LEGENDS OF KANSAS

 

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Emporia, Kansas - Page 2

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In December, 1859, the first school district was organized in Emporia. Its Directors were Colonel F. W. Cloud, C. C. Dodge, and Ed. Borton. In 1862, C. V. Eskridge, then a member of the Kansas Legislature, secured the passage of a special act, authorizing Emporia District No. 1 to issue bonds, in the amount of $6,000, for the purpose of erecting a school building. The bonds were issued and sold, and with the proceeds thereof a building was erected, which, at the time, was considered the finest common-school building in the State outside of Leavenworth. Seeing how successfully the plan worked this special act was made the basis of a general school law for the entire state.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad in Emporia, KansasIn early 1860, the county-seat location was a major issue. The county seat had been designated as Americus two years earlier in 1858. In the end, Emporia was chosen as county seat by 155 votes over Americus in February, 1860, where it remains today. At that time, there were about 3,500 residents in the county, but that year, the area suffered a severe drought and many moved eastward. Some relief was provided to those who stayed, but the county would continue to suffer an economic downturn the next year with the breaking out of the Civil War.

On December 22, 1860, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad reached Emporia, setting the stage for the city to become an important railroad hub. By this time, the city was called home to some 843 people.

 

During the Civil War, Emporia was one of the towns listed in Confederate General Price's itinerary of destruction and would have been sacked and burned but, if not for the prompt response all through eastern Kansas to check the invasion. The city soon became a stopping place for the soldiers on their various campaigns against the bushwhackers and Indians during and after the war. With the Civil War in full gear, the county name was changed in February, 1862, as the former Vice President Breckenridge had become a secessionist and a high ranking officer in the Confederate Army. The patriotic anti-slavery legislature changed the name of the county to Lyon, in honor of Nathaniel Lyon, the Union general who had lost his life in the Battle of Wilson's Creek the previous August.

 

In 1863 C. V. Eskridge, as a Kansas Representative introduced a bill providing for the establishing of a State Normal School at Emporia. The bill was passed and an endowment of 45,680 acres of land was made the state. In February, 1864, a Board of Directors was appointed and an appropriation of $1,000 made for teachers' wages. The District School Board of Emporia donated the use of the second story of the old stone school building for classes and the first term was opened in February, 1865 with 19 students. During that year an appropriation of $10,000 was made by the Kansas Legislature for the purpose of erecting suitable buildings. In 1866 a stone building was completed on a site of 20 acres. At this time the school numbered 100 students, and employed three Instructors. The general progress of the school during the next five years was so rapid that the building became inadequate. By the fall of 1871, 215 students were enrolled and the following year, the Legislature appropriated $50,000 for a new building, which was completed in 1873, at a cost of $68,000.

 

In the meantime, the first Lyon County courthouse was built in 1866 in Emporia at Third and Commercial at a cost of $19,695. It served the community until a second courthouse was built in 1901 at Fourth and Commercial.

In July, 1870, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Emporia, and the city became an important railroad center. By this time, the city had continued to grow rapidly and it boasted a population of 2,168 people.

 

The Kansas Normal Schoo, Empora, Kansas, 1890.1878 was a bad year for the Kansas Normal School. First a tornado damaged the main building and another smaller building. Then, in October, both the new and old buildings were destroyed by fire, nothing being saved. The enrollment dropped to just 90 students and the process of rebuilding began again. The following year, the Kansas Legislature appropriated more funds and work began on a new building, which was completed in May, 1880 atop the foundation of the burned building.

By this time, the city was flourishing and called home to some 4,631 people. It was filled with a number of beautiful churches, banking institutions which were noted throughout the State for their substantial and "unfailing" qualities, first-class hotels and numerous prosperous businesses.

 

By 1889, the number of students enrolled at the Kansas Normal School (908) was higher than the enrollment at the University of Kansas (508) and Kansas State University (514). The following year, the school became the largest in the state and the largest normal school in the nation.

 

 

 

William Allen White in front of the Emporia Gazette in the early 20th Century.

William Allen White in front of the Emporia Gazette in the early 20th Century.

 

Through the years, Emporia had a number of newspapers, including its first, the Kanzas News, followed by the Emporia Republican, Emporia Democrat and the Emporia Ledger. In 1890, another newspaper, that would last for the next 100 years and beyond, would be established when J. R. Graham, founded the Emporia Gazette in 1890.

 

In 1895, a young 27 year-old, named William Allen White, borrowed the money and paid $3,000 for the newspaper. After writing for several Kansas publications, White considered purchasing newspapers in several northeast Kansas cities, including Lawrence, but decided on Emporia, the town where he was born and where he had attended college. Playing the role of a small-town country editor, he covered controversial issues in a blunt writing style that set him apart from other journalists of his time. His editorials, often in support of small-town values, were frequently printed in national newspapers and magazines, bringing him and the Emporia Gazette world-wide recognition.

 

White continued to gain prominence through his political associations, national writings, and a Pulitzer Prize, and became a confident of Presidents. Today he is known as one of the greatest journalists of all time. Through the years, a Liberty ship and a B-29 Bomber were named for him in WWII, a 3 stamp was made in his honor by the U.S. Postal Service in 1948, and the University of Kansas Journalism School is named for him. His home in Emporia is now a Kansas State Historical Site and museum and a National Historic Landmark. The Emporia Gazette continues to operate today by the White family. The newspaper office features a small museum.
 

By the turn of century, Emporia was called home to 8,223 people. In 1901, a second courthouse was built at Fourth and Commercial, which would serve until 1954. In the early years of the 20th century Emporia had become an important railroad center, being at the junction of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad and the main line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroads. It was the terminus of three branches of the latter system, one running to Holliday, one to Chanute, and the other to Moline. It had waterworks, electricity for lighting and power purposes, police and fire departments, well paved streets, and a public library. Among the industries of the city were woolen and flour mills, foundries, machine shops, carriage and wagon works, an ice plant, broom factories, a planing mill, a creamery, brick and tile works, a corrugated culvert factory and a marble works. The town also boasted three banks, one daily and two weekly newspapers, an international money order post office with ten rural routes, an opera house, telegraph and express service, and is an important mercantile center. By 1910, the population had grown to 9,058.

For the next century, Emporia's population would continue to grow, maintaining its diversity as a center for manufacturing, trade, education, medicine, and tourism.

Through the years, the Kansas Normal School would also continue, becoming the Kansas State Teachers College in 1923, and changing its name again to Emporia State University in 1977. Currently there about 6,000 students enrolled.


In 1953, Emporia received national attention again when it became the site of the first Veterans Day observance in the United States. At the urging of local shoe cobbler Alvin J. King, U.S. Representative Edward Rees introduced legislation in The United States Congress to rename Armistice Day as Veterans Day. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law on October 8, 1954. That same year,, the city had grown to such an extent that
Lyon County needed a new courthouse, which was completed in 1954 at Fourth and Commercial, the same location as the old courthouse.

 

Today, the city is called home to about 25,000 people. Despite a growing business and industry community, the community proudly maintains its small-town charm. Many Victorian homes, tree-lined avenues, and brick streets have been preserved. Thirteen structures within the city are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Old Emporia Public Library, the Granada Theater (also known as the Fox Theater), the Anderson Carnegie Memorial Library, the original homes of Preston B. Plumb and William Allen White House, as well as several other beautiful homes. More information on the history of Emporia can be found at the Lyon County Museum & Historical Society located at 118 E. Sixth Avenue.

Emporia lies between Topeka and Wichita at the intersection of U.S. Route 50 with Interstates 335 and 35 on the
Kansas Turnpike.

 

More Information:

 

Emporia Chamber of Commerce

719 Commercial St.

Emporia, Kansas  66801

620-342-1600 or 800-279-3730

 

 

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated March, 2017.

 

Lyon County, Kansas Courthouse

New Lyon County Courthouse, built in 2001.

courtesy John Nichols photostream

 

Emporia, Kansas Business District

Emporia, Kansas Business District, Kathy Weiser, December, 2014.

 

Lyon County Museum, Emporia, Kansas

Lyon County Museum, Emporia, Kansas, Kathy Weiser, December, 2014.

 

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