The first claim to be filed in the area was made by P.C. Dixon who settled on the banks of Walnut Creek in 1870 near what would become Walnut City (later Rush Center) in 1870. He was soon followed by the family of J. S. Templeton in August 1871. He and his wife soon had a son that they named Samuel Alpha, who was the first child born in Rush County.
With the promise of bountiful crops on the rich bottomlands of Walnut Valley, more and more settlers came to the area and the settlement that formed was called Walnut City. A post office was established on February 13, 1874.
At that time, the area between Walnut City and Alexander was bustling with young settlers under the protection of the cavalry units of Fort Larned, Fort Hays, Fort Dodge, and Fort Scott. The first church in the county was the Rush Center Methodist organized in June 1874. The first store in the county was a grocery, established in Center Township the same year by John Hubbard.
Rush County was officially organized on December 5, 1874, and named in honor of Captain Alexander Rush, of the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry, who was killed at Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas during the Civil War. Walnut City was designated as the temporary county seat and the city’s name was changed to Rush Centre (the spelling would be changed in 1895.) Just a few weeks later, the first newspaper was published, called the Walnut Valley Standard by W. P. Tomlinson on December 24th. It would continue to be published until it moved to La Crosse in the spring of 1877.
Within no time, a number of homes and businesses were established and the first school district was organized in 1875. That same year, the impressive two-story Pennsylvania House, a hotel and restaurant, was built. The hotel initially contained 36 rooms, a large windmill for fresh water, two fireplaces, and a wide “covered entry porch.”
Though the area was beginning to grow, just two years after the county was formed, it was re-surveyed and the southern tier of townships were transferred to neighboring Pawnee County in 1876. This changed the center of the county from Rush Center to La Crosse and an election was held to determine a permanent county seat in 1877. La Crosse won the county seat contest by 150 to 125 and the county building was moved on rollers from Walnut City to La Crosse.
However, the residents of Walnut City did not accept the results of the election, creating a county seat “war” that would rage in the courts for the next decade. Until a courthouse building began to be built in La Crosse in 1888, the battle raged in the courts and the county seat was moved back and forth between Walnut City and LaCrosse five times in accordance with the latest election, writ, or court decision. This caused much bitterness among the county residents which was aggravated by the many newspaper editorials and accusations of fraud and corruption.
By 1878, Rush Center boasted a population of more than 1,500 people, and the City Bus Line carried passengers around town in elegant coaches.
When the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1886, more prosperity was brought to the town. The Pennsylvania House expanded its hotel, adding an additional ten rooms.
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad also built a Harvey House Hotel which contained 50 rooms, a restaurant, three fireplaces, a wrap-around porch, and a passenger depot for the City Bus Line.
However, when the tug-of-war between La Crosse and Rush Center finally ended in 1888, the town began to dramatically decline. At the turn of the century, it boasted a bank, a weekly newspaper called the Breeze, a mill and grain elevator, and a number of retail establishments. But its population in 1910 had fallen to only about 250 people. However, the first county fair was held that year south of Rush Center.
Over the years, the population continued to fall and today, Rush Center supports only about 155 people. The old “county seat war” is celebrated every year in a two-mile-long St. Patrick’s Day Parade, where the “courthouse” is carried by wagon back to Rush Center every March 17th.
Rush Center is Located about four miles south of La Crosse on U.S. Highway 183.
Blackmar, William; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Standard Publishing Co., Chicago, IL,1912.
Reynolds, Judith; Rush County…The First 125 Years, Rush County Historical Society, 2000.
Rush County Org