Allen, Kansas, located in northcentral Lyon County, was founded in 1854.
The first settler in the area and the county was Charles H. Withington, who located along the old Santa Fe Trail at 142 Mile Creek.
Withington was also one of the State’s earliest settlers, coming to Kansas in 1846 and working as a gunsmith to the Sac and Fox Indians. In June 1854, he moved to Lyon County and opened a store on the Santa Fe Trail.
In 1851 he was appointed United States Mail Agent, and his store became known far and wide as the only “commercial establishment” in southern Kansas. On February 26, 1855, a post office opened in his store, and the settlement was named after Withington’s friend, pioneer Allen McGee.
In 1857, when the bulk of the early immigration flowed to Lyon County, and for years afterward, Mr. Withington was prominent in many county affairs. The settlement prospered with the traffic along the Santa Fe Trai until the road fell into disuse in the 1870s.
When the Missouri Pacific Railroad began to build through the area in 1886, they planned to build only two stations in the county at Admire and Bushong. However, the people of Allen also wanted a station from which to ship livestock and other goods. The railroad agreed to a station, but it had to be along their planned route. As a result, the town moved about three miles southwest and platted a new townsite. Te Allen Town Company was established by John Grimsley, George Withington, R.A. Reaburn, D.W. Leavell, W.E. Rust, E.R. Marcy, and Emil Shellack. The company purchased two quarter-sections for the new town, and the former site then became known as Old Allen.
Most of the lots were soon sold, but a strip of land measuring 100 feet wide and five blocks long was given the Missouri Pacific as a site for its station buildings, siding, and stockyards.
In May 1886, the railroad was completed across Lyon County. The first house was brought from a farm five miles north. Dr. E. H. Shellack was the first physician/surgeon, arriving in early 1887. He was also the proprietor of the Palace Drug Store. The school district for the town was organized in March 1887. The post office was moved from its original site in April 1887, and E. R. Marcy, who had been postmaster at Old Allen, opened the first store in the new town and continued to fill the role of postmaster until Grimsley was appointed. Mr. Marcy also had a rooming house above his grocery store.
Three church organizations were quickly established, including the Methodist Protestants, Methodist Episcopals, and Christians, all of which were initially served by traveling ministers. Services were held on the second floor of the Marcy store building. The Methodist Protestants built a church in 1887 at the cost of $384.49. The first newspaper called Allen Tidings was founded in May 1887, and the depot was completed in August. Two hotels were also built that year, including the Grand Central Hotel on the west side of Main Street and the wood-frame Allen Hotel on the east side of Main Street. When school started in September 1887, classes for grades one through eight were first held in the Methodist Protestant church building until they moved them to a new schoolhouse in December.
Wooden sidewalks were installed in 1889, and the Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1892. In 1894, the Allen Tidings newspaper changed hands and was then called the Allen Herald. The State Bank of Allen was founded in June 1895.
In the next years, the town boasted hotels, blacksmith shops, hardware stores, general mercantiles harness and livery shops, dry goods stores, barbers, a furniture shop, a mortician butcher shop, cheese shop, bakery, creamery, a lumber yard, and a broom factory. At some point, the Allen Opera House was established on the upper floor of the Skaggs Hardware Store that provided entertainment.
In 1897, the Allen Herald newspaper sold and then became the Northern Lyon County Journal. In 1903, there were two telephone companies in Allen, but one soon bought the other out.
In 1907, a fire started in the loft of a livery stable on Main Street, and high winds quickly spread the fire destroying the 1897 Allen Hotel, Skaggs Hardware/Allen Opera House and its storage building, and four houses. The next year, a new Allen Hotel was constructed of limestone and built in the block south of the previous building.
In 1908, the Northern Lyon County Journal changed hands and became known as the Allen Enterprise until 1914. At that time, the previous editor, D. S. Gilmore, returned to Allen and changed the name back to the Northern Lyon County Journal. It soon became the largest and most important weekly newspaper in Lyon County outside of Emporia. Serving the north end of the county, including Allen, Admire, Bushong and Miller, the newspaper continued until 1952.
In 1909 the old wood-frame school building was sold and moved, and a new two-story limestone school with a basement was built. That same year, the town was incorporated, and James S. Barr became the first mayor. In 1910, Allen was described as “one of the principal towns of Lyon County” with a population of 286. At that time, it had a money order post office with two rural routes, a bank, several good mercantile houses, a graded public school, churches of various denominations, and was doing considerable shipping of livestock and farm products.
The Allen Rural High School was organized in 1912, and classes were held in the same building as the grade school until 1948, when an addition was added to the east side of the school.
In 1918, another fire destroyed a garage, blacksmith shop, several cars and damaged the hotel. In 1920, Allen established its own electric light plant and retained it until 1940, when it was sold to Kansas Power & Light.
In April 1922, high excitement was created when the engineer of an east-bound freight train approached Allen and lost control of his engine as another westbound train was headed toward the town. As the east-bound train came through town at high speed, the two trains collided at the east edge of town. Though the two engines were almost welded together and 14 railcars were demolished, no one was killed or severely hurt.
Allen’s population peaked in 1930 at 343 and in the next decades gradually dropped. In the midst of the Great Depression, the bank was closed on December 3, 1930.
Beginning in 1934, the Northern Lyon County Free Fair was held annually that included prizes for both local and 4-H entries and rodeos. These were discontinued in the 1950s.
In 1957 the Northern Heights High School opened near Allen for all area high school students.
In January 1963, fire struck the town again and took out a block of businesses.
As area populations dropped, several town schools went through consolidations. In 1970, all area elementary students were sent to Admire, and other town schools closed, including Allen’s.
In 2010, the Admire Elementary school closed, and all area students were sent to Reading and Americus.
The population of this small town is about 170 today.
© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of Kansas, April 2021.
Santa Fe Trail Through Lyon County
Blackmar, Frank W.; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol I; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.
North Lyon County Historical Society