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The county seat
of Jefferson County, Oskaloosa is one of the oldest towns in the county,
having been settled by Dr. James Noble in February, 1855. Situated on
gently sloping hills extending back from the left bank of Big Slough
Creek, a more settlers came from Iowa that same year, finding the location
ideal for a number of business purposes. Among these Iowa settlers were
the founders of the town -- Jesse Newell and Joseph Fitsimons.
Though it would
be several years before the community gained a church, a Baptist minister
began holding religious services in his in the spring of 1855.
Block, Oskaloosa, Kansas in 1929
The following year,
Newell bought Noble’s farm and Fitsimons bought land adjacent to Newell. The
pair then laid out a town of forty acres, which was very similar to their former
home of Oskaloosa, Iowa, for which the new settlement was named. The first stone
building was erected early in 1856, by Isaac Newhouse, but was purchased by
Joseph Fitsimons, who opened the first store. In the meantime, Jesse Newell
built a sawmill.
A post office opened in November, 1856 and Joseph Fitsimons served as the first
postmaster. Early on, the large lots were planted in forest and orchard trees,
which over time provided perfect shade and abundance of fruit for the community.
Though things were off to a good start in the tiny settlement the area, like
others in eastern Kansas,
was involved in the violence of the
Kansas-Missouri Border War.
Two skirmishes took place near Oskaloosa in September, 1856 including the Battle
of Slough Creek on the 11th and the
Hickory Point, two days later.
In the spring of 1857 the first school was built from native timber. The frame
building was a simple rough board enclosure and the students were first taught
by Miss Mary Finnicome. Later, the teacher became the wife of Joseph Fitsimons.
Located in the eastern part of the town, the building would later become part of
Thomas H. Noble's store.
At about the same time, the founders of the town were struggled to manage the
business alone and formed a town company. Its members were: Jesse Newell, who
was president; Joseph Fitsimons, Franklin Finch, Henry Owens, N. B. Hopewell, V.
F. Newell, John Newell, Isaac Newhouse, William Meredith and W. C. Stagg.
That first year, the town grew slowly, but by the end of the year, it had about
a dozen buildings, including a large hotel built of native timber by Thomas H.
Noble. However, the following year, in 1858, the town really began to grow.
South of Oskaloosa sat the Delaware Indian Reserve which was expected would soon
be open for settlement. In anticipation, large numbers of settlers located in
the area, erecting small houses. By the close of the year the population
numbered several hundred.
In October, 1858, the county seat was located at Oskaloosa by a
majority of four votes and the area continued to flourish.
The public school district was formed in 1859 and a new schoolhouse was built
the following year.
Union Block, Oskaloosa, Kansas today, Kathy Weiser, May, 2010.
The summer of
1860 was that of that of a big drought and a great member of settlers left
the area. But, many determinedly stayed and a number of new enterprises
were undertaken including a newspaper called the Independent, and a
schoolhouse, church and grist-mill were erected. By the close of the year
the population was more than 400.
The Oskaloosa Independent newspaper, one of the oldest in the
state, was established on July 2, 1860 by John W. Roberts. A strong
abolitionist, Roberts actually lived in Ohio but, wrote editorials from
his home and his brother-in-law, J.W. Day, was the local editor and
business manager. Two years later, Roberts moved to Kansas
and the newspaper remained in the family for decades. It continues to be
Owing to the
failure of crops, the year 1860 was a dull one, and the citizens devised
various schemes to while away the time. During this time, a rather
singular invention was made by Samuel Peppard. It was a sailing wagon,
weighing about 350 pounds and equipped with a sail 9 by 11 feet raised
over the front axle. The steering apparatus was attached to the front and
it moved along with the wind, sometimes at the rate of 15 miles an hour. A
party consisting of Peppard, Steve Randall, J. T. Forbes and Gid. Coldon
started to Pike's Peak in the vehicle. They had about 400 pounds of
provisions and ammunition. They made the trip to within about one hundred
miles of Denver in safety, but were then they were struck by a whirlwind,
it completely demolished the vehicle, and injured its occupants. They had
been on the road about four weeks, but only traveled nine days. Sometimes
they traveled at the rate of fifteen miles per hour.
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