Located at the western edge of
Rush County, McCracken was established in December, 1886 along the soon to
be completed Missouri-Pacific Railroad. It was named for J. K. McCracken, one of
the first trustees. Immediately, lots began to be sold and within a month, the
fledgling town was assigned a post office on January 31, 1887. That first year,
the flourishing settlement also gained a bank, two grocery stores, a newspaper
called the McCracken Enterprise, drug store, theater, and numerous other
businesses. The Evangelical United Brethren Church of McCracken was also
established in 1887.
Before the town was even developed, area Catholic
parishioners had constructed a St. Mary's Church building in 1886 southwest of
McCracken, which would later be replaced with an stone building in 1906.
In 1901, the post rock City Jail was built, which
now serves as a museum. The following year, the Bank of McCracken was
established and constructed of native stone. This building also continues to
stand, appearing to be a residence today.
The early part of the 20th century was difficult for
McCracken as fire swept through its business district, the first time in 1905,
when the east side of Main Street was burned. Four years later, in January,
1909, another fire destroyed most of the buildings and businesses on the west
side of Main Street.
However, the town rebuilt and
persevered and by 1910, the city of some 371 people sported about 100
businesses, including a flour mill, grain elevators, several more churches, and
a telegraph and express office.
Just southwest of McCracken,
the Catholic congregation had grown to such an extent, that yet another St.
Mary’s Catholic Church was required to meet their needs. Stone from the existing
church was used for the basement and foundation before the work commenced to
build the impressive church that continues to stand today. The building was
completed in 1926.
Later, the small town would
profit from shale quarries that produced what was referred to as “wonder mud,”
which was widely used by drilling companies throughout the United States.
But, for McCracken the prosperity wouldn’t last and
when the Missouri-Pacific Railroad removed the town from its depot list for
passenger and freight trains, the city quickly declined.
Regrettably, in 1997, a restructuring of the area
Catholic churches took place in the area and mass was no longer held on a
regular basis at the impressive St. Mary’s Church. However, members of the
parish formed the Saint Mary's McCracken Heritage Association to preserve the
beautiful building, which is currently utilized for special occasions and
Today, the small town of McCracken supports less
than 200 people.
heritage; however, can still be seen at the McCracken Historical Museum located
in the former City Jail on Main Street. The native stone jail was originally
opened in 1901 and also housed the City Hall and Fire Department. The museum
displays numerous items relating to McCracken’s history as well as a display of
the 1973 movie, "Paper Moon," filmed in and around McCracken.
Across the street is is the old McCracken Grocery, a large two story building
built in 1919. The former grocery still displays its ornate tin ceiling,
original wood floors, and old fashioned shelves along its walls. Today, the old
structure houses an antique store.
The McCracken City Library also provides a collection of memorabilia of early
of Kansas, updated October 2019.