Once the largest town in Rice County, Sterling is
located in the southern portion of the county on the
south of Lyons, the county seat. The settlement was first established in 1871
and called Peace. One of the earliest settlers was A.G. Landis who built a
store in the settlement which consisted of only about seven families. When the Atchison, Topeka
& Santa Fe Railroad built their tracks through the townsite in
1872, the town began to grow.
In 1876 the city was incorporated and its name was
changed to Sterling, in honor of Sterling Rosan, one of the early settlers. A
large business was established in May, 1876 called Landis & Holllinger, which
carried all manner of goods including groceries, boots & shoes, dry goods,
hardware, lumber, grain, furniture, farm implements, drugs, buffalo hides, and
buffalo meat. The business was located on the northwest corner of Broadway and
In 1878 the Davenport Elevator was built by Dow,
Hancock & Gilman, and soon two flouring mills -- the Crystal Mills and Keystone
Mills were established.
One of the largest early industries was the Sterling Syrup Works, erected in
1881. Operated by Clements & Eustis, the factory could produce 2,000 gallons of
syrup in a 24 hour period. The company raised their own cane on a tract of 640
acres and during peak periods, employed about 60 men.
A short time later a Sugar Factory was also
established by Reginald M. Sandys & Co. of New Orleans.
By 1883, its population had grown to about 1,500, at
which time the town sported three banks, two architects and builders, six
grocery stores, three hardware stores, three jewelry and music stores, four dry
goods stores, a furniture store, three hotels, a druggist, and two shoemakers.
In 1886 the Sterling Land and Investment Company was
organized and platted the "College Addition" to Sterling. Ten acres of land was
donated by an early settler named Pliny F. Axtell and the first building was
erected in October, 1886. The site was then offered to the United Presbyterian
Church Council of Kansas, with the condition that they endow, operate and
maintain the school. The offer was accepted and a charter was prepared in the
name "Cooper Memorial," in honor of Reverend Joseph Cooper, a revered former
leader of the Presbyterian denomination which founded the College. The original
curriculum offered four majors, and a preparatory department offering high
school courses for those students unable to attend such institutions in their
home communities. The major included a “Classical Course”, a general liberal
arts emphasis, a “Normal Course” for prospective teachers, an “English Course”
for future school administrators, and a business course.
Cooper Memorial College was opened on November 1,
1887. Over the next few years, additional buildings were built and departments
added. By the early 1900's the school had an enrollment of about 180 students.
By that time, the town had grown to include more
manufacturing facilities including two broom factories, a salt works, machine
shops, washing machine factory, flour mill, marble works, feed mill and a seed
cleaner factory. The city also boasted an opera house, three banks, two
weekly newspapers (the Bulletin and the Journal,) and numerous churches and
lodges. By 1910, the population was 2,133.
Cooper College was renamed Sterling College in 1920,
but continued to retain their original focus as a Christian college.
Over the next decades Sterling continued to grow
while still maintaining its small town atmosphere. Today, Sterling is called
home to about 2,600 people. Sterling College is its biggest employer.
City of Sterling
114 N. Broadway
P.O. Box 287
Sterling, Kansas 67579
of Kansas, updated March, 2017.