Blue Rapids, Kansas is located in northeast Kansas near the junction of the Little
Big Blue Rivers
about 12 miles south of Marysville, Kansas. The
first endeavor to establish a town below the junction of the rivers was
made in 1857 when a town was laid out by James Waller, who lived on Elm
Creek, Henry Poor and M. L. Duncan. The town eventually failed due to
misfortunes of two of the three participants. However, a post office was
established in 1860 which continued operation until 1868. In the meantime
the Central Branch of the Missouri Pacific Railroad had built through the
The next attempt to utilize the impressive water power wasn't made until
1869-1870, when a colony of about 50 families from Genesee County, New
York moved in, purchased land and water power rights, and began
establishing a community. They bought from R. S. Craft and others a town
site of 287 acres, embracing the water power privileges, for $15,000, and
secured 8,000 acres of farming lands. The Blue Rapids Town Company was
formed and the townsite was laid off on a beautiful level slope extending
from the railroad to the river, which was skirted with heavy belts of
timber, forming a background of exceptional beauty. Each town lot was sold
or distributed on the fixed condition that it never was to hold the
foundation for a grog shop or a gaming house of any kind.
When the colonists arrived at Blue Rapids, there were no buildings on the
town site, with the exception of a small stone building erected years
before. The first building erected by the newcomers was a large two-story
frame structure which they termed "Colonial Hall." This building was used
by the colonists until other structures could be erected, and in it were
held the first religious services and the first school. All public
meetings were held there, and at one time a portion of it was used as a
hotel and the other part for school purposes.
Among the first projects in 1870 were a stone dam and a wrought iron
bridge built on the Big Blue River. A hydroelectric power plant was then
added to provide power for manufacturing and for the town.
H. A. Parmalee and Yates Douglass established the first general stores in
1870. W. W. Stevens followed with the first drug store. W. H. Goodwin was
the first to represent the profession of law and Dr. R. A. Wells was the
first physician in the new town. A post office was established in May,
1870 with S.H. Parmalee as the first postmaster. In the summer of 1870,
the first school taught in town was held in Colonial Hall by Reverend
Charles Holmes. Mr. McPherson and Mr. Reed erected a three-story frame
hotel in 1870 which was called the LaBelle (beautiful) House. By the end
of 1870 the population was about 250.
A King's tubular arch wrought iron bridge was completed in the spring of
1871. In May, 1871, the banking house of Olmstead, Freeland & Co. was
established. It would later become the Bank of Blue Rapids City. The same
year, in June, 1871, Blue Rapids received its first newspaper when W. P.
Campbell, and C. E. Tibbetts, purchased the material of the Netawaka
Herald and removed it to Blue Rapids, where, on the 4th of July, 1871,
they issued the first number of the Blue Rapids Times. Changing
hands several times, it would eventually grow to be one of the leading
papers in the county.
Blue Rapids was incorporated as a city of the third class on March 20,
1872. The first election was held in Colonial Hall in April. C. E.
Olmstead was the first mayor.
Unfortunately, that same year, the fledgling community suffered a
devastating prairie fire on April 10, 1872.. About noon of the day
mentioned a dense cloud of smoke was seen to rise back of the bluffs,
south of town, and as a strong breeze was blowing from that direction, an
apprehension was felt that the town was in danger, which was soon realized
by the appearance of flames that came surging down the bluffs with great
velocity. The citizens turned out en masse, and seizing everything that
would stop the progress of the flames, rushed to the scene. The fire first
passed over the railroad track and swept along the west side of town to
the river, which alone could check it, leaving a lateral column
approaching the town at right angles, which monopolized the exertions of
100 men to keep it in check. The flames also crossed the track on the east
side of town and passed on to the river. Here the same efforts were
needed, and after all danger was over the gallant fire brigade returned to
their homes, blackened, scorched and burnt, but satisfied with their
endeavors to save their homes.
Due to the water power available, several manufacturing facilities were
built in the town's early years including a flouring mill in 1871, a
four-story woolen mill and a brick factory in 1872, a paper mill in 1873,
a gypsum mill in 1877, as well as a number of foundry and machine shops.