings in Alma, Schmitz & Meyer's store, Winkler's Hotel, Dierker's boarding house, and the court house." As the records speak of no other buildings, we infer that it was fashionable in Alma in those days to live in hotels and boarding houses. August 11th, of that year, the Alma debating society was formed with Henry Schmitz as President and N. H. Whittemore as Secretary, to decide serious public problems such as "Should Alma have a daily mail?" "What is the age of Ann?" etc.
In 1870 a new colony from Pittsburg, Pa., located at Alma. Among the trials and tribulations of early Alma were the prairie fires, which were often disastrous. One particularly destructive fire occurred in 1875. Smallpox swept the settlement in '71. It first broke out in Templin in the family of Mr. Carl Falk. The germ had been brought on the clothing of Mr. Herman Fink, who came over from Germany on an infected ship. Nearly every family in Templin, Alma, and East Branch were down with it. A number of deaths occurred at each point, among those dying at Alma was N. H. Whittemore, County Attorney.
We here quote another historical incident from Mr. Fairfield: "One little incident, however, I must relate which brought Alma into the public eye and put new life into the town and eventually caused her to put on city airs. Large stone buildings were erected and other improvements were made, and for the first time in her history her streets were sidewalked. The awakening of the little city from lethargy was on this wise: A well was being dug at the lower end of Missouri street. The workmen were promised a treat when they struck water. A strong vein was soon reached. The men left and went for the promised treat of beer. There was a kerosene barrel standing near the well with a little oil in it. A lady thought she would play a joke on the men while they were away enjoying the beer, so she emptied the few gallons of kerosene from the barrel into the well. When the men came back they smelled the kerosene and they were sure they had struck oil. They drew up a bucket and the top was covered with oil. The city paper announced that a vein of oil had been tapped in a well and that a stream poured out as large as a man's leg. The town went wild over the prospect. A company was formed, stock issued and hundreds of shares sold. The officers at Fort Riley took forty or more shares. Alma was in the 'lime light,' a noted naturalist from St. Louis came to the city and country around was thoroughly inspected to find the source of the wonderful vein. There were some spiritualists in the city and they held a seance, and the medium was told by the spirits that there was a pocket of anthracite coal under the city and surrounding country. A map was made under the directions of the spirits, showing just where the vein of coal lay. The spirits were often consulted as to how the rich deposit could be brought to the surface. The lady who perpetrated the joke by pouring the kerosene into the well became alarmed at the excitement she had stirred up and kept the joke a secret, and only told it to her husband." The effect of this little joke, over a quarter of a century ago, is felt by the city of Alma today, and will be for many years to come. The joke of priming the well with kerosene proved a costly one. The prospecting company boring for oil in the north part of town struck a salt vein at a depth of 600 feet, and proceeded to manufacture salt by evaporation. It was the grasshopper year and the vats became so thick with them that the salt was worthless. The company then tried boilers and turned out sixteen barrels per day; the water was 65 per cent salt. A Hutchinson company purchased the company's drill and struck the real thing. The Alma company went out of business. About this time the spirits got in their work through their medium. They induced a man to bore 2,000 feet into the earth to reach the pocket of coal. The drill passed through twelve veins of coal, which varied in thickness. The man then put down a shaft 600 feet, his money gave out and a halt was called. There was also a St. Louis company which tried for coal at Alma, and it is believed by Mr. Fairfield, who was very active in this matter, that if the matter had been properly worked it would have had fine results. Mr. Fairfield is the party who secured the land options which were used by this company.
The Salt Works of which Mr. Fairfield speaks, once supplied salt to a great part of Kansas, and might have been doing it yet if they hadn't allowed Hutchinson to get their drill. The salt works at Alma shut down in 1876. Alma has another prospect for manufactories besides salt. There is the cement business. Alma was the first town in the United States to furnish Portland cement, which has since become one of the greatest enterprises in the whole country, and especially in Kansas.
The growth along the educational line is shown by the building of a high school building in 1875. The first newspaper was established at Alma in 1869. The oldest newspaper in the country is the Alma Enterprise, established in 1884. In 1886 a newspaper gives an account of a meeting of the horticultural society which was holding regular meetings at that time. Fruit was no longer regarded a luxury, but a necessity.
Returning to Alma's natural resources, a word should be said regarding the natural rock. It has been quarried for building purposes and makes excellent material. The Rock Island bridge at Topeka was built from Alma stone.
Alma has made many improvements the last two years, among them is The Hochhans Block, the new Meyer Building, Oetinger Lumber Yards, the $15,000 High School Building, the Lutheran Church, which cost a like sum, and L. Undorf's new market. Besides these, many new residences have been erected. Every business place in Alma is occupied, and it is almost impossible to rent a house. The walks on Missouri Street are cement and new cement walks are being laid on the back streets.
Alma is the only town in the county that can put on enough metropolitan airs to have an automobile parade every evening. From the standpoint of appearance, it is one of the most pleasing towns in Kansas. It is well kept and neat. Missouri street is kept in good repair and lined with nice looking business blocks of native stone. There is an uniformity and grace about the town which is good to see. As well as being progressive and enterprising, the people of Alma are so friendly and pleasant to meet that a stranger at once feels at home among them.
Mr. J. B. Cassidy, who keeps the dandy grocery store in the middle of the block, holds the enviable distinction of being the only Irishman in town. The claims of the real-estate man who seeks to deprive Mr. Cassidy of half this honor are not taken seriously by the grocer.
Mr. Cassidy is one of the early settlers of Alma, having come before the railroad. By hard work and thrift he has accumulated considerable means. He is now serving his second term as Mayor of Alma. The fact that the Deutschers have twice united to elect the only Irishman in the town to the highest office in the gift of its citizens proves that "there is nothing too good for the Irish."
August Falk, proprietor of the Alma Marble Works, operates the only establishment in his line in Alma.
He has been in business for thirty years, and his work has won more than a local reputation. Mr. Falk has a large monument trade at Herrington, where he spends a part of his time. He does fine work in native rock as well as in marble. He also takes contracts for cement work, and most of the cement walks in Alma are of his building.
Mr. Falk was born in Groszerlang, Brandenburg, Germany, in 1849, and came to Wabaunsee County in 1870. He has always lived at Alma.
The firm who is said to be paying money to more people than any other firm in Alma is Freeman & Rose, who are engaged in the poultry and egg-buying business. They started last December and since that time have done a cash business, averaging $1,000.00 per month. Owing to the increase in trade, it is already necessary to enlarge their plant so as to accommodate a steadily increasing volume of business.
Transcribed from Business directory and history of Wabaunsee County pub. by The Kansas directory company of Topeka, Kansas, 1907. 104 p. illus. (incl. ports.) 21 cm. Advertising matter interspersed.
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