Ellsworth, the county seat and largest city of Ellsworth county, is situated about 4 miles northwest of the center of the county, on the north bank of the Smoky Hill river and the Union Pacific R. R. It is also the terminus of a division of the St. Louis and San Francisco R. R. that runs southeast to Wichita. The town site was surveyed in the spring of 1867 by McGrath and Greenwood for a company of which H. J. Latshaw was president. E. W. Kingsbury built the first house, which was used for the double purpose of hotel and store and was known as "The Stockade." At that time it was thought by many people that Ellsworth would be the western terminus of the railroad for some years to come, and the place grew with such rapidity that in a short time it boasted a population of 1,000 or more.
The town was at first located on low ground near the Smoky Hill river, in sections 28 and 29. On June 8, 1867, that stream rose suddenly, and in a short time Ellsworth was in four feet of water, some of the frail frame houses being washed from their foundations. A new site was then surveyed in section 20, a short distance northwest and on higher ground. Those who had bought lots in the old town were given new ones in the "Addition." But the flood was not the only disaster the new city had to encounter. Scarcely had the new site been surveyed when the Indians began to commit depredations in the vicinity, and in July the cholera (q. v.) broke out both in town and at Fort Harker, about 4 miles to the southeast. Floods, Indian raids and cholera in such rapid succession were more than the people could stand, and in a short time the 1,000 population of Ellsworth dwindled to less than 50.
Then came a second growth, more substantial and more permanent in character. In the fall of 1867 Arthur Larkin built a second hotel, called the Larkin House, business enterprises sprang up, buildings of a better class were erected, etc. For some time Ellsworth enjoyed a large trade from the 1,500 soldiers stationed at Fort Harker, especially in liquors, and from the emigrant trains that passed through on their way westward. In 1868 Ellsworth was incorporated as a village, with J. H. Edwards as president of the council of five members. The first school was taught in rented quarters by a man named Wellington. In 1869 a one-story school house was erected, which served until 1873, when the people voted $9,000 in bonds for the erection of a larger and more modern building. The first number of the Ellsworth Reporter was issued in Nov., 1870, by M. C. Davis.
In 1873 a large share of the cattle trade came to Ellsworth, and with it came the usual turbulent element that concentrated in the western cattle towns. Shooting scrapes were common, gambling houses were run "wide open," and the better class of citizens were pleased when the cattle trade moved on westward, because its disadvantages more than offset its advantages. The pioneer church of Ellsworth was established by the Catholics in 1869, and it remained the only house of worship in the place until 1878, when a building was erected by the Presbyterian. Several other denominations came later and the city now has a number of cozy church buildings. The Mother Bickerdyke home for soldiers' widows and orphans is located here.
Ellsworth is a city of the third class. It owns its electric lighting plant and waterworks, has a telephone exchange, 2 banks, 4 grain elevators, a large flour mill, a salt plant with a daily capacity of 500 barrels, a good public school system, a normal training school, an international money order postoffice with three rural routes, express and telegraph offices, two weekly newspapers (the Reporter and the Messenger), machine shops, wagon works, and a number of well appointed stores in all lines of merchandising. The streets are paved with a by-product of the salt works, making a roadway that is both dustless and noiseless. Coal and building stone are found in the vicinity and are a source of wealth. The commercial club is always alert to the interests of the city, which in 1910 had a population of 2,041, a gain of 492 over the preceding U. S. census. (Source: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., pages 580-581, Volume 1, Standard Pub. Co. Chicago; 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar)
Ellsworth County, located nearly in the geographical center of the state, was created in 1867 with the following boundaries: "Commencing at the southeast corner of the county of Lincoln, thence west 30 miles; thence south 24 miles; thence east to the west line of McPherson county, thence north to the place of beginning." It was formed out of unorganized territory and has an area of 720 square miles. The county was named in honor of Allen Ellsworth, a lieutenant in the army, who built Fort Ellsworth on the Smoky Hill river in 1864. At the present time it is bounded on the north by Lincoln county, on the east by Saline and McPherson, on the south by Rice and on the west by Barton and Russell counties, and is divided into the following townships: Ash Creek, Black Wolf, Carneiro, Clear Creek, Columbia, Ellsworth, Empire, Garfield, Green Garden, Langley, Lincoln, Mulberry, Noble, Palacky, Sherman, Thomas, Valley and Wilson.
The surface of the country is diversified and may be divided into "bottom" land, upland or rolling prairie and bluff land. The "bottom" lands or valleys are from a quarter of a mile to a mile in width and aggregate about one-eighth of the entire area. The bluff land is found near the rivers and creeks, while the south half of the county is nearly all undulating prairie or table land. The principal water course in the Smoky Hill river, which enters the county about 6 miles south of the northwest corner and flows in the southeasterly direction, leaving the county about 5 miles north of the southeast corner. Its main tributaries are Blood, Buffalo, Turkey, Ox Hide, Oak, Ash, Clear, Thompson's, Elm, Bluff and Mule creeks. Plumb creek crosses the southwest corner. The soil is well adapted to grains and the most important crops are corn and winter wheat, but oats, Kafir corn and prairie hay are also extensively raised. The county ranks high in live-stock raising and there are over 50,000 bearing fruit trees. Magnesium limestone is abundant in the northeastern portion and red sandstone in the central and southwestern parts. Mineral paint of a good quality and excellent potter's clay are found in many localities. Large quantities of gypsum exist in the high lands and in the central part are vast beds of rock salt which is extensively mined at Ellsworth and Kanapolis. Coal is the chief mineral product, however, three mines having been opened in the early '80s, near Wilson, south of the Smoky Hill river.
One of the earliest settlements in the county was made late in the '50s by P. M. Thompson. Others who came about this time were Adam Weadle, D. H. Page, D. Cushman and Joseph Lehman. They all settled in the same locality. In 1860 a settlement was made on Clear creek north of the Smoky Hill by S. D. Walker, C. L. and J. J. Prater and Henry and Irwin Farris. Late in the same year H. Wait and H. P. Spurgeon came to Ellsworth, the former settling on Thompson's creek and the latter with the Walker party on Clear creek. All of these men were unmarried or without their wives. T. D. Bennett moved to the county in Aug., 1861, and his wife was the first white woman in the settlements.
In the summer Indian troubles began, when a settler on Cow creek and S. D. Walker of the Clear Creek settlement were killed. Fearing another attack, the settlers in the county took refuge at the stage station on the Smoky Hill, where all the people of the surrounding country gathered, but learning that the Indians were coming in great numbers they left for the east. In June, 1864, Lieut. Allen Ellsworth and forty men were stationed at Page's old ranch, where they built a blockhouse, and in July Gen. Curtis named it Fort Ellsworth (q. v.)
On April 2, 1868, the first marriage was solemnized in the county, when George W. Hughes married Rusha Maxon. For some years immigration was slow, and it was not until 1873 that rapid settlement began by foreigners. The Swedes located in the southeastern part of the county, some Bohemians in the west, and the Germans were scattered, but were especially numerous in the south. A large colony arrived from Pennsylvania in the spring of 1878 and located near the present town of Wilson. In the early '80s large tracts were bought up for ranches, some of them containing as many as 18,000 acres, and this had a tendency to keep the population down. In time, as the land increased in value, these large ranches were broken up and sold as farms so that today Ellsworth is essentially a farming country.
When the county was organized in 1867, the following officers were appointed by the governor: J. H. Edwards, V. B. Osborn and Ira Clark, commissioners; E. W. Kingsbury, sheriff; M. O. Hall, clerk. At their first meeting on July 9, 1867, the commissioners ordered an election to be held on Aug. 10, for the election of county officers to serve until the next general election. There were to be four polling places, Ellsworth, Merriam's house on Elkhorn creek, Clark's house on Thompson's creek and Farris' house on Clear creek. At the election V. B. Osborn, W. J. Ewing and J. H. Blake were elected commissioners: E. W. Kingsbury, sheriff; M. O. Hall, clerk; J. C. Hill, probate judge; Thomas Delacour, register of deeds; M. Newton, treasurer; J. H. Runkle, attorney; C. C. Duncan, superintendent of public schools; J. C. Ayers, surveyor; M. Joyce, coroner, and J. E. New assessor. They perfected the county organization on Aug. 24, 1867. Prior to that time it had been attached to Saline county as a municipal township. The town of Ellsworth was made the seat of justice. In 1871 agitation was begun for the erection of a county court-house. Bonds to the amount of $12,000 were issued for its construction on July 30, 1872, two lots had already been donated the county for a site, and a fine two-story brick building was erected. A stone jail, also two stories in height, was built.
The Ellsworth County Agricultural and Mechanical Fair association was organized in 1877, "for the purpose of advancing the agricultural, horticultural and mechanical interests of the county." It has become one of the well known institutions of the county. The first paper in the county was the Ellsworth Reporter. The second was the Wilson Echo, published by S. A. Coover, and made its initial appearance in Aug., 1879. The first railroad in the county was the Kansas Pacific, built in 1868, which followed the general course of the Smoky Hill river, while today five lines of railroad, with a total of 88 miles of main track, afford excellent transportation and shipping facilities.
The population of the county in 1910 was 10,444, a gain of 818 during the preceding ten years. The assessed valuation of the property was $25,103,723, and the value of agricultural products for the year, including live stock, $3,458,260. (Source: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., pages 581-583, Volume 1, Standard Pub. Co. Chicago; 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar)
Holyrood, an incorporated city of the third class in Ellsworth county, is situated in Valley township, about 15 miles southwest of Ellsworth, the county seat. It is the terminus of a branch of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R. R. which connects with one of the main lines of that system at Little River, Rice county. Holyrood is one of the active, thriving towns of the county. It has a bank, a money order postoffice with two rural routes, telegraph and express offices, telephone connections with the surrounding towns, a grain elevator, a weekly newspaper (the Banner), Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches, graded and high schools, a hotel, several well stocked mercantile houses, etc., and is a shipping point for a large agricultural district. It was incorporated in 1904 and in 1910 had a population of 361. (Source: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., page 866, Volume 1, Standard Pub. Co. Chicago; 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar)
Janssen, a country postoffice in Ellsworth county, is located on the St. Louis & San Francisco R. R. 5 miles southwest of Ellsworth, the county seat. It has a general store, a mill and a grain elevator. The population in 1910 was 15. (Source: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., page 20, Volume 2, Standard Pub. Co. Chicago; 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar)
Kanapolis, formerly Fort Harker (q. v.), an incorporated city of the third class in Ellsworth county, is located on the Union Pacific R. R. 5 miles east of Ellsworth, the county seat. It has a bank, a grain elevator, a weekly newspaper (the Journal), telegraph and express offices, and a money order postoffice with two rural routes. The population, according to the census of 1910, was 577. During its boom Kanapolis was one of the most extensive "paper" towns ever conceived. It was founded in May, 1886, and printing presses were kept busy night and day for a time by the promoters, getting out advertising for what they claimed was going to be a great city by 1900. Sky scrapers loomed up in their vision. The site was laid out on a scale suitable for a city of 150,000 people. Four blocks were reserved for a "State House Grounds;" lots sold as high as $1,000. An incident of the legislative war of 1893 was an attempt by the Populists to move the state capital from Topeka to Kanapolis. (Source: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., page 46, Volume 2, Standard Pub. Co. Chicago; 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar)
Lorraine, a little town in Ellsworth county, is located in Green Garden township on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and the St. Louis & San Francisco railroads, 15 miles south of Ellsworth, the county seat. It has a bank, flour mill, 2 grain elevators, a number of retail establishments, telegraph and express offices, and a money order postoffice with one rural route. The population, according to the census of 1910, was 250. (Source: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., page 187, Volume 2, Standard Pub. Co. Chicago; 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar)
Wilson, an incorporated city of the third class in Ellsworth county, is located on the Union Pacific R. R. 15 miles northwest of Ellsworth, the county seat. It has an opera house, 2 banks, hotels, 2 weekly newspapers (the Echo and the Kanaske Rozheldy), a large number of retail establishments, telegraph and express offices, and an international money, order postoffice with three rural routes. The population in 1910 was 981. The town was founded in 1871 and was at first known as Bosland, as it was the idea of the promoters that it would be in the midst of a great cattle country. But the railroad company had built a station in 1868 which they named Wilson, and the town soon began to be called by the name of the station. A store was opened, a lumber yard started, and a number of houses were erected in the fall of 1871. In 1872 a stone school house was built. Very little growth was attained until 1878, but during that year as many buildings were erected as in all the previous years put together. The Wilson Echo was established in 1879 by S. A. Coover. A flour mill was erected in the same year. In 1883 the town was incorporated as a city of the third class. In 1890 the population was 778, in 1900 it was 939, showing a slow but steady growth. (Source: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., page 922, Volume 2, Standard Pub. Co. Chicago; 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar)