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When the county was created by an act of the first
territorial legislature in 1855, county commissioners were appointed and
Atchison made the
new temporary county seat. Within no time, townships were soon surveyed and
other county officials appointed. The Atchison Town Company donated a block for
the site of a county courthouse.
Though thousands of people passed through Atchison County
along the well know trails, there were few settlers in county who weren’t from
fact, these pro-slavery
advocated so predominated that the people who supported
principles did not dare let it be known. The first open trouble
between a Free-State
man and the pro-slavery
men in Atchison County
occurred in 1855, when J.W.B. Kelley, a free-soiler in politics, made offensive
remarks about slavery, and particularly about a female slave who was supposed to
have committed suicide.
Her owner, in consequence, inflicted attacked
Kelley. A large number of the citizens of the town adopted resolutions ordering
Kelley, under penalty of further punishment, to leave the town. They also
ordered all emissaries of the abolition societies to leave or their reward would
be "the hemp." It was resolved to "purge" the county of all
and all persons who refused to sign the resolutions were to be regarded and
treated as abolitionists.
Atchison County courthouse today, Kathy Weiser, May, 2010.
Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads
The bold attitude of the
Free-State settlers of
further increased the fire of political feeling among the
pro-slavery men of
Atchison. In the
Wakarusa War, part of the Bleeding Kansas violence, which occurred in November
and December, 1855, an Atchison company
took a prominent part in the siege. The following year, other companies fought
of Hickory Point in September, 1856.
The pro-slavery leaders of Atchison, who
dominated the politics of the county, had so terrorized the other settlers that
up to the summer of 1857 the
Free-Statee men in the county had formed no
organization. Meetings had been held outside of Atchison; however, during the
summer a society was formed at Monrovia, which had been established the previous
year in Atchison County.
At about the same time the Atchison Town Company disposed of a large part of its
property interests to the New England Aid Company, and the Squatter Sovereign,
the first newspaper in the county and a strong
pro-slavery newspaper, was turned
over to S. C. Pomeroy, who, with F. G. Adams and Robert McBratney, turned it
into the Champion, a
As the town company had made such a compromise in
politics for the sake of business, F.G. Adams thought that the
could go still further, and advertised that General James H. Lane would speak in
October, 1857. A number of reliable
Free-State men came up from
see fair play, as the opposition had declared that Lane should not speak. On the
morning of October 19th, Adams was assaulted and feeling ran so high with both
parties parading the streets armed, that it was decided to postpone the meeting.
Lane was turned back before entering the city and thus further trouble was
Several more towns were established in Atchison
County, including Lancaster, Pardee,
Mount Pleasant in 1857. In Atchison, the
Benedictines who established St. Benedict’s Abbey in 1858 and the Mount St.
Scholastica school would later be built in 1863. The Benedictine Brothers and
Sisters have played an integral role in the community’s cultural, religious and
educational development for nearly 150 years.
In 1858, the city of
from two flash floods that swept through the downtown area, becoming known as
“the city that refused to die.” It’s residents rebuilt many of the oldest
commercial buildings that would eventually lead to the construction of the
pedestrian mall, that today is the heart of the downtown district.
During that same year, there was some question as to
the permanent location of the county seat, and this was not settled until the
election held in October, 1858, when Atchison received
the majority of votes and became the permanent county seat. The county
courthouse and jail were completed in 1859.
1909, photo by Frederick J.Bandholtz
was the first county in Kansas to
secure railroad connections when the St. Joseph & Atchison road was completed in
February, 1860. This was most important for the county and city of
Atchison, as it
removed from Leavenworth much of the trade that had formerly gone there, and
secured the shipment of all the government freight to the western military
posts. It also removed the starting point of the overland mail to
Atchison from St.
In the end, the early efforts of the
in Atchison County,
were in vain. Kansas became a free
state in 1861. That same year, the call came for volunteers when the
began. Despite its early population of
pro-slavery men, the county was well
represented in the Union forces. Being on the border, Atchison County
also found itself the target of raids from the Confederate army and guerrilla
bands from across the border, which necessitated the raising of companies of
home guards. By 1863, the depredations of lawless bands became so annoying that
vigilante committees were formed, the members taking an oath to support the
Union and to assist in suppressing rebellion. They became an effective auxiliary
to the civil authorities in punishing violators of the law.
After the Civil War,
the county continued to grow and prosper. But, this was not the case for
everyone and the county created a “Poor Farm” in 1869.
The boom years for Atchison County
began in the early 1870’s as a number of major industries were developed
including becoming one of state’s first major banking centers. John Seaton’s
foundary was moved to Atchison in 1872,
occupying an entire block. It was the largest manufacturer west of St. Louis,
would eventually employ some 2,00 men. During this decade, only two cities in
– Leavenworth and Topeka – were more important than Atchison as a
By the 1880’s, the county was bustling with
railroads, riverboat traffic, and its towns were filled with busy stores and
comfortable homes. When the old courthouse began to be too crowded with the
increasing business. A new one was erected in the winter of 1896-97.
Near the beginning of the 20th century, the Topeka
Mail & Breeze described Atchison as
having more rich men and widows in proportion to its population than any other
city in Kansas. These wealthy
citizens built scores of grand mansions, many of which still stand today.
However, the county had made a fatal mistake when it
delayed in building a bridge over the
River some years earlier. Having not
built a bridge until 1875, ten years after St. Joseph and Kansas City, would
eventually take its toll on the thriving town of Atchison, from
which it would never recover.
The county’s population peaked in 1900 at 28,606
people. Over the next century, the county would lose more than 10,000 of its
residents as farms consolidated and many of the manufacturing facilities closed
or moved elsewhere.
Though not the booming place it once was the
continues to display its rich history in museums and numerous Victorian
mansions. The city of
more than 20 sites on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the county’s population is 16,679 and is made up of five rural
communities including Atchison,
Effingham, Huron, Lancaster, Muscotah,
plus a couple of other very tiny unincorporated villages.
A visitor center is located in the Santa Fe Depot in
provides brochures on nearly every community of both the
border cities, Kansas Travel Guides, Wildlife & Parks publications, and maps.
The current towns of
Atchison County include:
County Chamber of Commerce
200 South Tenth
PO Box 126
913-367-2427 or 800-234-1854
Compiled and edited by
of Kansas, updated March, 2017.
Atchison depot is a
Visitor's Center today, Kathy Weiser, May, 2010.
Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads
Atchison County Slideshow:
All images available for photo prints &
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