Lyon County, Kansas

by Neal Danielson, Editor

Emporia located in Lyon County Kansas in east central Neosho valley part of the State (Figure 1). Lyon County was organized in 1860 as Breckenridge County, in honor of John C. Breckenridge, a U. S. Senator from Kentucky and Vice President of the U. S. 1857 to 1861. The name was changed to Lyon County February 1862 in honor of General Nathanial Lyon, who was killed while in command of the Union Army at Wilson's Creek Missouri 10 August 1861.

Charles H. Withington is noted as one of the early settlers in the county ca. 1846. He was a gunsmith to the Sac and Fox tribes, and in June of 1854 he became a resident in Lyon County along the old Santa Fe Trail. He established a trading post and became the first storekeeper in the County. He was appointed U. S. Mail Agent with headquarters in Council Grove in 1851.

With a high influx of settlers into Kansas Territory in 1857, the town of Emporia was established and the first building erected by John Hammond. This building would serve as a boarding house even though it was only 12 X 16 feet and used for religious services, educational purposes, county headquarters and broker's office as well. It was moved and replaced by the Emporia House. When the County was organized John Fowler was the Postmaster in Columbia, three miles below Emporia, which was thought to become the County Seat. When he resigned a Mr. H. W. Fick was appointed the first Postmaster of Emporia. The first paper in Emporia was the Kansas News June 7, 1857 and was housed in the Emporia House until a building could be constructed.

There were major problems with U. S. mail during the early years. Mail from Jefferson City, Missouri was taken to Council Grove and then delivered to Mr. Withington's via the Santa Fe stages for distribution. Joseph Hadley then mounted a horse and acted as carrier. The settlers who he thus accommodated raised the money to pay him for his services. Besides the irregularity of the mails, there were other reasons why the citizens of the new town of Emporia did not appreciate these arrangements. As was then observed; "We do not feel inclined to trust our letters to the tender mercies of the Pro-slavery residents of Council Grove, and prefer to carry our mail matter by private hands, rather than risk the present uncertainty." Negotiations with the Postmasters finally resulted in various deliveries from Topeka and Lawrence.

Henry E. Norton, (Figure 2) started his career in Kansas as a real estate agent in Topeka, KS and became engaged in speculations of various kinds from July 3, 1856 until the close of the Civil War. He subsequently settled in Lyon County in 1869. There he was continuously engaged in real estate operations giving personal attention to his extensive business and attending to investments in the millions for patrons located in Emporia. Mr. Norton, born 22 June 1830, was a native of New Haven County, Connecticut. At the age of twelve he was thrown on his own resources and engaged in the daguerreotype business in several Eastern cities, later coming from New York City to Kansas. The term daguerreotype is an early variety of photograph, produced on a silver plate or on a copper plate covered with silver. He became quite a prominent figure in Emporia donating his time and effort to community affairs. Shown in Figure 3 is a letter addressed to J. B. Whitaker, Topeka, Kan and franked with a 3 green George Washington stamp issued March 1870. The stamp (Scott #136, issued March 1870) is tied to the cover with a bull's eye cancel and the CDS, Emporia Kan. Feb 10 (ca 1871).

J. B. Whitaker was an early settler in Topeka and became heavily involved in the development of the town along with Cyrus K. Holliday founder of Topeka. In 1860 he served as a Councilman along with the Mayor and others and was listed as City Surveyor and Street Commissioner. He would serve on the Council as Surveyor in 1866 and then back to Street Commissioner on the Council from 1877 to 1879.

Figure 3-Cover from H. E. Norton, Newton, KS to J. B. Whitaker, Topeka, KS

Norton and Whitaker apparently got acquainted when Norton lived in Topeka from 1856-1869. Business wise the two relate from a real estate aspect and the need for surveying of land in the County.

Of interest is the founding of the University in Emporia. Initially started as the Kansas State Normal School in March of 1863. By the time a permanent building was done two years later just in time for the first graduating class which consisted of two women. It was changed to the Kansas State Teachers College in February 1923, to Emporia Kansas State College in July 1974, and to the current status of Emporia State University in April 1977.

One of the other outstanding citizens of Emporia, Kansas was William Allen White, publisher of the Emporia Gazette and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1922. See the story on White elsewhere in this issue of the Newsletter.

USPS Website:
Cutler's History of Kansas Website:
Skyways Website:
Connelley, W.E. A Standard History Kansas and Kansans, Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, IL 1919

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Posted Jul, 2005 RR