From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
This is the beginning of a series of articles on the history of Leavenworth that were published in Leavenworth Times during 1954 for the 100th Anniversary.
The prairies of Kansas are said to be richer in historic lore than any other region of the West, Leavenworth, oldest settlement in the Sunflower State, is considered unique among American cities in records of spectacular happenings--of alternating triumphs and tragedies--of continuous struggles to reach those ever-expanding frontiers that open only to men of vision and purpose.
An adequate account of the preceding century in our town would fill a ponderous volume; a brief review can do little more than outline striking events. To some future historian, remains the task of paying rightful tribute to the "unsung" heroes whose names have seldom appeared in headlines, but whose services have been indispensable in furthering the best interests of the community.
Who were the first white wanderers to view and admire the picturesque setting of the future city? Did Coronado and his dashing Spanish Cavaliers sail past these shores while making their futile search in 1541 for the golden treasures of Quivira? Were roving fur traders or selfless missionaries of the French period the original explorers? Was it rather stalwart colonial scouts who boldly pushed their way across the Mississippi and became the true vanguard of that mighty horde which was to people our beautiful valley and press on to the boundless spaces beyond the western hills?
Researchers are unable to answer these questions authoritatively--but the possibilities in each instance stir the imagination and lend color to an already vivid narrative. To be complete, the story should recount details of a long and bitter contest for supremacy among three great European powers.
For our present purpose, it is enough to say that authentic Leavenworth history began in 1893 with Napoleon's sale of the Louisiana Territory to the United States. Having acquired the vast interior of the American continent from Spain, he apparently decided to part with it rather than run the risk of losing the whole strategic area to England, for those projected conquest he badly needed money. Thus, through an unexpected stroke of destiny, the extent of our youthful republic was doubled, and its existence, unmolested by foreign invasion, "was insured to remote ages." The price paid for the most valuable land in the world--a coveted prize for any nation--was the paltry sum of $15,000,000, an average of about four cents an acre.
After President Jefferson had concluded the treaty annexing the uncharted domain, he sent out several expeditions to investigate the new purchase. The first of these, under Lewis and Clark, left St. Louis on May 14, 1804, reaching the mouth of the Kaw on June 26, and the sites of Leavenworth and Kickapoo several days later. Since the intrepid heroes of this expedition gave to posterity a careful report of their voyage, they may justly be called the real discoverers of the "Big Muddy" and its adjoining lands.
Exploration, however, did not mean immediate occupation by white immigrants. For another 50 years, savages kept their tepees on the bluffs overlooking the river and roamed through the forests of their rich hunting ground. Some marked changes occurred during the period. A frontier garrison sprang up on the hill to the north, and traders appeared in growing numbers, The Kanza (Kaw) Indians, who claimed the territory at the beginning of the century, became alarmed by intrusions of military cavalcades, solitary trappers, and missionaries seeking to Christianize the natives. Ceding their land to the United States in 1825, they retreated farther west and were replaced by the Delawares, with whom William Penn had made his famous treaty. Including probably not more than a thousand members, this tribe, after being crowded out of other localities, was installed by the Government in 1829 on the land now forming Leavenworth County.
Such was the situation in May, 1854.
Before describing the actual establishment of Leavenworth City, five interlocking factors should be noted; factors that were to be of far-reaching significance in the life of the community:
First of all, pioneers--bent on bettering their economic status--encountered remarkable opportunities in the geographical aspects of the region. Since the beginning of time, an important part in directing the course of civilization has been contributed by topography, climate, and resources.
Whether early explorers knew it or not, they had found the line "where the West begins." According to Stanley Vestal in his book, "The Missouri," that long waterway was a definite barrier between two cultures, two ways of living. Extending to plant and animal forms, to primitive and advanced peoples, these differences have been reflected in the history of Kansas and especially of Leavenworth, which stood on the boundary line and thus possessed characteristics of both sides.
Situated in "the most favorable location on the great river," the new site had the advantage of 10,000 miles of uninterrupted inland navigation, connecting 20 states and territories and opening out to ocean commerce by way of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.
When travelers in the 50's approached the settlement by boat, they saw a levee sloping gently down to the landing. On either hand, covered thickly with hazel brush, were bluffs rising sharply above the river. Back of the levee stretched a wide plateau encircled by hills perfect in their symmetrical beauty. This natural amphitheater was crossed at intervals by little streams named in recognition of their distance from the flagpole at the Post: Two Mile Creek, Three Mile Creek, and so on through the county.
Through breaks in the hills ran trails long familiar to Indians, who seemed to have an uncanny instinct for selecting the easiest grades and the shortest cuts between two points. Improved by military authorities, several of these ancient routes became continental thoroughfares without which migrations to the "gold diggings" and other remote areas could never have been undertaken.
One such trail headed northwest over Government Hill, winding down through Salt Creek Valley and up again to the Eight Mile House, a stone structure still standing and formerly known to thousands as a popular tavern. At this point, the road split into two forks, one running north and forming, with branches from Atchison and St. Joseph, that great highway variously called "The California and Oregon Military Road," "The Salt Lake Trail," or simply "The Oregon Trail."
The other branch turned west and passed on through Easton and Winchester. Dividing again, the first fork went to Fort Riley, and the second joined the "Ole Santa Fé Trail" at Council Grove, the final point of departure for the Plains.
This celebrated road, which connected Independence, Mo., with the Southwest, is said to have been old in the time of Coronado. So vitally associated is it with the history of western pioneering, that the Kansas D.A.R. erected markers some years ago to preserve its lengthy stretch through the state and honor those who traversed it in perilous days.
The northern end of the military road leading from the Post to Fort Scott has often been called the Leavenworth branch of the Santa Fé Trail since it intersected the latter in Johnson County, and one fork became a part of the famous trade route. With this in mind, it is correct to say that the two most noted trails in the West, the Oregon and the Santa Fé, crossed at Fort Leavenworth.
Of nostalgic interest to Old Timers are memories of local highways such as the River Road to the Post, the DeSoto Road to Fairmount, the Lecompton Road to the one-time capital of Kansas, and the Lawrence Road to the center of Abolitionism. In the 50's the last one was dubbed "The Devil's Highway" and was so called because Pro-Slavers of the of the turbulent era vowed that no Free Stater should ride over it and remain alive. On this meandering trail, Chief Tonganoxie, who did not wish to accompany the Delaware tribe to Indian Territory, once lived in a house built for him by the Government.
As pioneer settlers journeyed southward from the business district, they could see Pilot Knob dominating the scene with its huge pile of stones (long since removed) on the extreme southern point. These had been placed there by savages to serve as a landmark on their wanderings to the Kaw River by the same hazardous route. In steamboat days, Pilot Knob became a guide to navigators also on their precarious voyages upstream.
But accessibility by water and by land was only one feature of the geographical advantages. Where traders, soldiers, gold hunters, and Mormons, on their trek to the Great Plains, were chiefly attracted by ready avenues for transportation, those who came to build homes were equally impressed with fertile soil, plentiful timber, ample water supply, healthy climate, and, within 15 years, apparently inexhaustible coal fields. These were elements upon which farmers, manufacturers, and business men could rely--upon which the foundation of a city and a county could be laid.
Unusual physical features led directly to the second great influence: the establishment of Cantonment (Fort) Leavenworth in 1827 by General Henry Leavenworth. He had been ordered by the War Department to construct a post on the east side of the Missouri River, but perceiving the superiority of the west bank, he decided to locate there. Needless to say, his choice was later approved when reasons for it were made clear. The purpose of such a post was twofold: to preserve peace among the hostile Indian tribes and to protect traders who, after Mexican Independence from Spain was declared in 1821, were moving over the Santa Fé Trail in throngs.
The wisdom of General Leavenworth's selection was confirmed by opinions like those of George Catlin, noted artist and guest on the Reservation in 1833. He had the following to say about the present beautiful and commanding site: "There is no finer tract of land in North America or, perhaps, in the world than that vast space of prairie country which lies in the vicinity of this post, embracing it on all sides."
From a letter written in 1854 it would seem that army officers were glad to have their loneliness relieved by the presence of neighbors to the south when our city was founded. For several months, it was hoped that the permanent capitol of Kansas would be located on the reservation. Andrew Reeder, first Governor of the Territory, set up his headquarters there on October 7, 1854, but political turmoil soon caused him to move his office to Shawnee Mission.
To exhausted pioneers, returning over dusty roads from journeys lasting many long months, the familiar white walls and flying flag of the little outpost, visible, we are told, for at least five miles, were indeed a welcome sight. The Post was then, and has been ever since, a symbol of security and fellowship; more than that, it has set a pattern for a community, one in which institutions (military, penal, educational, religious, philanthropic) have played a prominent role, introducing a cosmopolitan atmosphere unlike that of any other Midwestern city.
Leavenworth is known far and wide, here and abroad, for progressive movements in its environs at the Command and General Staff College; the United States Penitentiary; the Veteran's Administration Facility; the United States Military Prison; the Lansing State Prison; and the Saint Mary College. Specialized groups connected with each of these institutions have furnished large segments to the population of this area, and often leadership of excellent quality for civic movements.
A third and very important factor controlling events in this city for a dozen years after its incorporation was the political revolution that was rending the nation.
Setting aside the Missouri Compromise, which forbade slavery in any new state north of the southern boundary of Missouri (except Missouri), the Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed on May 30, 1854, announced the principle of "Squatter Sovereignty" in the two territories. This unfortunate--worse than that--tragic law, permitting inhabitants to settle the controversial question for themselves, led to a mad rush on both sides. Whatever the motives of Stephen A. Douglas were for sponsoring such a fallacy, the results, as many descendants of pioneers cans testify, were dynamite.
Nebraska, farther removed from the Southern point of view, was not greatly affected, but into Kansas poured moderate Pro-Slavers and moderate Free-Soilers, both of whom had strong preferences on the subject and yet were unwilling to project a fight in the new territory; radicals from both parties, who set aside former standards of law and order to win their point; and "border ruffians," who cared for nothing except exploiting the situation to their own advantage.
On the line, as previously stated, between two widely divergent ways of thinking and living, Leavenworth caught the full impact of the struggle when these cultures collided. It was said that every political fight in Kansas eventually found its way to the town, and once within its boundaries, to the Planters house. This old hostelry was thus the center of a national upheaval of enormous proportions.
The fourth factor has not been evaluated for its proper worth by modern "Leavenworthites." Long before the telegraph and the railroad came to the west side of the Missouri River, several organized forms of transportation, operating over the trails already operating over the trails already described linked the city with distant frontiers, Thus making it the portal through which uncounted thousands entered and passed to the beakoning[sic] vistas of the West.
Among these forms were overland stages, which carried chiefly passengers; freighting companies, which carried supplies; and express riders, who carried mail.
The story, as told by contemporary writers, is somewhat confusing because there were other companies and other terminals, but Leavenworth is chiefly concerned with the firm of Majors, Russell, and Waddell, that famous trio associated with all three types of overland service and responsible, to a great extent, for the unprecedented growth of the town.
(EDITORS NOTE: The names of these pioneer entrepreneurs appear in histories in various combination such as Russell, Majors & Waddell, Majors, Russell & Co. their far-flung enterprises were so complex that they were involved in several different companies under different names a the same time.)
The first member of the trio, Alexander Majors, possessed not only administrative genius of high order, but practical experience as well. He had engaged in a freighting business of his own from Independence to Santa Fé as early as 1844, and in the new company he was manager on the plains. A local citizen, proud possessor of a letter written to her father by Majors, is authority for the statement that he was a man of unimpeachable integrity, and that the high moral standards he set for employees were genuine.
W. H. Russell, the grandiose dreamer, whose errors in judgment eventually plunged the firm into bankruptcy, remained here with an office in a building at the corner of Main and Shawnee. William Waddell, who did not become a partner until 1858, spent part of his time in Lexington, Mo., lending his name and wealth to the huge enterprise.
Their first venture was to secure in 1855 the government contract for conveying freight to army posts. Estimates of the size of the Overland Transportation Company vary with different writers. Horace Greeley says that the firm had at least $2,000,000 invested in equipment. Majors states in his "Seventy Years on the Frontier" that they used 3500 wagons, 40,000 oxen, and 1000 mules and employed 4,000 men.
It was claimed that, at the zenith of prosperity, this "Empire on Wheels" carried on a business, the like of which had never before been seen in America, shipping 16 million pounds of freight annually. To quote H. Miles Moore: "On every highway and at every government post, could be seen these immense caravans stretching their slow length along like some huge coiling python." He believed that their profits were simply fabulous.
The same company organized the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express in 1859 and the Pony Express in 1860. The first of these was a daily stage line from here to Denver; the second, the most romantic enterprise of all, an incredibly rapid method of transporting mail from St. Joseph, the main eastern terminal, to Salt Lake City. Successful as these experiments were in accomplishing their purpose, they proved to be disastrous financially.
Who founded Leavenworth? Who named it? Who were the earliest settlers? What were their motives and the conditions they met?
Fortunately, these questions have definite answers given by a participant in the stirring events. H. Miles Moore in his "History of Leavenworth City and County" relates the story in simple, straightforward language. Much additional material is available from other sources.
On that memorable day of June 13, 1854, a group of 32 men met in Weston, Mo., then the largest town on the river, for the purpose of drawing up articles of incorporation to be used in the establishment of a settlement three miles south of Fort Leavenworth in the new territory organized by the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30.
This was the original Town Company and its officers were as follows: president, General G. W. Gist; secretary, H. Miles Moore; treasurer, Joseph Evans; trustees, Amos Rees, L. D. Bird, and Major E. A. Ogden.
The townsite was to comprise the land from Three Mile Creek on the south to the reservation on the north and a far west as was needed to make up 320 acres. This tract was to be the "City Proper." Each member of the company was to have five shares with 15 retained for public use.
The land had already been surveyed by men under General Gist, who "made their way with fiery Missouri steeds as best they could through dense undergrowth and across ravines." George Keller was awarded the contract to clear the site, a job that took three months, 80 men, and a payment of $4500.
Several stockholders favored the name "Douglas," but Moore convinced them that Fort Leavenworth had received much attention, and that the same designation would attract settlers and promote the sale of lots. So Leavenworth City it became and remained until 1871 when "City" was dropped.
East and west streets were, on the suggestion of Major Ogden, named for Indian tribes. North and south ones, after Front and Main, were numbered. Those laid out later on the south side of town received their names from trees.
The urgent problem was that of securing a legal title to the site, which was occupied by the Delaware tribe on what was called "Trust Lands." By terms of the Kickapoo Treaty, buyers were permitted to pre-empt their holdings for $1.25 and acre, while "ours" were to be appraised and sold to the highest bidder, the situation thus affording, in Moore's opinion, an excellent chance for cheating the Indians and making undue trouble for settlers.
Incited by men from the rival towns of Atchison and Kickapoo, also founded in the summer of 1854, the Delawares complained to the government about squatters here, and the latter were ordered to leave. The story is long and complicated, but the Indians were finally persuaded that the white men were acting in good faith. Legal titles for buyers could not be obtained, however, until 1858.
In the meantime, the first public sale of lots was held on October 9 and 10, 1854, at Fort Leavenworth. Great preparation had been made to advertise the occasion and bidders came from afar. The highest price paid was $350, and that was for the site on Main Street occupied for many years by the Catlin-Knox Shoe Company. Total receipts amounted to $12,600.
As to the motives of the Town Company, there were several. The impetus was given when Senator D. R. Atchison, leader of the pro-slavery faction, sent his long awaited word to eager fellow Missourians: "Go over and take the good land; it is yours."
It would certainly be erroneous to conclude that all of the original 32 were animated by a desire to spread slavery. Some undoubtedly were because they had been taught to believe the system was right; others merely wished to acquire good property; a few were definitely opposed to the idea of extension. Moore tells us that the Town Company had a strong religious element in its organization, three stockholders being ministers and most of the others laymen of similar turn of mind.
Leavenworth was incorporated by an act of the legislature in the summer of 1855, and an election was fixed for September 3, at which time Mayor Thomas Slocum and six councilmen were elected.
In this manner was Leavenworth City born into a world of trouble and opportunity.
Few of this generation can realize the awful hazards that confronted the bold frontiermen who, by their valorous exploits in driving stages or riding horses, furnished so many dramatic episodes in the tale of western occupation, Frank Root, from a background of long experience, says of these events: "Sometimes they ended in scenes as dark and pathetic as ever found expression. To many a station did the old coaches come down the trail like the wind, sore beset by bloodthirsty savages--the driver sometimes dead--the passengers scalped." He adds that, although "they encountered blizzards, landslides, swollen streams, those brave pioneers did not falter; they laid the beginnings of such growth of civilization as the world has never before witnessed."
Leavenworth, little squatter settlement on a river bank, had a vital part in these great continental movements. Through its nearness to a strategic army post, through the guiding hand of the Majors, Russell, and Waddell Overland Transportation Company--momentum was given for an early commercial development, that would not, in the natural course of affairs, have come for years.
As a logical outcome of the preceding four factors, and yet distinct in itself, a fifth influence must be noted for its future as well as its past value: the nature and quality of the people.
It should be evident from foregoing passages that the population could not be otherwise than heterogeneous in character. Multiple differences have existed from the beginning in the political, economic, occupational, civic, intellectual, moral, social, racial and religious interests of those who have lived, either temporarily or permanently in and near Leavenworth.
Wide extremes have produced a community strong in vigor, variety, and versatility, but not always so strong in finding common grounds upon which all could walk shoulder to shoulder.
Today a new era seems to have dawned, an era which, with old gulfs long crossed, is already proving to be a harmonious blending of progressive and conservative ideas. Robust cultural patterns, prevalent in the 1850's, are reasserting themselves in the 1950's. The pioneer spirit, partially dormant during almost four decades of world war, is glimpsed again through the medium of forcible and conscientious leadership in city government, business, education, religion, health, recreation, and amelioration for the needy.
The interpretation of individual liberty, a concept dear to the hearts of our people, is being extended to include social responsibility for the welfare of all groups: young and old, rich and poor, cultured and uncultured. Frontiers are once again expanding in all directions.
P. G. Lowe, who deliberately selected Leavenworth as his place of residence after serving for five years as a dragoon, wrote that no better people ever lived than the substantial, thinking settlers of Kansas, the home builders of this great state.
His comment, written 50 years ago, still stands. This true side of history has often been overlooked by those who have heard only sensational tales of terrorists, brawlers, and adventurers. That a more complete picture should emphasize the fine achievements of the citizenry is merely a matter of justice. An exceptional number of distinguished men and women, "raised" in the home town, have borne witness to the type of training received in homes, schools, and churches.
A roll of Leavenworth City and County residents, recognized nationally and internationally, should be compiled. If such a roster were attempted in this book, it would be unsatisfactory for lack of space and information. Reports from Old Timers indicate that on the list would appear names of governors, senators, congressmen, jurists, diplomats, ministers, educators, journalists, missionaries, authors, lecturers, scientists, musicians, commentators, actors, heads of companies, and officers in army and navy.
During the years of internal dissension the term "Bleeding Kansas" was well understood in Leavenworth. It brought fear and at times despair, even to those familiar with the rigors of pioneer life. To newcomers and casual observers, the situation seemed incredible in a land dedicated to freedom of speech and action.
One such observer, a British journalist named Thomas Gladstone, gives a realistic account of his experiences while making a journey of investigation in 1856. Having heard discussions in Washington about unstable governments in Kansas Territory, and having been greatly upset by the indifference of legislators to deplorable conditions, he resolved to see for himself whether mild phrases like "disturbing circumstances" and "inauspicious events" really covered the case.
He received his first shock on the boat when he was cautioned by a friendly Indian trader to say nothing about his anti-slavery opinions or English nationality. This, he was told, was almost as bad as being a Yankee.
Among the travelers he noticed one elderly gentleman who seemed vastly superior to most of the rude, profane, blustering passengers. To Gladstone's amazement, he discovered, upon landing at the wharf, that this gentleman was Dr. Robinson, Free State Governor of Kansas, but not so recognized by opponents. They had seized him while he was on his way to St. Louis and had brought him here as prisoner.
The writer's first impressions of the squatter settlement were distinctly unfavorable. The whole town had been turned into an armed camp. Rumors flew around that the Governor would be lynched immediately; other rumors that followers would attempt a rescue. As the night advanced, ceaseless drinking of whiskey showed its fruits and pistols sometimes went off unguardedly.
Gladstone reports that he saw Governor Shannon of the rival party in the crowd, and that violence continued unabated for several days. The prisoner was finally spirited away under the protection of a United States marshal.
Having been informed that Leavenworth was the best town on the river, the visitor was disappointed to find that "labors of the honest well-disposed among the settlers were most grievously interfered with by the constant necessity of shielding themselves from political oppression." He decided he had left civilization behind him when he "returned to the riot and savage turmoil" of the white settlement after talking to a Sioux family on the reservation.
Another graphic picture comes from the pen of an anonymous missionary, whose field of labor was Northeast Kansas. Unable to find lodgings for his wife and himself here, he stayed in Weston, making the journey by ferry, which operated regularly between that point and Kickapoo. When the river was frozen, he walked across the ice.
This writer in partly tragic, partly humorous style, relates the story of the suspicion and dislike directed toward him because he was not "sound on the goose" (slavery question). Even fellow ministers who disagreed with his political views treated him with intolerance.
His tale about his stay at the Leavenworth House, first hotel in the territory, throws light on the rough accommodations of the time. Without lath or plaster and with holes through which daylight showed, the building did not offer much comfort in winter weather.
When he was shown up to bed, he saw one large room without partitions. On a floor, constructed of boards not closely laid together, were dirty blankets laid out for the benefit of twenty-nine guests who shared the room with him. He chose the corner that seemed to be the least crowded, only to find it was also the coldest. During the night several wags gently removed blankets from sleepers and appropriated them. A general row ensued which was quieted by an equal division of blankets, but by that time, sleep was gone.
Of interest to Old Timers, who knew Mrs. Margaret Norton Eddy and her noted son Sherwood, is a story she once told about her uncle, owner of the first drugstore in town and Free State leader. She remembered seeing him dragged through the streets, arms tied behind his back, and thrust on a steamboat under threat death if he returned. Her own family lived in the cellar of their home with carpets tacked over the windows while the city was dominated by the slavery faction.
Almost every contemporary historian cites the cases of William Phillips and Malcolm Clark, both martyrs to the unrestrained passions of border ruffianism.
Phillips, a young lawyer not at all timid about expressing his allegiance to the Free State cause, was seized one night by 30 desperadoes, taken to Weston, tarred and feathered, and sold at auction. Good citizens of Leavenworth and Weston expressed great indignation over this outrage, but that did not prevent his murder shortly afterwards. Clark, an ardent pro-slaver, was shot by the Free Stater Cole McCrea in a heated dispute at a squatters' meeting. Again indignation arose and the killer was arrested. No real punishment, however, was ever meted out to him for his crime.
When the time came in 1855 for selection of the county seat, a tremendous political battle ensued. Kickapoo City and Delaware City (a village near the present site of Lansing) were lusty rivals of Leavenworth City. Jubilant over victory after several disputed elections, local contenders seized "Old Kickapoo," prized trophy of the Mexican War, and brought the cannon here for a big celebration. Land was donated for a court house, but the building was not ready for occupancy until 1874.
The remarkable little city at the mouth of Three Mile Creek grew and prospered in spite of disasters and hardships: border warfare, illegal elections, competing constitutions and officials, insecure titles to property, excessively cold winters, a serious drouth[sic] in 1860, and two fires of major proportions.
The second of these in 1858 destroyed so much of the town that the faint-hearted left in utter discouragement. There were valiant spirits who did not leave and others who came to swell the population, which advanced from about 200 in January, 1855, to 18,000 in 1865.
When the Majors, Russell and Waddell Company made Leavenworth their headquarters they invested in various types of business: Stores, repair shops, and many others--all of which furnished employment and attracted settlers. After the great firm failed in 1861, it was succeeded by that of Alexander Caldwell and Company, who started almost endless trains across the plains from this point. The city continued to be the rendezvous for half a continent and the manufacturing center for countless products nationally marketed.
Most of the business in the 50's was transacted close to the river on the levee and at the lower ends of Cherokee, Delaware, and Shawnee streets. All merchandise came by the Missouri. It was not unusual, we are told, to see four or five steamboats at one time, the deck hands singing as they work of unloading supplies and reloading them on the great wagons waiting at the wharf.
The space where the Union Depot now stands was occupied by warehouses facing the levee, their second story windows being the first floor ones on Main Street. Some of the huge concerns owned steamboats, wholesale houses, and retail stores, thus carrying on several types of business.
No review of territorial life could possible omit some description of the old hotels. They served as social and political club, to which boisterous debaters flocked for fiery arguments. High excitement prevailed on these occasions.
The Leavenworth House, third building in town, was erected by genial George and Nancy Keller at the corner of Main and Delaware. Here Cora Kyle, their grandchild and first white native, was born. The Kellers were chased out of town on account of their antislavery opinions, but returned and opened Mansion House on the southwest corner of Fifth and Shawnee. This became the gathering place for Free Staters and it was called "Abolition Hill." On the opposite corner, the old city hall supplied a favored spot for crackerbox orators, who vied with one another for the right to make the most noise.
In the meantime, commercial activities of the period brought a constant throng of transients to the town and; a demand for additional lodging facilities. Several new hotels appeared, the most important being the Planters House, and imposing four-story structure, now used for a private apartment building.
This famous old hotel is regarded by students as the keystone of Leavenworth's phenomenal growth and prosperity on the one hand; and on the other, of her vital connection with that most regrettable of all American tragedies: the bitter conflict between the states. As a monument to the folly of internal dissension, the Planters' House has no peer.
So many tales have been told about the ancient building that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. We know, however, that it was originally constructed by a company consisting of southern sympathizers, and that the plan was to conduct business exclusively for pro-slavers. With the sale of the hotel to Len Smith and Jepp Rice, a new policy was inaugurated. They agreed to entertain all comers, regardless of political affiliations, provided they paid their bills and acted like gentlemen.
To prevent fights, two types of bartenders were installed in the basement for the express purpose of catering to contentious guests from one side or the other of Mason and Dixon's line. When shooting began, as it often did, offenders were supposed to be hustled down the stone steps at the southern entrance.
Space does not permit an account of the election brawls, kidnapings[sic], and murders that took place in the century-old house. Such cases as those of Charlie Fisher, Mark Parrott, Dan Smith, and Captain Tough are too well attested for doubt. Credible also is the story of guerrillas who stood on a sandbar at dusk and shot into the east windows of the hotel, and that other anecdote to the effect that, for months, teams and wagons were kept in readiness to take women and children to the Post if an emergency arose.
Much more elusive is the intriguing tradition about the tunnel that started in the basement and ran under the river to Missouri, used, Old Timers say, for the purpose of transporting fugitive slaves to Kansas. Although details are always vague, the tale is so persistent that it may well be called "The Leavenworth Legend".
Fortunately, there are much brighter chapters to be found in the saga of an ancient landmark, chapters of fun and gaiety, of lavish entertainment and high romance. For several decades, it was the center of a resplendent social life, in which citizens who had accumulated great fortunes were active participants.
The elegance and comfort of the Planters in marked contrast with the crudities of other territorial hotels, were almost unbelievable. Opened to guests with a grand ball on December 31, 1856, it was at once pronounced the finest hostelry west of St. Louis. The long dining room, with wonderful frescoes on the ceiling and silverware from the best New York masters, accommodated two hundred diners at one sitting. No expenses had been spared in making this the show place of the frontier. The panoramic view of water and hills from the windows of one hundred spacious bedrooms was in itself superb.
But the strongest claim to fame lies in the roll of distinguished visitors who stopped here while in Leavenworth. The register has long since disappeared, but among names supplied by memory are those of Horace Greeley and Stephen A. Douglas--Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan--Generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sydney Johnston--actors John Wilkes Booth and Sarah Bernhardt--and, in all probability, Abraham Lincoln. What drama in that list of celebrities!
Some semblance of order had come to the town by the time Lincoln made his campaign tour in 1859, through the territory. Conditions had changed since the "Kansas Herald," first newspaper in the region and organ or pro-slavers, had published its initial issue in 1854, under a big elm tree on the levee. Numerous Free Staters had migrated from the East under the aegis of the Emigrant Aid Company, and men now dared to speak for freedom.
Outstanding among Kansas leaders of the new Republican party were three noted journalists, all connected at various times with the newspaper business in Leavenworth. They were Mark W. Delahay, D. W. Wilder, and Col. D. R. Anthony.
Delahay, a very able lawyer, was editor of the Kansas Territorial Register until the Kickapoo Rangers invaded his office one day and hurled his entire equipment into the river. He was an old friend of Lincoln's, and soon after the latter took his seat as President, Delahay was appointed U. S. District Judge for Kansas.
Ranking as one of the most brilliant and highly-educated men in the State, Wilder established the "Free Press" in Elwood, then came here to become editor of the "Conservative" and later co-editor of the "Conservative-Times" with Colonel Anthony. His book "Annals of Kansas" is one of the best authorities on pioneer history.
Colonel Anthony, a native of Massachusetts, had from the beginning strong convictions about slavery and fought it with all his might. As army officer, mayor of the city, and journalist, he was always forthright in his views. When he became sole proprietor of the paper known throughout the country as "The Leavenworth Times" he was really establishing a four-generation newspaper dynasty that has left an indelible imprint upon public affairs in city, state, and nation.
These three men were closely connected with Lincoln's visit to Kansas, Judge Delahay having urged the relatively obscure Illinois lawyer to come. We are told that the future President spoke at Elwood, Troy and Atchison. He then arrived at Leavenworth, and was accorded a rousing reception, and afterwards was welcomed by enthusiastic followers who had gathered on "Abolition Hill" to cheer for "Old Abe."
Although versions of the story differ, it seems certain that he made his first speech on Saturday, December 3, at Stockton Hall on the site where the Leavenworth National Bank now stands. Another address was delivered on Monday, December 5, from steps on the west side of the Planters, the crowd being too large for any indoor room. Despite bitterly cold weather, people stood on the street, eagerly listening as he riddled with irony the doctrine of popular sovereignty held by his opponent, Stephen A. Douglas. It has been said that this speech was substantially the same as the one in New York City that later won for him the nomination.
Henry Villard, an eastern reporter, wired his paper that night: "it was the largest mass meeting ever assembled on Kansas soil and the greatest address ever heard there."
Lincoln remained for four or five days in the city, and according to reports, made a talk at the Methodist Church. He spent part of his time at the Delahay home on the corner of Third and Kiowa. Mrs. Delahay is thought to have been a distant relative on the Hanks side, although the story is denied by some investigators.
It seems probable that Lincoln's visit to Kansas was influential in securing the adoption of the Wyandotte Constitution and the admission of Kansas to the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861, after more than six years of terrific struggle.
Joy over this great victory was soon mitigated by the outbreak of the Civil War in April of the same year. Weary as the people were of strife, they immediately made plans to do their share in quelling the secessionist movement. As the largest city in the state, Leavenworth was apparently willing to raise more troops and furnish a larger quota of persons for distinguished service than any other locality.
By May 20, 1861, 18 companies were organized and a majority of them ready to march anywhere to fight for the Union. They soon had a chance, for a strange flag bearing stars and bars was seen flying over the lowlands of Missouri where the prison farm now stands. It floated defiantly before the eyes of the five-day-old troops, but only until they could cross the river and capture the first Confederate flag of the Civil War. Kansas blood was shed that day on Missouri soil when three of the invaders were wounded.
To some readers, it may be news that fear of invasion was, for a time, very strong in the city. General Sterling Price of the Confederate Army had swept through Missouri, and he was threatening to capture the Post and burn Leavenworth. Local members of the state militia were called out hurriedly to assist the army in defense. Without waiting for tents or bedding, they marched to "Shawneetown" where they camped for two weeks, sleeping on the ground and suffering from unseasonable snows in the month of October. Luckily, Price was stopped before he reached Kansas and Leavenworth was saved.
The final chapter in the Rebellion, the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and his army, was celebrated in Leavenworth as in other parts of the country. Brother had fought brother and some scars could never be eradicated, but the war was over and hope sprang anew in saddened hearts.
Then came tragedy, deep and dark tragedy. President Lincoln, the great leader of a great people, the man of humility and sorrow, had died a martyr to the cause of freedom.
To those citizens, and there were many of them, who had come to love and admire him as he mingled with the crowd on the streets, the loss was personal. To a few, his death brought gladness. They could not understand that there was room for neither hatred nor malice in Abraham Lincoln's generous heart. They did not realize that, to the world at large, "he now belonged to the ages."
The years from 1866 to 1889 may be considered in general an era of peaceful and vigorous expansion. Unlike many communities, Leavenworth emerged from the Civil War with a larger population than before. If we may believe statistics issued by the Board of Trade, one-fifth of all Kansans were within the corporate limits, many having come here for the protection afforded by the Post.
Stemming from widespread commerce during the war, wealth had also increased. Eight banking institutions were conducting business, and the financial standing excelled that of most cities five times as large. Activities on the levee indicated a vitality ordinarily witnessed only at docks of important seaports.
There was a brief setback after 1865, and another one during the national panic of 1873, which in this vicinity, was followed by a grasshopper plague and a flood. Some refugees returned to their homes and business declined. Several banks disappeared, leaving three of exceptional strength: The First National; Insley, Shire and Company; and the German Bank. The last two were eventually absorbed by the first.
It was soon obvious to wise heads that Leavenworth must build anew on a more stable foundation than that afforded by magical conditions of the first decade. Spectacular advancement must give way to steady growth based less and less on freighting companies and steamboats; more and more on factories and mines, railroads and civic improvements. This was, after all, an inland community, and the days when so many citizens could make a good living from exchange of goods were gone. To provide employment for all, it was necessary that manufacturing, which had made an admirable start in the 50's, must be extended still more to meet the new situation.
For accomplishment of this end, some means of furnishing a readier supply of fuel had to be found. The work of sinking a shaft for coal, begun in the 60's and abandoned, was pushed forward to completion. Coal, excellent in quality and abundant in quantity, was first marketed in 1870 from the North Leavenworth mine.
Three more were successively opened, which, with the first, brought employment to at least 1,000 men and a large payroll gratifying to merchants. Though not in operation at present, this type of business was, for more than 50 years, a significant industry in Leavenworth--one affecting the populace in many ways.
Another element required for progress was modern transportation. The first railroad came in 1866. It is noteworthy that at least ten more formulated plans by 1870 for bringing their lines here. Only seven of these materialized, but they brought new hope to the town.
When steps were taken by the Kansas and Missouri Bridge Company to build a span across the river, this was considered an additional stride forwards. Completed in 1871, the "Fort Bridge" enlarged facilities for business shipments and passenger travel--until it was partially destroyed by fire on several different occasions and eventually condemned.
If this is to be a truthful record, two major disappointments of the period must be mentioned, both concerning transportation. The Kansas Pacific, which had made agreements and started construction suitable for a main terminal here, suddenly switched plans and bestowed that honor upon Kansas City, Mo. Leavenworth was left with merely a branch line. A similar regrettable circumstance occurred in 1869 when the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad (now the Burlington) transferred its promised terminal from this point to the same Missouri city, taking with it the Hannibal bridge secured by Congressional appropriations.
These losses gave prestige to our rival, then a small town described by Harpers Weekly as being "close to Leavenworth, Kansas," and undoubtedly were the main factors in converting it into the great railroad and commercial center of the entire region. As we look back from our present perspective, is seems clear that the relative development of the two river towns was decided in that decade. Numerous other influences were, of course, involved besides those of railroads and bridges.
Leavenworth, however, was flourishing and had little room for complaint at the time. With mines, railroads, and bridge connections, optimism was the order of the day. City directories of the 70's listed 106 manufacturing companies, special renown having been won in an extensive trade territory by such products as furniture, flour, stoves, carriages, wagons, iron bridges, organs, sugar, clothing, and saddlery.
Board of Trade advertising, not more extravagant than the truth, Old Timers tell us, featured such headlines as these: Leavenworth...The Metropolis of Kansas...The Queen City of the Missouri Valley...The Great Manufacturing Center of the West.
An achievement of these years was the construction in 1882 of the city waterworks at an approximate cost of $100,000. With a reservoir on Pilot Knob, guaranteeing high pressure in its reserve supply, the city acquired the reputation of having the finest water system in the West. Before this time, the community had depended largely on cisterns located in the middle of streets. A map, drawn by Adolph Hunnius in 1876, shows about 20 such cisterns, the first one having been placed in front of the old Leavenworth House.
A pathetic incident in connection with the building of the reservoir was the necessary disturbance of Mount Aurora, abandoned burial ground of the early pioneers. The contractor carefully removed the bones and had them reinterred at Mount Muncie. Incidentally, the father, and possibly the mother, of "Buffalo" Bill Cody had been buried in the hilltop cemetary[sic], but efforts to discover their graves proved futile.
As a result of industrial expansion, numerous contingents of immigrants came to Leavenworth for the purpose of working in mines, mills, factories, and building trades. Since territorial days, there had been a large German group, and now the foreign element was augmented by many Irish and Polish families. Assimilation was rapid and most of these became fine American citizens, furnishing leadership often for business and civic enterprises. Negroes also came in large numbers, and they, too, proved themselves to be of high caliber.
In this era--sometimes called the golden age of Leavenworth history--there was much social activity in the mansions owned by the wealthy and in humbler homes as well. Despite the bustle of a lively city, people had more time for leisurely and dignified hospitality than modern conditions permit. They also enjoyed outdoor sports and pastimes: football, baseball, horse racing, sleighing, ice skating, fishing, croquet and dancing in pavilions. To many residents, the numerous lodges were centers of recreation and to others, beer gardens were popular spots, despite prohibitory laws.
That the community appreciated first class entertainment is shown by the interest in theaters and halls. Especially patronized were the Crawford Opera House on Shawnee, Chickering Hall, Turner Hall, Odd Fellows Hall, and Abdallah Shrine Temple. The very best musical and dramatic talent in the country visited the city and good productions were well receive.
From the beginning, Leavenworth had been concerned about religion and education. Churches and schools had always been strongly supported as an integral part of community life. By this time they were so outstanding in quality that they won unstinted praise from disinterested and competent observers. The growing population now necessitated larger structures and expanding services for both educational and religious groups.
It is not generally known that the first school in Kansas Territory, aside from missions, was the Leavenworth Collegiate Institute opened on the levee by Rev. J. B. McAfee, who afterwards became one of the most honored men in the state; nor that David J. Brewer, distinguished Christian statesman and Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court in later days, served for four years as superintendent of the city schools.
To those citizens who believed in higher education, the decision of local members of the Kansas Legislature in the 60's, whereby they chose the state penitentiary rather than the state university for this county--brought even more regret than the loss of railroad terminals. Another disappointment of the same kind came in 1876 when a branch of the State Normal School, established here in 1870, was closed through lack of appropriations.
However, the Saint Mary Academy was retained and, for a while, the Maple Wood Seminary (now Howard Wilson School). Some of the people attended college elsewhere and those who remained at home had an opportunity for cultural advantages. There were for instance, an Academy of Science and Art; a Kansas College of Pharmacy; the German Turnverein Society; and a YMCA.
No Old Timer will ever forget the institution located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Congress: The Kansas Conservatory of Music and Elocution. With its full equipment of teachers, rooms, instruments, and library, it was known as the center of musical interest in the city. Many fine organizations, including the Treble Clef Club, were devoted to the enjoyment of music.
Not the least of the cultural developments were the study clubs inaugurated by exceptional women, of whom Leavenworth had a large number the Saturday Club founded in 1881; the Art League in 1884, the Whittier Club in 1887; the Philomathean Club in 1895 and the Catholic Literary Club in 1896--all of these were pioneers in the state as well as the city and all are still in existence. "Their purpose may be concisely stated as an effort to raise the standard of women's education and prompte[sic] the intellectual growth of members."
Among the philanthropic institutions listed before the end of the century were Saint John's Hospital (1864); Kansas Orphan Asylum (1866); Home of the Friendless (1868); St. Vincent's Orphanage (1862); Cushing Hospital (1892). It is impossible to list the names of all those who labored for social welfare, but perhaps Mrs. C. H. Cushing, who was associated with so many movements, deserves special mention.
In a golden age, it frequently happens that continuous victory sways the judgment of human beings and they overreach themselves. Leavenworth was no exception to that rule. The long period of expansion ended on a note of triumph, the population at one time increased to about 35,000. With business soaring and many new structures already in use, including the Federal Building on Shawnee and the Union Depot, overconfidence developed and a "fall" became imminent.
By 1890, citizens of this community, realized that they would be compelled to pay the score for indulging in the colossal land boom of the late 80's. Throughout those years of excitement, Leavenworth was badly shaken by speculation resulting from the actions of manipulators, who were at first from outside the city. They began by buying openly, working on the cupidity of people and paying more for property than it had ever been worth. In wild frenzy, they bought, and it was often their own property back again at advanced prices. Fortunes were made and lost daily, much of the land in the city changing hands at this time.
Then the bubble burst. The conspirators had sold out at big profits for themselves, and after it was over, citizens who had lost their heads found themselves ruined financially. Values went down until property could almost be purchased by assuming the mortgage.
For some years after the hysterical fiasco, times were "dull" in the city. It should be explained that many other towns were having identical experiences, for this was merely a part of the panic that swept the nation in 1893.
But the pioneer spirit once more came to the rescue. The need for a bridge closer to the business district than the one at the Post had long been felt. Plans for a pontoon structure, proposed by Senator Vinton Stillings, were at first greeted with enthusiasm, but disagreements developed, and he finally financed the project himself.
The first pontoon bridge to cross the lower reaches of the Missouri River was opened to traffic in 1889 with a grand celebration attended by 20,000 people. The city fire engine, with smoke pouring from its stack and horses quivering in their harness, leaped forward and went galloping across the swaying bridge. A great shout went up from the spectators.
The immediate success of this undertaking, with toll amounting to $200 a day, caused the organization of the Leavenworth Terminal Railroad and Bridge Company for the purpose of constructing a steel span to replace the flimsy pontoon device. Officers of the company were E. W. Snyder, W. B. Nickels, J. H. Wendorff, and Senator Stillings.
When the new bridge was completed in 1894 there was again wild jubilation as local citizens mingled with visiting celebrities and the Soldiers Home artillery fired a salute of 44 guns, one for each state in the Union. This was another scene in the colorful drama of transportation--one long to be remembered.
An event of a different nature now stirred Leavenworth -- both financially and emotionally. To those who had never personally known war, the Spanish American conflict in 1898 was awe-inspiring. Volunteers from the city were organized into an infantry group, which because known as "Company C" of the famed Twentieth Kansas Regiment. Under General Frederick Funston, it fought with distinction in the Philippines.
Almost 60 years of history have elapsed since the days when the town gathered at the station to watch the boys depart. It is possible not to understand that this brief foreign war was really the dividing line between two epochs. Many old wounds miraculously healed when the people had a common enemy to face. In addition, America closed the period of isolationism and entered that of world trade and world problems. Leavenworth, always quick to mirror national situations, was profoundly affected. Never again would it be the same, for trails to new frontiers led this time over land and sea to the remote corners of the globe.
That the city had now emerged from the "doldrums" of the 90's became increasingly evident. In the early 1900's, three fine enterprises revealed general confidence in the future: the Free Public Library; the William Small Memorial Home; and the High School on Chestnut Street.
The first of these was secured through the influence of A. J. Tullock, who persuaded Andrew Carnegie to give $25,000 toward the erection of a library, provided certain conditions were met by the city. The second was made possible by the generosity of Mrs. William Small when she decided to erect a beautiful home for aged women in honor of her husband. The third was due to the conviction of taxpayers that the young people were entitled to a more modern school building than the old church on Walnut.
In 1903 and incident occurred that was described at length in "Printers Ink," an authority on newspaper publications, as the first instance of the kind to be found in any city of consequence in the United States. The editor was referring to the consolidation of the two remaining newspapers here with "The Leavenworth Times," leaving the pioneer daily alone in its field in a community where eight papers once flourished.
A new challenge came somewhat later in the form of The Leavenworth Post, which was published for a few years before becoming associated with The Times.
A fourth public edifice became necessary in 1911 when a dramatic fire at midnight destroyed the original court house. Citizens were well satisfied with the commodious new structure that rose on the same grounds. It was a building to be admired for its architecture and used for many practical purposes.
A Methodist minister, the Rev. W. G. Caples is said to have preached the first sermon in Leavenworth and the Methodists hold the distinction of having built the first church.
The Reverend Caples held his service under the shade of a grove on the Missouri River bank in the northeast part of the city on Oct. 8, 1854. The first church was by H. P Johnson at the northwest corner of Third and Main in 1855.
The first Catholic religious service was the Mass offered in October of 1854 in the house of Andrew Quinn on Shawnee near Second by the Rev. William Fish who was then the parish priest at Weston. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at the southwest corner of Fifth and Kiowa was begun in 1865 and completed in 1868 largely through the untiring efforts of Bishop J. B. Miege.
Catholics also have built the St. Joseph's Catholic Church on Broadway between Miami and Osage; the Sacred Heart Church at Second Ave. and Prospect; and the St. Casimir Polish Catholic Church on South Broadway at Pennsylvania. Each of these parish units has had a parochial school from the beginning and Immaculata High School was founded in 1909 by the late Monsignor Kelly.
The first Orthodox Jewish congregation, the House of Jacob, was organized shortly after the city's founding. Earliest records have been destroyed by fire but in 1858 a cemetery and burial society known as the Sons of Truth was formed. The first Reform Jewish congregation was chartered in 1864. Temple B'nai Jeshurun at Sixth and Osage was chartered that year. The present temple at the same address was dedicated in September 1918.
Many other denominations have built churches in Leavenworth and some of the earlier ones built during the territorial period are listed here.
The First Christian Church was organized in the early summer of 1855 with W. S. Yohe as first pastor. Their first building, at Third and Shawnee, was destroyed by fire. The present sanctuary was constructed in 1858-1859 and dedicated early in 1860.
The Rev. C. D. Martin of Philadelphia organized the First Presbyterian Church in Jan. 1, 1856 with nine members. The first building was on Miami near Sixth, and in 1871 they built a new church on Delaware between Sixth and Seventh. The present church was dedicated on Jan. 3, 1909.
First Episcopal service was held Nov. 24, 1856 at the home of Dr. John M. Fackler. After two years a church was built at Fifth and Chestnut. In March 1863, lots at Seventh and Seneca were purchased and work began on the present building.
Members of the Evangelical Church held their first service on Sept. 5, 1858. The first church was completed Feb. 18, 1862 on the corner of Sixth and Osage. The present building was completed in 1912 on the same corner.
On March 8, 1861 Henry and Isabelle Foote deeded land to trustees of Bethel A.M.E. Church for the church building which was dedicated the day Abraham Lincoln was buried. Before 1861 the members had met in a small frame building at 409 Kiowa where the parsonage is now.
The first pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church arrived on Nov. 9, 1861. The congregation was organized March 9, 1862. In the fall of 1862 a building site was purchased on Delaware between Sixth and Seventh. The first frame church was dedicated Christmas 1862. The present location was bought in 1866 and the present building, the third on the site, was dedicated Dec. 10, 1911. Lutherans have operated their own grade school since the first.
Construction of the First Baptist Church at Sixth and Seneca began in 1865. It originally had an auditorium which would seat 1,000, but was remodeled after a fire 40 years ago.
In 1867 the Independent Baptist Church was organized at Third and Kiowa. The present location is at Sixth and Pottawatomie.
The Sunflower Baptist Church was founded in 1881 and established at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Michigan Avenue.
Ground for the Michigan Avenue Methodist Church, Shoemaker at Michigan Ave., was purchased in 1888. The building was dedicated in the same year.
The First Congregational Church was organized March 6, 1858. The location of the original church does not show in the records but in 1860 property was purchased on the northwest corner of 5th and Delaware and a building erected. In 1887 this property was sold and the congregation moved into the present building on 5th and Walnut.
The Salem Evangelical Reformed Church, at 2nd Ave. and Arch, was organized Nov. 27, 1887. The present building was erected in 1889 and has since been remodeled. The Salem and Congregational churches effected a union in 1949.
The history of the Leavenworth Schools as a community project started on July 3, 1858 with the organization of a board of trustees of common schools. The board of trustees of common schools. The board consisted of S. A. Marshall, Jared Phillips, Levi Houston and Nelson McCracken. The board divided the city into four districts and opened a school in each.
In 1864 the board of trustees was dissolved and a board of education of 12 members was organized. The clerk of this board was a voting member and he kept all the records and was ex officio the superintendent of schools. The first clerk was B. L. Baldridge, a minister of the gospel. He was followed by David L. Brewer, an attorney who later became the first Kansas to be appointed a Supreme Court justice. Brewer served for four years. Three members of the board were selected from each of the four wards in the city. There was a school in each ward.
In 1864 two colored schools were opened, one in the north part of town and another in the south. Expansion of the school property continued during that year. The city leased the block known as "Public Square" and bought a two-room frame building located there. Two years later the Morris School building was erected on the property at a cost of $80,000 and was said to be the finest school building west of the Mississippi. The present Lincoln School now occupies the spot.
About the same time the board of education purchased a brick church on the corner of Oak and West Seventh from the Westminster Society which was remodeled into a comfortable two-room building which was used for nine years. In 1878 the site of the Grand Avenue School was purchased for $1,000 and a brick building was constructed at a cost of $4,000.
The Leavenworth Male and Female school was founded in 1855. It was succeeded in 1859 by the McCarty High School. McCarty later became associated with the public school system and was its first high school principal. Leavenworth was the first city in Kansas to establish a high school and the Leavenworth High School, established in 1864, remains as the first in Kansas continuously using the name of the city.
The high school was organized under H. D. McCarty, the first principal and was reorganized under Miss L. A. Mead. Four students were graduated in 1871, the first high school graduates from a Kansas high school.
Interesting observations can be made from early records. There were 2904 pupils enrolled for the school year 1866-1865 but the average daily attendance was listed at 1111.1.[sic] Classes varied in size. For instance McCarty was apparently the only teacher in the high school which had an enrollment of 70 but an average daily attendance of 39.
There were two intermediate schools; one in north Leavenworth had 134 pupils and two teachers while one in south Leavenworth had one teacher with an enrollment of 110. These enrollments are excessive by modern standards. Mrs. Douglas, who taught a primary school in north Leavenworth, had 243 pupils although the daily average was only 66.
After the turn of the century Leavenworth adopted the present method of selecting six board of education members at large. This replaced the old plan of a 12-man board selected by wards. By legislative action all cities of the first class in Kansas use the six-man-board representation with the exception of Wichita which still uses the old method through special legislation.
One point stands out during the 100 years of Leavenworth's history. The people here have always supported the school, even during the formative period when other communities were more concerned with personal and industrial development. This fact is noted constantly in the records.
Today the total enrollment is approximately 3500 and is expected to pass the 5,000 mark within the next ten years. There now are 11 separate schools in operation. There are nine elementary schools, a junior high school, and a senior high school, all of them crowded to capacity.
Since the days of Indian occupation, "Old Man River," which in this locality means the Missouri, has occasionally gone on big rampages. Then instead of tranquility "rolling along" supplying transportation, water power, and unsurpassed scenic beauty to the whole region, the sluggish "Big Muddy" has suddenly changed from a beneficent spirit to an evil genius. Inundating lowlands and forming one continuous raging torrent from here to the bluffs of our sister state, the ancient stream, through ruthless destruction of homes, crops, and places of business, has been the cause of much nerve-wracking suspense.
Such rampages occurred in 1873, 1903 and more recently in 1952, with minor floods in other years. Although we in Leavenworth have suffered little in comparison with neighbors, yet the overflow of Three Mile Creek has occasionally brought some damage to the town. the lower part of the old levee was covered with water and railroad service interrupted for several weeks after the 1903 deluge. During the disaster of 1952, the Terminal Bridge was threatened and the dikes of the Missouri Valley Steel Incorporated shipyard, in which boats were being constructed for the federal government, gave way as did also those of the airfield at Fort Leavenworth.
The outer face of life was gradually undergoing a transformation in this era of readjustment. New inventions and methods of work were displacing older customs. "Horse and buggy" days were definitely numbered. On the economic side alterations carried with them a measure of temporary unemployment, but eventually created jobs in fresh fields and provided major improvements for the city.
In this category may be found several public utilities which came into general use after the turn of the century, namely natural gas for cooking and heating homes; telephones, operated for a while by two companies; and electricity for lights and for streetcars, formerly propelled by mules. Automobiles, at first objects of curiosity, became the common mode of conveyance, the incentive for one of our largest lines of business. Comfort and convenience were in each instance added to the existence of citizens, many of whom still retained vivid memories of pioneer deprivations.
Changes in social habits were to be more revolutionary later than at this time. Nevertheless some interesting developments took place. The Leavenworth Angling Association, whose members made annual trips to Minnesota lakes; the bicycle club, whose bold riders in some mysterious fashion learned how to mount and remain on wheels as high as they were tall; moving picture and roller skating parties, which were novel and thrilling; all were significant of the period.
There were a few means of relaxation in the 1890's and 1900's. There was much picnicing on the wooded slopes of the Soldiers Home and Wells Park (now owned by Shriners) and boating on the lakes in both places. County fairs at the latter site ushered in the fall season with immense crowds gathering to view exhibits and indulge in merry making.
In 1913 the Leavenworth Chautauqua Association was formed for the purpose of presenting each summer at a nominal cost an extended series of wholesome attractions devoted to inspiration, information, and entertainment. Typically American in character, these drew large audiences in the years before the advent of radio, to which chautauqua in variety of programs was comparable.
Among the distinguished speakers who appeared in a tent on the north side of the Court House lawn was the "silver-tongued" orator, William Jennings Bryan. Standing room was at a premium as hundreds of people congregated on a hot July evening to hear the thrice-defeated presidential candidate.
Leavenworth was delighted to receive visits from several other national leaders either before or after their election to the highest office in the land. William McKinley made a campaign speech near the corner of Fourth and Walnut, not far from the spot where many of the same citizens were to assemble within a few years for a sorrowful memorial service after he was assassinated.
For 14 years of this period, Professor W. A. Evans, after a long term as teacher, occupied the position of principal of the high school. The impress of his kindly personality still lingers with a generation of former students who remember him for his humorous stories, scientific knowledge and terrifying mien when he announced in portentous tones: "There is something radically wrong, young people . . ." Alibis from pranksters on those occasions proved to be unavailing.
In the year of the Spanish American War, volunteer cadets organized a military company, and this was to continue on the same basis until 1916 when our high school was to become the second unit in the nation of the Junior R.O.T.C. Football began its long career as the major sport of L.H.S. in 1897 when a team played with Atchison. Basketball made its initial bow in 1904, and the June Bug published a small edition the following year.
For real excitement, however, from 1891 to 1911, nothing could equal the rivalry between the Alpha Omega and Phi Sigma literary societies with their alternate weekly programs, annual contests and occasional tournaments in nearby cities. There was always competition in the display of colorful insignia, orange and black vying with lemon and lavender as adherents on both sides yelled their loudest in the effort to win the championship.
Then, in 1912, senior students started the Goodfellows Club, which is still functioning as an all-school activity for furnishing relief to those needing help at the Christmas season. There is said to be no other movement of exactly the same kind in the country. As an example of enthusiastic co-operation for altruistic service, and as one of the oldest benevolent organizations in the city, this club holds a high place, not only in Leavenworth, but also in the annals of the National Education Association.
The years from 1890 to 1914 may be envisioned from the foregoing account as a time of slow, steady transition. Outstanding exploits were not lacking, but they were fewer in number than before. The new century brought a change in the atmosphere and prospects of the city. The yearning and the drive toward the idea of a great metropolis had dimmed. Investment from the outside amounting to millions of dollars was a thing of the past. Such money came in smaller sums, and residents who preferred the environment of large population centers had moved on to "greener pastures."
Not aware of the challenging outer events that were soon to overwhelm us. not even fully cognizant of inner modifications, we sat back in relative security and well-being to develop what fate had brought us. It was a good time and one when people could look with pride at attainments, untroubled by vaulting ambitions, income taxes, lend lease programs, or rumors of war. Values and codes of behavior were still comparatively stable. Family life flourished, the many benefits of the fast progress accomplished in the first half century being ours to enjoy.
For approximately one hundred years prior to August, 1914, the world had experienced and era of peace--one of the longest in the history of civilization. To be sure, there had been encounters in which two nations were engaged and our own violent internal clash, but no general war involving the great powers of Europe. Then, an unexpected "incident" in an obscure country became the match that was to ignite both hemispheres.
Limitations of space prohibit an analysis of causes leading to the First and Second World Wars. It is sufficient to state that oppressed peoples and neurotic leaders supplied initiative for both holocausts, that the United States, having become a global power in 1898, could not remain neutral as we so strongly desired, and that Leavenworth again became a wide-open portal through which innumerable draftees entered for training and departed to distant battlefields.
Daily we were reminded here of shattering occurrences across the waters by the presence of strange young men on our streets, the activities at the Community House on the corner of Third and Delaware, practice trenches on the reservation, and a multiplicity of war drives. As in the first decade of our existence, we were living close to the heart of the nation.
April of 1917, the year and month that marked our entry into combat, saw too the Russian revolution with its high hopes that autocracy was forever dead in that long-victimized nation. How little we understood at the time the hidden forces of hypocrisy and hatred that were to parade in the name of freedom and to jeopardize country after country in an insane race for power!
The war ended in 1918 and we were happy, for this was the struggle "to make the world safe for democracy" and we had won. Spontaneous demonstrations of joy indicated our delight in the outcome. Schools were dismissed without formality, and students marched up and down the streets. At night crowds surged through the downtown district eager to show their patriotism and their relief that casualty lists could be forever discarded.
The exuberant 1920's followed, and they were indeed exuberant. They were also disillusioning because the fruits of victory proved to be further instability. Modernism, not altogether good, not altogether bad, hit us with a "bang." Now began the long age of revolt against Victorianism, of changing standards in music, art, literature, architecture, education, manners, and morals. Probably the worst feature of all was the rising tide of cynicism with regard to religion and democracy.
Since the turbulence of the times included much installment buying, wild speculation, and declining world trade, the crash of the stock market in October, 1929, was inevitable.
The 1930's were not pleasant years in Leavenworth. Extravagances were succeeded by lowered wages, reduced business, unemployment, and demands for assistance from families that had suffered the most. Bread lines became urgent problems. Extremely hot summers and a prolonged drouth[sic], which dried up the plains of Kansas, led to dust storms, crop failures, and a general deterioration in the outlook.
Regardless of the effects of war and depression, there were constructive movements in our town throughout the three decades of this epoch. The City Hall, dating back to territorial years, was razed in 1923 and the present building erected by January, 1925. In rapid succession appeared Immaculata High School (1923); Junior High School (1924); Country Club (1924); Fort Bridge (1926); Cushing Memorial Hospital (1930); St. John's Nurses' Home (1932); Senior High School (1933); St. Paul's Lutheran School (1937); City Water Plant (1938); County Jail (1939).
The Country Club became a social center for those interested in golf, dancing, and other forms of recreation. It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt on a slightly different site in the 1940's. The original Fort Bridge, through effort of local congressional leaders, was purchased by the Federal Government, repaired, and opened to traffic as the only free span across the Missouri between Omaha, Nebraska, and Booneville, Missouri. The Senior High School replaced the one that burned the preceding year.
Cushing Memorial Hospital, made possible by the gifts of many citizens, was placed on the spot occupied by its predecessor, which had been an outgrowth of the Home of the Friendless. With the aid of an efficient Board of Directors and Women's Guild, the staff has ever since given up-to-date service to the community and surrounding region.
The old water plant, pride of Leavenworth in the 1880's, had now become obsolete, and it underwent complete modernization at this time. Equipment for softening was added a few years ago. A non-political board has acted without salary, the present incumbents being W. G. Leavel, H. B. Goodjohn, E. D. Mezzera, J. C. Lysle and Carl Krekeler.
Due to needs arising from disturbed world conditions, to changes in home life and employment of mothers, to the spirit of investigation stimulated by modern thinking, to the growing belief in human brotherhood, to the simple desire for relaxation, and to many other reasons, the strenuous war years were marked by the appearance of numerous activities. Today Leavenworth is one of the most highly organized cities in the Midwest, with members of groups often too absorbed in day by day events for proper evaluation of their worth.
Registered with the Chamber of Commerce at the present time are approximately eighty such organizations. Several hundred others are not so registered, but are holding frequent meetings and making distinct contributions either to the community, outside causes, or their own members. There are known to be at least 28 fraternal groups, 14 veterans and patriotic groups, 10 social service groups, 9 professional groups, and 8 health groups, besides, all of the older societies and the subdivisions existing within lodges, schools, hospitals, churches, and county units. Sororities, more recently formed, increase the number of worthy associations.
Selecting at random some representative samples that, according to information received, originated or, at any rate, assumed greater prominence in this period, we find the following clubs and societies: Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Hi-Twelve, Knights of Columbus, B'nai Brith, Labor Council, Dunbar, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Daughters of American Revolution, Business and Professional Women, American Association of University Women, PEO, Council of Jewish Women, Ladies Catholic Benevolent Association, Civil Defense, County Farm Bureau, Army Mothers, Navy Mothers, 4-H Clubs, Home Demonstration Units, County School Association, City Teachers Association, County Bar Association, Humane Society, Dramusilite Club, Garden and Civic Club, County Medical Association, County Dental Association, Les Novelettes, Daughters of Isabella, Bethany Club, Disabled American Veterans, 40 and 8, Hair Dressers, Insurance Board, N.A.A.C.P., National Federation Small Businesses, Real Estate Board, Spanish War Veterans, Masonic Lodges, Elks, Eagles, Odd Fellows, Modern Woodmen, Royal Neighbors and many auxiliary organizations in addition.
While Leavenworth was struggling with local problems and seeking means of recovery from abnormal conditions created by national crises, a new storm was gathering in Europe and Asia. this broke in 1939 and after December 7, 1941, we were directly implicated. The indignity at Pearl Harbor was a new experience for our nation and our town. We were stunned by the blow to prestige and pride, alarmed for the the[sic] safety of Americans everywhere, fearful of world domination by unscrupulous dictators.
Once more the reservation was crowded with young men as several hundreds were processed each day at the huge Reception Center and moved on to fight for us. We who stayed at home occupied ourselves with scrap drives, food coupons, gasoline allotments, Red Cross bandages, and more casualty lists.
Our own boys were among the vast horde who became impersonally known as G.I.'s. In the previous war, soldiers had been moved by the glamor of military live and by patriotic duty. Now the motive was largely patriotic duty, for clear young eyes could see that glamor has little place in modern battles with their destructive forces and slaughter of civilians.
Some of our gallant youths came back with a smile on their faces and resumed interrupted careers. Some were obliged to spend months and years in hospitals, recuperating from physical or mental wounds while some did not return at all. These were the ones who "shall grow not old as we who are left grow old" because, forsaking all for freedom and country, they died on foreign shores--heroes to the end.
It would be easy to call the present unfinished period the epoch of the terrible bomb, or that of vanishing geographical frontiers due to scientific progress, or the one in which earnest thinkers are trying to ferret out some means of salvation for a distraught world.
All of these labels would represent facets of truth, but since the verdict of history is not yet given, and since Leavenworth is undoubtedly confronted with a vision of civic accomplishment, why not consider contemporary times as the stage for discovering new trails and rediscovering old ones that lead to desirable destinations?
Sometimes we wish that we could summon back the founding fathers and ask them what they think of their city after a century of growth. It would be a far cry from their lumbering prairie schooners and river ferries, freighting wagons and pony express, crude frame houses and muddy streets, to our swift airplanes and electric busses, drive-in movies and supermarts, efficiency homes and television sets. If they could be driven in high-powered cars through the old home town, just what would they approve and disapprove?
Cautious descendants might hesitate to expose forebears to so great a shock. Better, they would believe, for spirits of the 1850's to visit the transition period of fifty years ago because they would feel more at home there.
We do not agree with them, for pioneers of the old trails could well understand those of the new ones, adjustment to constantly changing conditions being a dominant characteristic of the frontier. They knew little about security, and neither do we, but they learned how to live courageously in the face of unknown perils, and we are learning the same hard lesson.
Suppose they began to question us on their drive through downtown streets, old residence districts, and outlying housing developments, what would we tell them? Would we pass the loyalty test by expressing pride in our city and faith in her future? Would we be informed about recent undertakings and their purposes?
They might ask us about municipal government through the century. We could answer that, from the day in September, 1855, when they elected Mayor Thomas Slocum and six councilmen to guide them through the mazes of territorial politics, Leavenworth has been concerned about the administration of public affairs. We could stop at the City Hall, and while showing them our modern city developments, point out the pictures of former mayors hanging on the walls.
Then we might explain how we adopted the non-partisan commission form of government in 1908, Leavenworth being the first municipality in Kansas to do so. And how the electorate wished to keep up with new ideas and change to the city manager plan in 1946, but how technicalities prevented the step at that time.
Continuing the story, we might describe the campaign for a sound practical business administration in 1947 by the Leavenworth Civic League and the subsequent election of Mayor Frank E. Washburn. We might tell how the current "City Fathers," Mayor Ted Sexton and Commissioners Roy Kunkle, Dr. A. M. Murphy, Julius Kaaz, Victor Shalkowski, are conducting a program of overall progress with emphasis on long-range planning as well as immediate needs.
We could give identical reports about our delegates in the Kansas Legislature: Senator E. B. Collard, Representatives John Murray and William Denholm, all of whom are devoting their best efforts to enhance the "growth and the glory" of the pivotal state in our nation.
If the spirits of the past next inquired about hostelries and trails and bridges, subjects always of paramount importance to them, we could reply: "Look at the numerous lodging places for visitors and especially at our new Hotel Cody, named in honor of that noted plainsman of your epoch.
"Take a glance at the beginnings of our forthcoming span across the river, for which you always longed and which we are finally securing. Come out with us for a spin over paved highways extending in all directions. We'll take you in a matter of minutes to towns in Kansas, once our rivals, now our good friends. We'll invite our Missouri neighbors, whose forefathers helped to found this city one hundred years ago, to come over and celebrate the Centennial with us while you are here. For the old waterway, once a barrier, is now simply an opportunity for a pleasant journey through the same wonderful scenery you loved so well."
These pioneers of the 1850's would be certain to look around for schools and churches, both of which in their eyes were major responsibilities. We could, in that event, drive past 36 churches, representing 20 denominations, and 18 schools--11 public and 7 parochial ones. We would have much to say about the plans for new buildings, of which we expect to be so proud, explaining that they are designed to take care of our growing population for years to come.
We would most certainly not neglect to take them to the beautiful campus of the Saint Mary College, with its facilities for the education of women, and to three recreational areas, Abeles Field, Hawthorn and Wollman Parks.
If they inquired about business conditions, we could describe how, building on their early foundations, we have a balanced economy with agriculture, industry, trade, and governmental institutions, the last with an annual payroll of $16,000,000--all supplying their part toward a good community.
We could elaborate on the additional possibilities for development that lie before us when the bridge and the airport in Platte County, Mo., are finished and we then have direct connections with an enlarged trade territory and remote global frontiers.
We should remember to tell them about the energetic efforts of the Senior and Junior Chambers of Commerce, the Jaycee Janes and the Planning Commission, the Ministerial Alliance and the United Council of Church Women, the Council of Social Agencies and the School Board, calculated in each case to introduce and support co-ordinated means of betterment for the city at large.
Certainly we should not omit in our narration the concern displayed by the city about its residents in such social matters as use of leisure time, care of the sick, the aged and the indigent; prevention of delinquency; stimulation of thought and cultural interests. We should try to describe to our visitors some of the agencies for carrying out these objectives, mentioning the City Recreation Department, American Red Cross, Junior Red Cross, Gray Ladies and Nurses' Aids, Salvation Army, County Welfare, Boy and Girl Scouts, Parent Teachers Associations, Adult Education, Great Books, Town Meeting, Public Library, KCLO, Safety Council, Admiral Club, Junior Matrons, St. Paul's Episcopal Youth Athletic Program, the Board of Health, the Tuberculosis, Cancer, and Polio Associations, the YWCA, plus scores of others quietly working for good ends with little fanfare but much faithful persistence.
It seems probable that our grey-bearded guests would be puzzled by some aspects of modern living, startled by others, but on the whole pleased with their Centennial inspection of Leavenworth.
It might be that they would bestow valuable counsel, for we have unsolved problems in great numbers and, although methods and opportunities vary from one generation to another, the underlying principles of human relationship remain very much the same.
Without doubt they would see that we require new industries to replace those recently lost, a city auditorium with provisions for a recreational center, a new county home, additional park acreage, a society for the preservation of ancient lore and landmarks, a registration bureau to avoid conflicts in dates of large meetings, and above all--cooperation on a high level of community spirit to enable Leavenworth to realize her own unique destiny, which will, and should, always be different from that of any other city.
Out of their wisdom, they might advise us, while we are advancing in material progress, to take time for the cultivation of the true, the good, and the beautiful or, in other words, the spiritual side of our civilization. They might say that we must not be so engrossed with personal affairs that we forget to give intelligent thought to the imponderable national and international questions of our day. Reminding us that change in itself is not necessarily good, that it must be constructive in its nature, they might repeat for our benefit the noted quotation from Tennyson:
"The old order changeth, yielding place to new
And God fulfills Himself in many ways
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."