Early settlement of the Geneseo area began with the homesteading movement of the 1870's.

In geological circles, the area is known as the Geneseo Uplift. The town overlooks the Little Arkansas River valley to the south, while not far to the north the water flows to the Thompson Creek and into the Smoky Hill River. The high ridge between the two river systems was found to be ideal for railroad development.

In 1886 two major companies, Santa Fe and Missouri Pacific, vied for control of the land that was to become Geneseo. The Missouri Pacific ended up building the crossing for the two tracks. A third railroad, The Salina, Sterling and El Paso was built to link Wichita with the main line of the Missouri Pacific. A group of investors associated with the line soon recognized the potential of the crossing site, and formed the Geneseo Town company on November 20, 1886. The name had been chosen from the hometown of Major E.C. Moderwell, a partner in the company. His hometown of Geneseo, Illinois, had in turn taken its name from Geneseo, New York, a name of Iroquoian origin, meaning "shining valley". Geneseo, Kansas now overlooks the shining valley of the Little Arkansas River.

The town grew at a phenomenal rate. A reporter from the Leavenworth Times of March 15 stated, "Geneseo may well be called the infant wonder of Kansas...One going there will be surprised. We ourselves expected to find a town of 100 people, and a few board shanties but instead, we found a thriving, bustling little city, and increasing every day. The town has three hotels and THEY ARE CRAMMED all of the time with men looking for locations.

On July 15, 1887, Geneseo became an incorporated city of the third class with a population of over 600.

With the railroad, a new era had dawned on the prairies. Until a school could be erected, classes were held in the new Opera House. Both Presbyterians and Methodists constructed churches. School classes were later moved to the Methodist Church until the new $10,000 school building was opened in 1889.

Geneseo served many ranches, providing supplies, recreation, and a shipping point for livestock.

The Geneseo Light Plant started operating in 1905 in the evening until midnight and would begin again at 5:00 a.m. until no longer needed for light in the morning.

The first successful oil well was in 1934 and the Geneseo field soon became the boom that everyone hoped for. Much of the local economy developed for and became dependent upon the oil industry. The city built the water tower in 1935. Largely due to oil the people of Geneseo experienced dynamic renewal right in the middle of a national depression.

In 1938 the new water system was put to the test. A fire totally destroyed two cafes and damaged several other businesses along the west side of Main Street. It was felt that the new water system had saved most of the block and kept the fire from spreading into the next block. As with any community in the Midwest, population and vitality have been in decline since perhaps the mid 1950's.

Geneseo is typical 'small town America". It is a nice place to live and raise a family. Though not as big as it once was, Geneseo has always remained modern and progressive. It looks confidentially to its future while treasuring the past. By being selective about the preservation of the old and implementation of the new, Geneseo will remain a secure, yet fascinating place in which to work and live.

Information supplied by Jim Gray & Janet Ritcha

City Hall
(620) 824-6232
802 Silver Ave. • Geneseo, KS 67444 Explore Geneseo & Rice County, or visit other Kansas Cities & Towns

June 3,2013

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