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.

History of Leavenworth

by Dr. W. L. Pratt, M.D. (written between 1932-1935)

Note: All spellings are as they appeared in the original typed monograph. It is sometimes disjointed and spacing is as in the original.

All people living in Leavenworth have more than a casual interest in the city. Certainly it is expected of us as individuals to be more familiar with our own city than with other cities we hear about or have visited. Let me assure you that no city in America has a more colorful history than our own.

Fort Leavenworth was established in 1827 by Colonel Leavenworth, who was ordered by his military chiefs in Washington to establish a contonment on the left bank of Missouri River anywhere within twenty miles from the mouth of the Kansas River. The site for his selection was much more wonderful than any he could find within the domain advised, that he establish temporary quarters and awaited official action.

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill was signed by President Pierce 1854. Senator Atchison of Missouri telegraphed his friends in Platte city telling them to go over and take possession of the good land it is yours. The news spread quickly, there was a mad rush. They staked out claims on nearly every quarter section extending out 40 to 50 miles and down to the Kansas River, that was not on Indian reservation in less than a week. Most of these squatters were from Platte County, Missouri. The first squatters meeting was held in Salt Creek Valley at Riveleys Store, May 9, 1854, about 200 were present.

The business men of Weston sought townsites in the new lands, of course, as a business speculation to make money for themselves. The plan was simply to control land cheaply then encourage businesses to start so that lots would be of increased value.

Within a few days the town of Weston, Missouri sent out three swarms, each like a bee hive. The first to Leavenworth the next to Kickapoo, the third to Atchison; soon all became bustling towns. This townsite was laid out by an association of thirty men as follows: three ministers, four lawyers, five doctors, two printers, eight farmers, one surveyor, four merchants, two army officers, and one army clerk. The tract of land these men controlled extended from the military reservation south to Three Mile Creek and from the Missouri River west to the extent of three hundred and twenty acres.

It is interesting to note how Three Mile Creek got its title.

The name of the townsite was nearly adopted as being Douglas in honor for the author of the Kansas - Nebraska Bill but at this juncture business consideration was not forgotten and the name Leavenworth was suggested claiming that Fort Leavenworth was known as the handsomest and most desirable location on the Missouri, River and that one hundred mile around every one would suppose the town were located at the post, it would greatly assist the sale of lots and invite settlers from all parts of the country.

General George Gist was president of the town company he surveyed and laid out the town site and the tracts of land west of the city known as the "Gist Survey." All densely covered with timber and heavy underbrush. The east and west streets from Choctaw and to Cheyenne were named after prominent Indians Tribes to preserve their nomenclature for all time.

City of Leavenworth was dully incorporated and a special charter granted by the first Territorial legislature as Shawnee mission in the Summer of 1855.

The streets were laid out as sixty foot wide except Delaware which was seventy foot wide. The public auction of lots was held and the highest price paid was three hundred and fifty dollars for the lot where the building of Catlin and Knox wholesale boat (boot) and shoe company now rests its ruins.

The first newspaper, the Kansas Herald, published in the territory was set up and printed in the shade of an elm tree at the north west corner of Front Cherokee Streets. The second issue from a one story building situated where the Union railroad depot now is. Business concentrated in that section -- Levee, water, main, 2nd, Delaware, and Cherokee, Shawnee--.

Steamboats were the means of communication at this time four and five steam boats at one time was not unusual.

By August 1854 people began pouring into Kansas by every steamboat from St. Louis, wagons from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Western Ohio. Leavenworth was improving as rapidly as time would permit. A two story frame hotel was built the first hotel in the territory of Kansas. The jealously and rivalry was acute between the towns of Leavenworth, Kickapoo and Atchison.

Saloons and gambling houses flourished in all river towns at this date. Leavenworth was born and reared in the atmosphere of the slavery question. It grew together with fumes from slavery and free state sentiment.

Large store houses were established in Leavenworth. The famous transportation Company of Majors Russel and Wadell had headquarters here. They employed two thousand men in all, many working with oxen to transport freight to Colorado, New Mexico, Salt Lake and to the various military forts. Later the Pikes Peak Express started from here. This was the largest city above St. Louis.

First Church service October 8, 1854 -- Methodist.

March, 1855 there was a $300,000 fire at Easton, which contributed to the growth of Leavenworth, by 1857 there were nearly 5000 people. 1858 about 10,000 population and half the business destroyed by fire. A year later about 15,000.

Many newspapers sprang into prominence during this city's infancy. The weekly Times started in 1857, the Daily Times in 1858 (published by Colonel Daniel R. Anthony, grandfather of the present publisher, D. R. Anthony).

The growth of Leavenworth was phenomenal. The Civil war which then began to bring demoralization and ruin to nearly all boarder towns had the opposite effect upon this city and stimulated it to greater growth.

Much of the growth and prosperity was artificial as it sprang from accidents of war and misfortunes of our neighboring towns. When war ended troops were reduced at the Fort from many thousands to a few hundreds neighboring towns then began building up their lost trade. Leavenworth then experienced hard times, it entered upon a depression of several years. It had built upon a fictitious and inflated basis far beyond the demands of the surrounding country. At this time one fifth the population of the state lived within the city.

This caused business to languish and improvements to stop. This soon gave the once rushing growing city the reputation of a "dead town".

The sole dependence of the place was upon commercial interests of buying and selling goods which was fine so long as people had to come here to get them but when the war was over the neighboring towns regained their markets.

The rapid business activity of Leavenworth consisted of handling goods there was no manufacturing no other chief means of industry. At this critical time it was a city without business, a people without employment.

The building of railroads in these parts occurred with the closest of the Civil War and this process revolutionized business.

The race for commercial supremacy was composed of the cities; Independence, Kansas City, Leavenworth and St. Joseph. The business venture of building a railroad across the Missouri River was considered by capitalists of Boston, Massachusetts. Engineers were sent to study and to determine the most suitable location for this costly investment in an uncertain frontier. After much study and deliberation these experts advised that the structure be built across the Missouri, River at Leavenworth. The final arrangements to that end were wrested from Leavenworth by superior alertness and energy through a Committee representing Kansas City. It was their last desperate plea and with great determination they drew attention to the converging water levels at the mouth of Kansas River intimating that a box car 200 miles northwest, west, or southwest from Kansas City if given a good shove would finds its way to the future distributing centre of the west. After a few years of construction a Burlington connection crossed the river, it was the second through line from the east. And there the race ended between the two cities with Kansas City far out in front.

Early business establishments in Leavenworth were of course very small stores as is the custom in any village. With the rapid growth and prosperity that quickly followed many of these stores developed into large concerns. Many famous establichments originated in Leavenworth, some of them we are proud to have prospering with us still, others have moved, chiefly to Kansas City.

The Great western Manufacturing Company, a large, very wonderful concern started in 1858. That company, started to Manufacture stoves in 1866 that branch increased that in 1875 the Great West Stove Company was founded and has expanded until now it is one of the largest, factories of its kind in the world.

Abernathy Furniture Company, started in 1854, it now is a huge factory.

There was The Kansas Wagon Manufactoring Company that produced 7000 wagons a year and employed 233 men.

Soap factory in 1857, many popular brands of soap/

Kansas Corset.

Three carriage Factories '63, '65, '75.

Hersfield Jewelry 1856. Later $350,000 sales.

Richards, 1856.

Brewery, 1854.

Helmers, 1871.

Rothschilds, 1855.

Rohlfing and Company, 1858 in 1880 $800,000.

Brueggen Shoe, 1862/

Hoffman Music.

Dodsworth $100,000.

Planters House 1856 was to Leavenworth what Coates House was to Kansas City.

Rothenberg and Schloss, 1870, Cigars.

Leavenworth Woolen Mills, 1871 40

Union Machine Works 1879 60

Robert Keith and Company 1873 larger quarters 1877.

Leavenworth Sugar Co. 100.

Biringer 1859 same place.

Hesse Wagon Manufacturing.

Kansas Organ Company.

Broom Factory.

Barrell Factory.

Steam Boiler Factory

Fruit Eavorators Manufacture

Fine Tailors.

Cigar Factories.

Wholesale Groceries.

Lumbar (lumber) Company.

Leavenworth Bag Manufacture 32

2 Marble Works. 65 62

Several Milling Concerns J. C. Lysle is an early name.

Cushing Hospital Home of Friendless, 1868.

Coal was produced in 1868 and supplied the much needed fuel cheaply for manufacturing purposes. It was thought to exist to and inextinguishable amount. Coal produced on the market 1870. There was or have been four mines here employing a total of 1000 to 1200 miners.

Population of 3500 in 1888 a matter of official record though not concerned.

At close of war 1865 Leavenworth was about 20,000 and was the largest city above St. Louis, it was referred to as the metropolis of the great west.

It is conceded by all that Leavenworth has a marvelous setting from the standpoints of health, drainage, beauty, comfort and convenience. The setting is on of the best in the world and certainly not surpassed by any in the western states. The city is within a crescent of high hills which affords a beautiful and picturesque location that is protected from devastating storms and floods an matter of consideration for ones home. Leavenworth for most part enjoys mild temperatures not too far north, not too far south It enjoys advantages of both with out too many disadvantages of either. The large variety of birds about this vicinity is evidence of varied though moderate temperatures. The mean temperature being about 59 degrees.

The history of Commerce and industry interests in this country so far as been to concentrate in large cities to establish in large distribute centers. How long that will continue no one knows but there is a possibility of a change in the order of things so that factories and industries will select smaller cities for benefits to themselves and to labor.

The future of inland waterways too, may contribute to a change.

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