From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.

Leavenworth Times, Wednesday Evening, July 16, 1947, page 7.



Carney Gave Kansas Financial Credit; Brought Prison Here

by Harry H. Seckler


It is to the shame of the pioneer residents of Leavenworth that they did not sufficiently appreciate one of its prominent citizens to name a street for him nor give him any other recognition for what he did for the city and county is using his influence in locating the state prison at Lansing.

And the state of Kansas also owes him a debt of gratitude for giving it a solid financial standing with the money powers of the east when the state sorely needed such; and he did it by risking his then immense fortune to guarantee the payment of Kansas bonds.

The citizen referred to was Tom Carney, second governor of Kansas, who in 1865-66 filled the state's highest elective office; later was mayor of Leavenworth, and one of the city's wealthiest and most progressive citizens. Born in Delaware, O.(Ohio), the eldest of four sons, yet he was of a teen age at the time of his father's death. He remained with the mother until he was 19 years old, hauling products from their little farm by ox team to Newark, 36 miles distant.

Had First Wholesale House Here

At 19 he left home with $3.50 in his pocket, but determined to make his way in the world. At Berkshire, O., he worked for his board mornings, evenings and Saturdays while attending school. In 1844 he obtained employment in a retail drygoods concern at Columbus, salary $50 per month. In his second year his merchandising knowledge was recognized when he was made partner in the firm of Carney, Swift and Company, in Cincinnati. It became one of the leading drygoods houses in the country.

Twelve years of work so impaired his health that he came west, and in 1857, in partnership with Thomas C. Stevens he opened the first wholesale house in Leavenworth, at the northwest corner of Delaware and Water (later known as Levee) streets. When Stevens retired the firm was titled as Carney, Fenlon and Company. Later the local business title was changed to Thomas Carney and Company. Mr. Carney disposed of his interests in the concern in 1875.

Carney Residence Recalled

The Carney residence, at the southwest corner of Fourth and Walnut streets, is or should be within the recollection of all of the present day "oldsters." Atop a high hill, it commanded a view of all of Leavenworth from its roof, the central portion of which was surrounded by a square balustrade. The house was reached by a climb of many steps from the Fourth street side, and entirely surrounding the block square premises, was a dressed stone wall upon which sat and brushed up on their lessons the students in the old high school, formerly the Westminster Presbyterian church, north side of Walnut between Fourth and Fifth.

The property was acquired by the Presbyterian church and the house let down an incline by expert building movers to its present location. It was for some time used as the Presbyterian manse, but is now the home of the local branch of the American Red Cross.

Endorsed Kansas State Bonds

In 1861 Thomas Carney was elected to the second legislature; his record commended him to the Republicans as a candidate for governor; he was elected and took office January 12, 1862. He displayed his unselfish patriotism by personally endorsing the bonds of the state, establishing the credit of Kansas in the east.

In 1865-66 he was mayor of Leavenworth, and one of the founders of the present First National bank which had its first quarters in the building at the northeast corner of Main and Delaware streets, on the Main street level of the structure that housed his wholesale business on Water street.

Of Governor Carney's act in establishing the credit of the state of Kansas with the money powers of the east, Blackmar's History of Kansas says, in referring to the explanation of his course to the state legislature:

"The message does not state--probably to the governor's modesty--that one of the potent influences in establishing the state's credit in New York was his personal indorsement of the bonds, yet such was the case. The Topeka Commonwealth of July 29, 1868, in commenting on the transaction, said: 'At this very critical moment Kansas was indeed in a pitiable condition. She was the seat of a terrible conflict (Civil war) and her finances were bankrupt. Governor Carney himself started east and negotiated a loan for a sum of money considerably over $100,000. It was made negotiable by the fact that he endorsed the paper individually. At this time he was very rich and thus an individual endorsing the paper of the State of Kansas for a fortune, secured money with which to conduct the state government.'"

Lansing Prison Due to Him

It has been claimed that Dr. Charles Robinson, first governor of Kansas, sought to prevent Leavenworth from obtaining the Kansas penitentiary, while he at the same time was seeking to obtain the present University of Kansas for Lawrence. No mention of any such contention, however, is to be found in any Kansas history.

Governor Carney, during his term, urged acceptaince[sic] of a grant of land for the State university and also the erection of a penitentiary at the earliest possible day. The legislature of 1863 enacted laws for the promotion of the university at Lawrence and the penitentiary at Lansing. On the last day of the year the penitentiary directors reported they had made a contract for the erection of a prison building. The prison commission was given power to select a tract of land on which good building stone could be found, and to erect temporary buildings for prisoners and officers until permanent buildings could be completed, and $20,000 was appropriated for this purpose. No action was immediately taken, however, and state prisoners were kept in various places in Leavenworth for some years.

In 1863 $25,000 was appropriated for the erection of a prison building and the contract was let, the site chosen being on "high ground about five miles south of Leavenworth." The first ground was broken in 1864 and foundation walls of the north wing built, but not until 1866 was work resumed when penitentiary bonds to the amount of $60,000 were sold in New York. The prison committee had decided to visit several other penal institutions before completing final plans. After deliberation it was decided to model it after the Joliet, Ill., prison. E. T. Carr, an architect who came first to Fort Leavenworth from Syracuse, N. Y., to erect officer quarters at Fort Leavenworth, was chosen to draw the plans.

First Occupied July 11, 1868

The contract was awarded to John McCarthy and Calvin Adams, who, because of conditions during the Civil war did not begin work until the spring of 1864, but after a small amount of work was done, work was abandoned until the spring of 1866. A second contract was awarded to Flory and Caldwell; the first buildings being completed and the prison first occupied on July 11, 1868. The original cellhouses were 50 by 250 feet, each containing 34 cells, with the central or administration building occupying a position between them. The original buildings were of sandstone. In 1912 it was estimated that the prison had cost up to that time $2,000,000.

George Keller was appointed the first warden, in 1863. Warden Philbrick followed him in 1864, and he was succeeded by Harry Hopkins in 1865. the latter was so popular and successful as a prison executive that he held the office for more than 17 years.

In 1879 a bill was passed for the sinking of a coal shaft at the penitentiary. Warden Hopkins began it and his successor, W. C. Jones, completed it and soon had the mine on a paying basis.

Oklahoma Sent Prisoners

Before the US penitentiary and prison at Fort Leavenworth were built, the military and federal prisoners were kept at the Kansas prison. Men sentenced to serve prison terms by the Oklahoma courts were boarded at the Kansas penitentiary for a number of years, the last being removed on January 31, 1909, to Oklahoma.

At one time the state made contracts with private parties to furnish convict labor within the walls, and for some years furniture, wagons (the famous Caldwell), shoes, monuments, marble mantels, and many kinds of farm implements were made by the inmates. In 1907 a law was passed doing away with convict labor for private employers.

Prisoners were employed in the coal mine, which is soon to be abandoned. This shaft for years furnished coal for all of the state institutions, but doubtless due to the vast quantities of natural gas now being provided the institutions, coal mining is to become a thing of the past. For years there has been an agitation in the state to abandon the pit, it being claimed it was a crime school where the hardened criminals, usually assigned to dig coal, taught the younger prisoners the rudiments of crime in all its phases and that, when these youngsters went out into the world having served their time, they were more vicious and had a wider knowledge of how "to beat the rap" than ever before.

The twine plant, which manufactured the sisal twine so much in demand in the days of the old wheat and oat binding machines, also has been disposed of. Time was when Lansing twine was a boon to the wheat raisers, but with the coming of the combines went the call for the twine. It is planned to employ some of the inmates in the making of automobile license plates, this plant to be removed from the State reformatory where it has been for some years, to the Lansing institution.

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