History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs

Atchison, Kansas - Page 2
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Among other early settlers in Atchison were the Benedictine monks who established St. Benedict’s Abbey in 1858. Over the next years, they would also establish Mount St. Scholastica in 1863 and for the next 150 years, the Benedictine Brothers and Sisters would play an integral role in the community’s cultural, religious and educational development. Their buildings and people are still prominent in the community of Atchison today.


During this time, the transportation business was immense. During the summer of 1858 alone, twenty-four trains consisting of 775 wagons, 1,114 men, 7,963 oxen, 142 horses, 1,286 mules and 3,730,905 pounds of merchandise came through Atchison.


One single train - sent out by Hockady, Burr & Co. consisted of 105 wagons, 225 men, 1,000 oxen, 200 mules, 50 horses and 465,500 pounds of merchandise. This was the largest train that ever left any point for the West, the goods being purchased to supply a chain of stage station stores which Hockady, Burr & Co. had located between Atchison and Salt Lake City. By the early part of 1859 the city boasted eight hardware establishments, 19 retail grocery stores, eight wholesale groceries, twelve dry goods stores and 26 law firms. The population at this time was about 500.


St. Benedict's Abbey, Atchison, Kansas

St. Benedict's Abbey, Kathy Weiser, May, 2010.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.





Atchison was one of the first cities in Kansas to be connected by telegraph with the east. In 1859 the St. Louis & Missouri Valley Telegraph company extended its line from Leavenworth to Atchison.


The town continued to bustle with riverboat traffic and sometimes had 4-5 vessels at its levee on any given day. Its economic status also grew as the Overland Stage Line and Salt Lake City-based freighters made it their eastern terminus. Additionally, the U.S. Post Office made Atchison the headquarters and starting point for mail to the West and a stage coach line from Atchison to Placerville, California was one of the longest and most important lines in the country.


At the outbreak of the Civil War there were three militia companies organized in Atchison, whose members enlisted in the Kansasregiments. Early in September, 1861, a home guard was organized in the town to protect it in case of invasion from Missouri, and on the 15th of the month, another company was raised, which was subsequently mustered into a state regiment.


In 1863, the city of Atchison raised $4,000 to assist the soldiers from the county and after the Lawrence Massacre by William Quantrill and his men, a like sum was subscribed to assist the stricken people of that city. Citizens of the town also joined vigilance committees that so materially aided the civil authorities in suppressing raiding and the lawless bands of thieves that infested the border counties.


After the Civil War, when industrial life became normal, factories began to spring up in Atchison. Elevators and mills were erected; a flax mill was built; the Atchison Foundry and Machine Works, one of the most important commercial enterprises, was started; along with many wood working factories, and carriage and wagon works. Afterwards, Atchison's progress as an industrial center was steady.


As the boom days of overland trade began to fade, Atchison focused on making the city a railroad hub. With $150,000 from Atchison investors, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was founded in Atchison and before long, the city sported a number of other railroads including Burlington & Missouri River, Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, Hannibal & St. Joseph, Kansas City, St. Joseph & Council Bluffs, and the Missouri Pacific Railroads.


The city also began major civic improvements including miles of paved streets, an excellent waterworks system, sewer, telephone, electric lighting and electric railway systems. Natural gas, piped from the southern part of the state, was utilized for lighting, heating and manufacturing purposes.


Atchison's boom years occurred from 1870 to 1900, and early in the 20th century, as the city boasted dozens of grand mansions, many of which still stand today, the Topeka Mail & Breeze described the town as having more rich men and widows in proportion to its population than any other city in Kansas.


But the city’s prosperous days were numbered. In 1910, Atchison reached its peak population of almost 16,500 people. In hindsight, they could see that a mistake made years earlier in delaying the building of a bridge over the Missouri River was the cause for the decline. Though Atchison had built a bridge over the river in 1875, two cities – Kansas City and St. Joseph had built theirs more a decade before, allowing those cities to continue to progress, while Atchison would eventually decline. (St. Joseph would also decline.)


From 1910 to 1920, the town would lose more than 20% of its population, and would continue to decline to its population of just about 10,500 people today. Over the years; however, Atchison became known as “the city that refused to die” and had to rebuild after two flash floods that swept through the downtown in 1958.


Atchison County, Kansas courthouse

Atchison County courthouse, Kathy Weiser, May, 2010.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.



Today, though it is not the major city it was a century ago, it continues to have several manufacturing facilities, as well as being an agricultural and commercial hub for the northeast corner of Kansas. Its dedication to preserving its rich history can be seen in the city's historic riverfront and downtown area. More than 20 sites are on the National Register of Historic Places, which displays its boomtown days through impressive Victorian-era architecture. Five  museums also showcase its diverse history, railroad heritage, Victorian past, art and Amelia Earhart legacy.


If Atchison's rich history is not enough for you, the town is allegedly the most haunted city in Kansas, but that's a whole other story. See it HERE



More Information:


Discover Atchison


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated March, 2017.


Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, Kathy Weiser, May, 2010.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.



Atchison, Kansas depot

The old Atchison depot is a Visitor's Center today, Kathy Weiser, May, 2010.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.


Also See:


Atchison County, Kansas

Border Ruffian Warfare in Atchison

Haunted Atchison - The Most Ghostly Town in Kansas

Towns & Places in Atchison County


About the Article: Much of the historic text in this article comes from Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, edited by Frank W. Blackmar, published  in 1912 as well as Kansas: History of the State of Kansas, by William G. Cutler; published in 1883. However, other sources have also been used, the content combined, and heavily edited.


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