History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


Atchison County - Page 2

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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 Missouri. In fact, these pro-slavery advocated so predominated that the people who supported Free-State 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 Free-State people and all persons who refused to sign the resolutions were to be regarded and treated as abolitionists.


Atchison County, Kansas courthouse

Atchison County courthouse today, Kathy Weiser, May, 2010.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.




The bold attitude of the Free-State settlers of Lawrence 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 in the Battle 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 Free-State newspaper.


As the town company had made such a compromise in politics for the sake of business, F.G. Adams thought that the Free-State men could go still further, and advertised that General James H. Lane would speak in Atchison in October, 1857. A number of reliable Free-State men came up from Leavenworth to 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 avoided.


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 Atchison suffered 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.


Atchison, Kansas, 1909

Atchison, Kansas, 1909, photo by Frederick J.Bandholtz


Atchison County 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. Joseph, Missouri.


In the end, the early efforts of the pro-slavery men in Atchison County, were in vain. Kansas became a free state in 1861. That same year, the call came for volunteers when the Civil War 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, Missouri and would eventually employ some 2,00 men. During this decade, only two cities in Kansas – Leavenworth and Topeka – were more important than Atchison as a manufacturer.


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 Missouri 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 Atchison County continues to display its rich history in museums and numerous Victorian mansions. The city of Atchison boasts 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 Atchison, which provides brochures on nearly every community of both the Kansas and Missouri border cities, Kansas Travel Guides, Wildlife & Parks publications, and maps.


The current towns of Atchison County include:




Population (estimated 2006)

Atchison (county seat) 10,154
Cummings  (unincorporated) ??
Effingham 580
Huron 87
Lancaster 295
Muscotah 202
Potter (unincorporated) ??



More Information:


Atichison County Chamber of Commerce

200 South Tenth
PO Box 126
Atchison, Kansas 66002
913-367-2427 or 800-234-1854



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


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.



Atchison County Slideshow:



All images available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.


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