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.


A Number of 'Firsts' in the Bygone History of Leavenworth

by Harry H. Seckler

Leavenworth Times, December 16, 1948

Leavenworth, as did all Missouri river towns, erected its first buildings on the river's bank or levee, and many of the pioneer town's firsts, according to early history, had their origin there.

The first newspaper in the English language in what was then Kansas territory was the Leavenworth Herald, which made its appearance on September 15, 1854, one month before the first public sale of town lots. The type for its initial number was set under an old elm tree at the foot of what is now Cherokee Street.

The first school in Leavenworth City or County, according to the town's early history, was started in May, 1855, by Rev. J. H. McAfee, who purchased a small building near the levee for religious purposes and there also was held the first local public school.

Rev. McAfee, a Lutheran, held the first religious services in the new town in that levee building, and the first school in the bustling little community was taught by H. D. McCarty, who was elected by the voters in what became the state of Kansas as the first state superintendent of public instruction in 1872. In 1868 he was principal of what few local schools the city had.

The first school board was organized in 1858 in a house rented for the purpose of holding that meeting and McCarty was employed as teacher. In the fall of that year the city was divided into school districts with George E. Budington as superintendent of schools.

Cathedral Erected in 1863

In 1851 the Catholic diocese of Leavenworth was created as a mission. The first mass was said in the county in 1853. The first Catholic church was a large frame building on the southwest corner of Fifth and Kickapoo Streets, now the site of the present Cathedral School.

The congregation in 1858 began the erection of a church known later as the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. In the original church Rt. Rev. John B. Miege, bishop of Kansas, said the first mass in 1854.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was nearing completion in 1863. This edifice, at that time, was said to have been the largest church west of the Mississippi. History is not clear as to when it was completed. The 1868 directory mentions that "it is now nearly completed and expected to be opened next spring (1869)."

Churches Are Founded

The First Presbyterian church, reportedly the first white church of the denomination in Kansas, was organized here in January, 1856. In November of the same year St. Paul's Episcopal parish was established. For some years the Episcopalians maintained two edifices, one at the northeast corner of Fifth and Arch Streets and the present one at the northeast corner of Seventh and Seneca Streets.

The United Presbyterian church was established here in 1857, the First Congregational church in March, 1858, and the Baptist Church in the fall of the same year.

It was fortunate for young Leavenworth's schools that David J. Brewer, jurist, who was educated at Yale and the Albany Law school, came here to establish his home in June, 1859. He hung out his shingle as an attorney and immediately began to improve the city's educational institutions.

He served many years on the school board, lastly as its president in 1868. An ardent believer in popular education, he was so well known throughout Kansas he was chosen president of the Kansas State Teachers' Association in 1869.

Uncle, Nephew Famed Jurists

An interesting chapter in the life of Judge Brewer was brought to light by the writer in a recent search through Leavenworth and Kansas histories--the fact that when Judge Brewer became an associate justice of the US Supreme Court on December, 1889, he sat on the bench beside an uncle, Stephen J. Field, who left the practice of law in New York City to go to California in 1849, there became a member of the California Legislature in 1863 and later was appointed to the US Supreme Court, resigning in 1897.

The honors accorded Justice Brewer in Leavenworth, in the state of Kansas and in the nation were many. He was US commissioner here in 1861-62; judge of the probate and criminal courts of the county from 1863 to 1865; judge of the district court from 1865 to 1869; county attorney from 1869 to 1870; an associate justice of the Kansas Supreme court from 1870 to 1884.

He resigned his position on the State Supreme Court bench on April 8, 1884, to become United States circuit judge and on December 18, 1889, was commissioned an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court where he remained until his death from apoplexy in Washington, D. C., on March 28, 1910. For eight years both he and his uncle were members of that judicial body.


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