History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


Hays, Kansas - Page 3


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In 1873 bonds were issued to build a court house, and before long, a stone building was erected, the basement of which is used for a county jail. That same year $12,000 in bonds were issued for the erection of a schoolhouse, which was built about two blocks west of the court house. The Hays City Times newspaper was also established in 1873 by Allen & Jones but its existence was very short.


In February, 1874, the Hays City Sentinel was established by W. H. Johnson, but changed hands several times over the next several years. In 1875, the United States Land Office for the district of Western Kansas was opened in a frame building on North Fort Street. That same year, H.P. Wilson built a two-story stone hotel on Chestnut Street that was known as the Pennsylvania House.


By the mid 1870's the railroad had extended its tracks farther west and with it went the teamsters, railroad workers, soldiers and famous characters of the day. Hays City gradually quieted down and began serving as a point of arrival for immigrants, most notably a group of ethnic Germans from the Volga region of Russia.


Ellis County Courthouse

Ellis County Courthouse today, courtesy U.S. Economic

 Research Service.

First arriving in Hays in February, 1876, these immigrants would establish a number of small villages around the Hays area, including Antonino, Catharine, Schoenchen, Victoria and several others. That same year, the Star newspaper was established by J. H. Downing, which quickly became the “official” newspaper of the city.


In 1877, Henry Krueger erected a large two-story stone building on South Fort Street which was used as a public hall. That same year, the first church was built – a frame chapel for the Catholics.


Unfortunately, Hays suffered a fire on January 13, 1879 which destroyed the Gibbs House hotel, two grocery stores and  harness shop were also swept out of existence. That same year; however, more substantial buildings were erected including a two-story stone building on South Main Street that was occupied by Hall & Son Hardware Store, a one-story stone building by H.P. Wilson which held the town’s first bank, a small grain elevator near the railroad, a new Presbyterian Church, as well as a number of handsome residences. The next year, the Lutherans erected their first church and a good sized grain elevator was built by Henry Krueger.


In 1881, a larger grain elevator was built by Simon Motz and large addition was made to the schoolhouse. In December of that year, Hays City was again visited by a fire, which carried away six buildings on South Fort Street. By this time, the boom days of the area were over, and the population had fallen to about 950. However, the town was still called home to six general merchandise stores, three hardware stores, three drug stores, three hotels, a dry goods store, harness and saddlery shop, a millinery establishment, two book and stationery stores, two jewelry stores, two bakeries and restaurants, two carriage and wagon-shops, two lumber-yards, two newspapers, and a bank. The rest of the population was primarily involved in agricultural pursuits. The German-American Advocate newspaper was established in Hays in October, 1882, which was published in both English and German.


In the early part of 1889, it became known that Fort Hays would be abandoned and the Kansas legislature adopted a resolution asking Congress to donate the site to the state for a soldiers' home. The fort closed permanently on June 1, 1889, but no action was taken by Congress on the petition for a soldier’s home.


In 1895, Hays was once again struck by fire, this time a very devastating one, that destroyed some 60 downtown businesses. That same year, the official name of the town was changed to simply Hays. Also occurring in 1895, the Kansas Legislature again asked that the Fort Hays reservation be donated to the state as a location for a branch of the state agricultural college, a branch of the state normal school, and a public park.


Hays, Kansas in the late 1800's.

Hays, Kansas in the late 1800's.

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!

Again no action was taken, and in 1899 the Interior Department declared the land opened for settlement. However, in March, 1900, the Kansas delegation in Congress managed to secure the land and buildings for educational purposes. In 1901 the legislature passed legislation establishing the Fort Hays Experiment Station (part of Kansas State University) and set apart about 4,000 acres for the Western Branch State Normal School.


By the turn of the century, Hays boasted a population of almost 1,300 people. At this time, the city was run by a unique group serving as its City Council, known as the "Boys Council." They were the youngest council in the United States to be governing a city the size of Hays, with the youngest being just 22 years old and the oldest was 30. Despite their age, this efficient group was responsible for reducing the city debt, lowering the tax levy, building and equipping the first engine house, and building a water tank in the event of fire.

The Western State Normal School began with a summer session on June, 1902, and the first regular term opened in September, with an enrollment of 23 students. The school was conducted in the old fort buildings until 1904, when the central portion of what was the main building was ready for occupancy. By 1910, the total enrollment had increased to almost 1,000 students.


In the first decade of the 20th Century, Hays grew quickly, reaching a population of almost 2,400 residents by 1910. Called one of the most progressive cities of western Kansas, it had an electric lighting plant, waterworks, a fire department, a telephone exchange, and in the spring of 1911, completed a sewer system. In addition to the Western State Normal School, the city also boasted an excellent system of public schools and St. Joseph's College, a Catholic institution. Among the industries and financial institutions of the time were two banks, three weekly newspapers (the News, the Free Press and the Review-Headlight), flour mills, grain elevators, machine shops, marble works, a creamery, good hotels, and a number of well stocked mercantile establishments.


Over the next century, Hays continued to grow, but was marked by disasters including devastating floods in 1907 and 1951 and an explosion of three gasoline tanks owned by Standard Oil in 1919, which killed eight people and injured about 150. In 1935, Hays, like the rest of Kansas was hit with violent dust storms.


But Hays always recovered from hardship and continued to progress. In 1914, the Western State Normal School separated from the school in Emporia and became Fort Hays Kansas State Normal School. It became the Kansas State Teachers College of Hays in 1923 and its name was changed to Fort Hays State College in 1931. It was elevated to university status in 1977.


In 1917, its dirt streets were bricked and by 1920, the population had reached more than 3,900 people.  

In 1931, the Palmer Stormkind oil field was founded, bringing more people to the area and in 1943, the nearby Walker Army Air Field was built adding 1500-2000 people to the population.


By 1950, Hays had grown to a population of 9,378 and in 1955, Old Fort Hays opened as a museum. It would later be acquired by the Kansas Historical Society and became and Kansas State Historic Site in 1967, which features four original buildings: the blockhouse (completed as the post headquarters in 1868), guardhouse, and two officers' quarters.


Today, as a center for education, business and culture for western Kansas, Hays is called home to about 20,000 people continues to display its rich history at not only Historic Fort Hays, but also at the Ellis County Historical Museum, Sternberg Museum of Natural History and the Boot Hill Cemetery. A historic walking tour of downtown provides 25 bronze plaques explain the significance of sites, where the famous and infamous walked the streets of Old Hays City. A brochure is available at the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau located at 1301 Pine Street, Suite B. Located on the Fort Hays State University campus is the Plymouth Stone Schoolhouse built in 1874. Frontier Park, located directly across from Historic Fort Hays is Frontier Park, which in addition to 89 acres of land that features several walking trails, waterfalls and scenic views, also maintains a buffalo herd.



Contact Information:


City of Hays

P.O. Box 490

2700 Vine Street

Hays, Kansas 67601  




Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated April, 2010.

Fort Hays Officer Quarters

Fort Hays Officer's Quarters, September, 2006, Kathy Weiser.


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