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Emporia - Hub of East Central Kansas

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Emporia, Kansas between 1861-65Emporia, the county seat of Lyon County and one of the principal cities of the state, is located near the center of the county. Situated just six miles above the junction of the Neosho and Cottonwood Rivers, it sits in the geographic area called the Osage Cuestas in north central Kansas.

Located on upland prairie, Emporia was founded on February 20, 1857, drawing its name from a historic Greek market center. When the Kansas Territorial Legislature ratified the town charter for Emporia, it declared to be "the loveliest site in the world for a town." When the city was founded it was part of Breckinridge County, which was formed in 1855. Named in honor of John C. Breckenridge, a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, who became Vice-President of the United States in 1856, the area was originally part of Madison County.


Changes in boundaries over the next few years led to the creation of Breckinridge and eventually the elimination of Madison County. The county name was later changed in honor of General Nathaniel Lyon, who was killed while in command of the Union Army at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri on August 10, 1861.


Preston B. PlumbThe principal founder and promoter of the settlement was a man named Preston B. Plumb. Although a young man at the time – only 20 years old, Plumb, originally from Ohio, was ambitious. After founding Emporia, he would go on to be admitted to the bar, serve in the Civil War, become a member of the Kansas House of Representatives and a U.S. Senator. Other interested parties in founding the new settlement were George W. Deitzler. G. W. Brown, Lyman Allen and Columbus Hornsby, all of Lawrence. C. V. Eskridge was appointed agent of the townsite company, for the sale of its property and to look after its general business interests.

The town charter prohibited gambling and liquor sales, the penalty being the forfeiture of the property on which the misdemeanor took place. Thus, Emporia’s founders established the first prohibition town in the world, anticipating by 23 years the state prohibition amendment and by 61 years the 18th Amendment bringing national prohibition.

The first building was a 1 ½ story wooden boarding house erected by John Hammond. Before long, a Mr. and Mrs. T. H. Clapp from New York came to town. Hammond hired Mrs. Clapp, the first woman in the settlement, to cook for him. Within no time, the boarding house was crowded to its utmost capacity. The building was also used for religious services, educational purposes, county headquarters, and a broker's office.

The second building was the store of Hornsby & Fick. Working as a clerk in the store was townsite agent, C. V. Eskridge, who would eventually own it. When the post office was moved from Columbia in September, 1857, store owner, Mr. Fick, became the Emporia's first postmaster.


The next building completed was the Emporia House, the town company's hotel. John Hammond, who owned the boarding house, first operated it, but, after running it for a few months, resigned in favor of Mrs. Elizabeth Storrs, who therefore, may be considered the first regular land-lady of Emporia. In the meantime, the News building was not yet completed, and the Emporia House also served as the newspaper's temporary printing office. Town founder, Preston B. Plumb, published the first edition of the Kanzas News, later the Emporia News, on June 6, 1857 from an upstairs room. In its first edition the newspaper provided this description of fledgling town:


“Emporia is situated between the Neosho and Cottonwood creeks, six miles above their junction. To the west it gradually rises for a distance of several miles. On the north and south are large belts of the finest timber, along the Neosho and Cottonwood Rivers, while the various smaller, streams emptying into them at this point, all well timbered, serve to make it one of the best timbered regions in Kansas. Coal and building stone are found here in abundance. Emporia was located in March last. About the first of April, the erection of a large hotel was commenced by the town company, which has just been completed. A commodious store house has just been erected and filled with goods, and another is in process of erection. A large saw and gristmill, with lath and shingle machines attached, is being put up on the town site. Another large saw-mill is in process of construction one half a mile distant. There is, at present, one saw-mill in operation near the junction, six miles distant, which has furnished the lumber used in the erection of the buildings now on the townsite. There is also another saw-mill eight miles above, on the Cottonwood River, which is in operation.” 



Kanzas NewsWhen the News building was completed, it became the 4th building in the townsite. It served the newspaper for 14 years before the building began to be utilized for a number of other purposes including as residence, post office, bank, furniture factory, city hall, church, and hardware store.

Founder and newspaper man,
Preston B. Plumb, would state in his paper: "The country around here is fast filling up with an energetic, industrious and intelligent population who will develop the rich resources of this fertile region and make it the center of wealth and intelligence." Jacob Stotler, the print foreman for Plumb's Kanzas News, credited the newspaper with much of the town’s early growth and development. The news not only provided information, but it served the role of an early day chamber of commerce.


"We do not exaggerate when we say that the regular appearance of The News during the first year of the history of Emporia did more to save the town and establish its firmness in the confidence of the people than all else put together," Stotler wrote. "It betokened a faith and purpose which put down the croakers who prophesied that the town would fail. It inspired confidence in those already here, and induced others to come. Its suspension, even temporarily, would have resulted disastrously for the town; and its combined regular publication during that year was the greatest pecuniary sacrifice that has been made for the benefit of Emporia and this surrounding country."


The town company encouraged improvement by setting aside a number of lots to be given to those who would put up buildings on them. Mr. Parham, a druggist from Leavenworth, Kansas and Mr. Phelps, a Michigan man, were among the new arrivals, and built a saw-mill.

Despite the fast growth of the area that first year, the actual population of Emporia was only about 540 people, and the town’s two greatest needs were water and railroads. During the first year, water was carried from the
Cottonwood River in barrels.

In the summer of 1857, railroad matters, religious matters, educational topics, lack of water and mail troubles all served to agitate the young Emporia. The Baptists and Methodists held services in the old hotel office. Mail facilities were abominable, and the citizens of Emporia insisted on having a school.
The third public meeting ever held in the town, was a railroad convention which assembled in June.

The first issue to be resolved was the mail. Because a post office had already been established at Columbia, three miles southeast of Emporia on the
Cottonwood River, the government refused to favor one for Emporia because the other was so close. However, when Columbia postmaster, John Fowler, resigned, the post office was moved to Emporia on September 19, 1857. H.W. Fick became the town’s first postmaster. The issue of schools was resolved when the first public school was that taught by Miss Mary Jane Watson, in October, 1857, and in April, 1858, the Reverend G. C. Morse and his wife opened the Emporia Academy.


Likely location of Columbia, Kansas

One of the first settlements in Lyon County, Columbia has entirely vanished today.

Photo courtesy Diana Staresinic-Deane, Unearthing Stories on the Prairie.


Soden Flour Mill, Emporia, Kansas

The Soden Flour Mill on the Cottonwood River was one of the early businesses of Emporia.

The two-story structure was built in 1860 by William T. Soden. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground in the 1930s.


In the second week of May, 1858, the water problem was also resolved when it was saved by a well. John Hammond had been hired by Preston B. Plumb to find water. He was successful while digging on Mechanic Street on the site of the present day civic auditorium. The growth of the town was brisk from the beginning. In the subsequent years before the Civil War, a steady stream of settlers located in the town and in the surrounding country, new business enterprises were established, and a number of churches were built.


The Kanzas News became the Emporia News in 1858, and Plumb sold half interest in the business to his print foreman, Jacob Stotler. The following year, Stotler bought Plumb's remaining interest in the newspaper, as Plumb pursued other interests in politics.


As 1859 began, The Emporia News congratulated the town in its New Year’s issue on the growth and general prosperity of the city. "All its mechanical shops had plenty to do at good wages, "Stotler wrote. "There were four stores at that time, and they were profitable (the Proctor general merchandise store, the hardware store of Edward Borton, the Fick & Eskridge and the P.G. Hallberg stores). Several houses were in the course of construction, and seventeen lots had been donated by the town company for new buildings to be erected at once. More than fifty houses would be erected during the season."




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