History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


Riley County, Kansas

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Riley County, Kansas



Riley County, Kansas Map, 1899

Riley County map, 1899.






One of the original counties organized by the first Territorial Legislature in 1855, Riley County is situated in northeast Kansas. Prior to the opening of the land to white settlers, the area comprising Riley County was part of the Kanza Indian Reservation, though by 1854 the natives had been moved.  


A number of historic roads came through Riley County. Colonel John C. Fremont on his second expedition in 1843 followed the rivers and streams to the present site of Fort Riley. The Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express crossed the county by way of the fort, which was also a station on the Butterfield Overland Dispatch route, and the south branch of the California Trail ran through by Manhattan.


The first white men in the area were at Fort Riley, established in 1853, at the junction of the Smoky Hill and Republican Rivers, to protect travelers along the many trails through the area. The first white man to settle in the county was Samuel Dyer of Tennessee, who operated a government ferry at Juniata or Dyer’s Crossing on the Big Blue River, a few miles above the present city of Manhattan, in the latter part of 1853. This settlement was at the crossing of the Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley road. In 1854, Reverend Charles E. Blood of New Hampshire came to Juniata and began missionary labors. In the same year Thomas Reynolds settled in what is now Ogden Township. His house was used as a polling place for the first election, which was held in that year, when 40 votes were polled for delegate to Congress, the majority of them for the free-state candidate.


The county derived its name from Fort Riley, and the first capital of the territory was at Pawnee, just east of the military reservation two miles from the fort, where the old building used as the first capitol still stands. Dr. William A. Hammond, Captain Nathaniel Lyon, Robert Klotz, Robert Wilson, and several others had settled there before the legislature met on July 2, 1855. When the site of the capitol was declared to be illegally situated on Indian reservation land, it closed down in August 1855.


A number of other towns also quickly developed, including Ogden, which got most of its initial settlers from the defunct Pawnee. The Ogden settlement was comprised mostly of pro-slavery advocates as did the original town or Randolph, originally settled by Gardner Randolph came to Kansas from Tennessee to build a plantation home near the mouth of Fancy Creek. All the other towns settled in Riley County during the territorial years would be settled primarily with people who were Free-State advocates.


Manhattan was also founded early through the efforts of four separate town-founding groups.

In the fall of 1854 George Park founded the town of Poleska along the Kansas River and the next year, Samuel Dexter Houston and four other men founded the town of Canton at the foot of Bluemont Hill. Isaac Goodnow and the New England Emigrant Aid Company settled at the junction of the Blue and Kansas Rivers in the spring of 1855. These people were soon joined by the Cincinnati and Kansas Land Company in June, 1855, and the four groups combined their resources to create Manhattan.


On the organization of the county the Territorial Legislature elected officers and the temporary county seat was designated at Ogden, where a provisional courthouse was rented. In the election to choose a permanent county seat the contesting towns were Ogden and Manhattan, the former receiving a majority of votes.


Later, fraud was proven and Manhattan became the county seat. The next legislature passed an act making Manhattan the permanent county seat and requiring the county officers to move the county records.


Covered wagons in Manhattan, Kansas

Covered wagons in Manhattan, 1860.


Kansas State Agricultural College, Manhattan, Kansas, 1885Shortly after organizing Manhattan, a college was founded and a charter obtained from the Territorial Legislature for the Bluemont Central College Association. The school opened in 1860 under the supervision of the Methodist Church. In 1863, it became the Kansas State Agricultural College, and today is the Kansas State University.


Some of the first post offices in the county were in Ashland, established in 1853; one in Zeandale township, about 1857; Stanton, in May Day township in 1869; Ogden and Riley Center. The first schools in the county were at Manhattan and in Ashland Township in 1857. The next year a school was opened in Zeandale Township, Grant and Ogden townships following in 1859.



Old Trooper Statue at Fort RileyThe development of the Kansas Pacific Railroad through Manhattan and Ogden in 1866, provided much growth to the two towns and over the years, a number of other lines were added to the county. As Riley County continued to attract more settlers, more towns were developed, many of which no longer exist today. 


In 1870 a colony of Welsh settlers organized the town of Powys, located about two miles east of present-day Bala. When they were unable to find enough water, they relocated two miles west and formed the town of Bala in 1871. The Bala school closed in 1964 and the post office suspended delivery in 1966, leaving the old settlement a ghost town.


Other towns were settled on the trade routes including May Day in 1871 and Bodaville in 1885, neither one of which exists today. Other old settlements included Peach Grove, Swede Creek, Center Hill, Parallel, Tabor Valley, Deep Creek, Rose Hill, Alert, Grandview, and Mariadahl. 


Two resort communities were also established such as Blasing Springs in 1882, which provided mineral water for medicinal drinking and bathing. The 3-story hotel that once stood there was destroyed by a tornado in 1943. Another was Manhattan Beach, also called the Eureka Lake Resort, was built by C.P. Dewey in 1899 on an elbow lake of the Kansas River. The flood of 1903 destroyed the lake and resort was later sold.


At the turn of the century, Riley County boasted almost 14,000 residents and over the years continued to grow and diversify. Today, the county supports nearly 63,000 people, many employed at Kansas State University and three other colleges as well as the Fort Riley Military Installation. The county provides a number of museums and historic sites that tell of its long history.



The current towns of Riley County include:




Population (estimated 2004)

Ashland (unincorporated)


Bala (unincorporated)


Keats (unincorporated)


Lasita (unincorporated)




Manhattan (county seat)








Rocky Ford (unincorporated)









Contact Information:


Riley County Kansas

110 Courthouse Plaza

Manhattan, Kansas 66502




Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated March, 2017.


About the Article: Much of the historic text in this articles comes from Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, edited by Frank W. Blackmar,  published  in 1912 as well as Kansas: History of the State of Kansas, by William G. Cutler; published in 1883. However, other sources have also been used, the content combined, and heavily edited.

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