Let our minds wander back 100 years, and think of the community of Netawaka being all prairie with no fences or roads of any kind.
Before giving the history of our city we think it would be proper to mention a few of the names of our early settlers who came to this community and made it possible for Netawaka to be started and grow to a prosperous city.
Charles Daniel Lueck settled a short distance northwest of Netawaka in the year of 1856.
Collingwood Grubb settled three and one-half miles north of Netawaka in the year of 1858. This location served as a post office and stopping place for all travelers.
John Shaffer, another early settler, lived there miles north of Netawaka for many years, and served on East Powhattan school board for a long period of time.
John Warning drove a team of horses and covered wagon from Ohio in 1860 and settled one mile northwest of Netawaka on the farm now owned by Olin Hoffman.
E. J. Woodman was an early settler and lived in this community many years.
Mr. Rebenstorf, the grandfather of Warner Rebenstorf, came to this community from Granada in 1866. In early days Mr. Rebenstorf homesteaded a quarter of land and erected a small house on the homestead. Later he went back to his foreign land to get his bride-to-be, but found her to be married. Much disappointed, he returned to his homestead in Kansas. Again he was disappointed when he returned to find someone had moved the small house from his homestead and took possession of his land. After all of this hard luck he worked in a hotel at Granada until he earned money enough to buy the farm where Warner Rebenstorf and sister now live.
The writer's father, James Warning, was born near Netawaka and spent his entire life at Netawaka as a farmer and business man in the city.
Likewise, the writer has spent his seventy-one years of life in Netawaka. Therefore, I will make an attempt to give the history of our little city, which is 100 years old at the present time.
Netawaka, as its name indicates, was originally an Indian name meaning "high divide." The Indians came to this community between 1840 and 1860. The town, formerly included in Brown County, was located on the reservation.
Early white settlers came from the eastern and northeastern part of the U.S. This community was an anti-slavery settlement by people whose purpose was to make Kansas a free state. One of the most interesting places near Netawaka was the underground railroad, located six miles northwest of town, on the farm owned by Ed Smith. Mr. Charles Smith was sent here by the anti-slavery men for the express purpose of taking charge of the underground station. The next station in this mysterious and interesting route was just across the Nebraska line. The stations were one night's journey apart. The slaves helped by a white man, made the journey at night and were hidden at the stations during the daytime. In 1859 John Brown took fifteen negroes to Canada. A plot was laid to capture him at Fort Spurs, which was located on the Baldwin farm between Netawaka and Holton. However, the raiders did not capture him. Instead, John Brown captured two of the raiders as prisoners. That night, he proceeded to take them to the Smith home. Mrs. Smith being ill, Mr. Smith told Mr. Brown he would have to do his own cooking. Mr. Brown said he was prepared for this, so he brought forth two negresses to the house and they prepared the meal. The next morning Brown delivered a lecture to the two prisoners whom he had captured and told them that although he would let them go, he would keep their two horses as contraband of war. One of the prisoners very devoted to his horse, took the horse's head in his arms and kissed it good-bye before they started on foot to the state of Missouri, while John Brown proceeded northward with his slaves. Although this was the only time John Brown passed along this route, Mr. Smith aided in freeing a large number of slaves by helping them escape into Canada. The proslavery men realized the importance of Mr. Smith and at one time there was a reward of $1,000 for his capture, dead or alive.
At this time there was not a house from Mr. Smith's home to Hiawatha. The country being all prairie, Mr. Smith with a sod breaking plow, and a team of oxen, plowed a trail to Hiawatha for travelers to follow. There were two post offices, one at Topeka and one at Nebraska City, Nebraska. The mail was carried by anyone who may come along. Later, the pony express was organized.
Before Netawaka was founded, the town of Eureka, three milessouth on the parallel, was the post office and country store.
Netawaka was founded in the year of 1866 with the coming of the railroad. The town was the distributing point for supplies furnished by the government for the indians on the Kickapoo reservation, which was then 20 miles by 30 miles. It has since been reduced to five miles by six miles. Netawaka was also a shipping point as livestock was brought from as far north a Sabetha and as far south as Holton. The lumber for the first houses built in Holton was hauled from Netawaka.
The first store in town was founded by Messrs. Green and Stark, E. W. Kenyon was also one of our early merchants. In 1881 there were four stores in town. Mr. Travis operated a store where the telephone office now stands.
On the twenty-third day of May, 1884, the village of Netawaka was incorporated as a third class city with the population of 320. The first election for city officials was held on the fifteenth day of July, 1884 at the E. W. Kenyon store. W. W. Letson, E. W. Kenyon, and W. D. Thomas served as judges for the said election of Netawaka, M. A. Funchess and H. M. Hale served as clerks for the said election. R. Crozier was Judge of the District Court of Jackson County at the time of this procedure.
At the first city election 63 votes were cast, W. W. Letson received 44 votes for mayor, and A. J. Evans received 17.
The first session of the first council was held July 19th, 1884 at the Grange hall. At this first session of the city officials, it was decided the city marshal should procure suitable balls and chains to be used in confining persons who were required to work on the streets in discharge of fines assessed against them. If our laws of today were enforced as they are in 1884 we would have less crime.
After the city was incorporated it became a very prosperous city with more business than any town along the central branch. The first bank was organized in 1877 with J. C. Challice as president. The first cemetery was on the Alva Amon land across the road from Andy Dieckman. The first school house was on the Joe Klahr property where a four months term of school was taught with the mother of Elmer Johnson being one of the teachers. On September 6th, 1869, the school district was organized. In 1873 the first nine month school was taught. As the population increased the building proved inadequate for the number of pupils enrolled. Consequently, the school was rebuilt where the present baseball diamond is. In 1909 a two-story brick building was constructed on the present site. The same school house stands today.
From 1884 to the gay nineties Netawaka was on the boom with five general stores, two hardware's, two livery stables, two hotels, several saloons, two drugstores, a band, and three churches.
During these years of progress, Netawaka had several distinguished visitors. Senator Charles Curtis, who later became Vice President of the United States. Charles Curtis was part indian, and quite shrewd. In his young days, Mr. Curtis was known to be one of the best jockeys in the United States. He won several races, riding the fastest horses in the world. While in Topeka practicing law, Mr. Curtis rode a horse from Topeka to Netawaka to defend a white man who had been accused of killing an indian. During the war, Curtis, on account of his shrewd mind and good horsemanship, was chosen to deliver messages through the lines of the enemy.
When President Grant was making hi western tour on the central branch railway, he stopped in Netawaka while the train was turning around two miles west of town.
During these years of prosperity the town had aristocrats who carried their heads above farmers, who were called "hay seeds." However, the hay seeds remained and the aristocrats vanished.
Let us move up to the year of 1890 when all the business section was solid with frame structure buildings with no fire protection, only the bucket brigade.
In April, 1890, the first disaster came when the southern half of the business block was destroyed by fire. At this time our progressive little town started on the downward trend. Only two buildings were replaced, the corner grocery and hardware. The rest remained vacant lots up to our present grocery store. The remaining business places kept on and succeeded very well into 1898. At this time another disastrous fire destroyed the north part of the business section. This was the blow that hurt. Vacant lots still remain from the 1898 fire
This left our town with two general stores operated by A. J. Beamer on the corner, and G. J. Kern in the center of the block on Commercial Street.
On November 16, 1903, under the mayor ship of J. M. Green, an ordinance was passed to replace all sidewalks of wood structure with brick or concrete. This was a great improvement, as the streets were not lighted.
In the year of 1915, under the mayorship of E. L. Paige, a special election was held for voting bonds for electricity in our city. At the election the bonds were defeated. This left our city still in darkness. Mr. Paige, still determined to have electricity, called for another bond election, but again the bonds were defeated.
Although Mayor Paige was twice defeated, he gathered courage to hold another bond election in July, 1916. This time Mr. Paige won his battle with a majority of 79 for and 37 against. Contracts were let in the fall of 1916 for building of electric lines over our city and to our neighboring city of Whiting where we connected on to the Kansas Power and Light. After twenty years the line to Whiting was sold to Kansas Power and Light. The City of Netawaka still owns the system within the city limits.
The people of the community should never forget the great deed Mr. Paige did for the City of Netawaka when he won his battle and made our city a better place to live.
In spite of Netawaka having its third fire in 1925 which started in the Woodman Hall and destroyed three business places and a dwelling home, it has always fought back and tried to stay on the map.
Let us move up to the year of 1918 when the flu epidemic hit our community and the entire nation. Our only Doctor was Dr. E. T. Myers who worked day and night trying to comfort his patients. Dr. Myers did not drive an automobile but drove an appaloosa horse with plenty of stamina, which it took to the take the miles he was driving him. We should give Dr. Myers a lot of praise, although some patients were lost.
The first car owner in Netawaka was my grandfather, Adam Amon. The car was a Buick, purchased in the month of June, 1910, purchased from Mr. Gabbard from Bancroft, Kansas. The writer was the first person in Netawaka to drive a cr. Mr. Gabbard taught me first, and I was to teach my grandfather. He was sixty years old and a little slower to catch on. Anyway, after cutting out a set of brake bands the first day, he drove until he was eighty years old and enjoyed every minute of his older days.
As the automobiles got more popular, the horse and buggy began to vanish. Likewise the business in small towns began to drift away to larger places.
Cars getting more numerous, and people were beginning to take longer trips, marked highways began to appear. Netawaka was fortunate to have two highways going through the center of town. No. 9 when first originated was called the White Way. Occasionally a white band was painted around a telephone pole to direct the tourists on their journey. The White Way started at Atchison and went on west the same as No. 9.
In the 1920's Highway 75 was mapped out and came through out city, and went north as far as the Canadian line. Netawaka felt rather proud to think it had two highways bringing traffic through our city. Four filling stations were built and all did a good business. As years passed by our filling stations went down to two. A few years ago Highway 75 was routed west of our city. Again my home town took a setback. Today we have but one station and lucky to have one to supply us with our daily needs.
In 1957 our city and surrounding community was fortunate to have dial system telephone, planned and built by J. C. Carson. This project took a long period of time as Mr. Carson drew his own blue print, which is very unusual in most cases. We should give Mr. Carson much praise for this large task, which took many long night and months of deep thinking. The sad part is Mr. Carson did not live long after his life's ambition was completed. Mr. Carson was president of the J.B.N. Telephone Co. at the time of his death. His successor was his son, Robert, who is president at the present time.
In 1960, the citizens of our city decided they would like to have city water, thinking it may help our town to grow and make it a more modern place to live. Several meetings and discussions were held, and it was decided to hold a bond election, which carried a large majority. We should give much credit to Mayor Spiker and city councilmen for making this great improvement. Although it has not increased our population, several houses have been remodeled which helps the appearance very much.
The Citizens of Netawaka, determined to make our home town a better town in which to live, will install natural gas sometime in 1967. Again we must take our hats off to Mayor Jones and councilman.
Along with the many changes of our city, our public school system has been changed to a unified school system. Through our diminishing population in rural districts, our high schools became too small to give the students the proper education that it takes to go out into the world of today. We hope this new system will prove a success, and be able to give our boys and girls the best of training, so they will be able to meet the oncoming difficulties of the world of today.
The lines that have been written brings the history of our city up to the present time. Let each one of us put forth our efforts to make Netawaka a better place in which to live. In the last century Netawaka has been friendly, neighborly, and ready to help anyone in need. Although Netawaka has lost fifty-five places of business in the last half century, it is a nice place to retire and enjoy the modern way of living.
As the story comes to a close, let us long remember our home town that has braved the storm for 100 years, and let our minds wander into the next century and build many castles for our home town. The writer now bids you adieu, and God speed.
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