Organized 5 December 1874
Most of the following historical accounts of Rush County and its cities were taken from "The 100 Year Rush", published by the Rush County News in 1974, and, "Rush County, Kansas.A Century in Story & Pictures", published by the Rush County Historical Society, 1976.
"In 1869 the first settlers in Rush County lived along the Walnut Creek near a trading post and stockade on the Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Trail, (now) the present town of Alexander. The prairie was active with coyotes, buffalo, deer, pheasants, and prairie chickens. By 1874, the area from Walnut City west to Alexander, was a bustling community of young settlers who were under the protection of the cavalry units of Fort Larned, Fort Hays, Fort Dodge, and Fort Scott.
Rush County was surveyed in 1867 and organized on December 5, 1874 by Kansas Governor Thomas Osborn. The county was named in honor of Captain Alexander Rush, Company H of the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry. P.C. Dixon filed the first claim in Rush County and settled on the banks of the Walnut Creek near present day Rush Center in 1870 receiving his grant from the land office in Salina in 1871. The first deed in Rush County was recorded in March 1875.
Walnut City was designated as the county seat and the city's name was changed to Rush Center. Within two years the county was re-surveyed and the southern tier of townships was given to neighboring Pawnee County in 1876. This changed the center of the county from Rush Center to LaCrosse. A conflict arose between the two towns when the county records were moved to LaCrosse as the intended county seat. The records were moved back and forth by wagon, amidst threats and gunfire, for years. However, no one was killed. LaCrosse was finally declared the permanent county seat and the present courthouse was erected in 1888.
In the 1880 census the 5,490 citizens of Rush County were well-educated, well-bred, young people who came from throughout the United States(4,275), Great Britain(133), Germany(178), Austria(72), Sweden(22), Bohemia(25), Canada(22), and Russia (763). There were 35 types of occupations listed, including 1,145 farmers, and one shipbuilder. Rush County was settled primarily by "persons of quality" who enriched this new frontier with their cultures. Women dressed in the latest fashions.
The Walnut City Daily News, July 1, 1887, reports: "Rush County does not number one pauper among her 8000 inhabitants; the prisons of the state or county do not contain a single one of our citizens, and her court dockets are as small as those of any county in the state. We challenge any county in the state to make a better showing."
Alexander was founded in 1869 as a trading post and is the oldest town in Rush County, being settled five years before the county was created. The trading post, called "Harvey's Ranch", was established in 1868 by Alexander Harvey, a soldier in General Custer's 6th Cavalry during his 1868 campaign, and in whose honor the town is named. The post was located on the north bank of the Walnut Creek on the Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Military Trail and served as a refuge for cavalry, freighters, surveyors, hunters, trappers, traders, and travelers, as they worked their way along the trail. The stockade that surrounded the post was a protection against renegade Whites, Indians, and other prairie wildlife.
The first settlers were the J. C. Young family who came in 1872 from Pennsylvania. The first schoolhouse in the region was made of logs from the trees along the Walnut Creek. Public meetings, Bible school and prayer meetings, were conducted in this school house. The first mail service was carried by train to the "end of line depot" where it was transferred to stagecoach and carried along the Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Trail to Alexander.
In 1886 the Santa Fe Railroad was nearing completion in Rush County. At that time, Alexander was situated on the north side of Walnut Creek but after a second railroad survey, Alexander relocated on the south bank of the Walnut and soon businesses flourished in the new location. The year 1909 marked a general building boom with new people moving in from the Eastern and Middle States. The town continued to grow until after World War II.
Today, a plaque located on the west edge of town commemorates the location of Alexander Harvey's Trading Post and the Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Military Trail.
The town of Bison is named in honor of the buffalo, owner of the prairie land before the railroads came. The first homestead was in 1876. The location of Bison was determined by the Missouri-Pacific Railroad Townsite Company. During the spring of 1888 the town site was surveyed and platted.
The Bison Post Office and a general merchandise store opened in July 1888 and Bison continued to grow into a bustling community by the turn of the century. Bison built it's own telephone system very early in it's development.
"The first school held in this vicinity was at a farm home in 1877 and the following year the Lone Star German Methodist Episcopal Church and schoolhouse was built of native stone one mile west of Bison. The W.P.A. built a new grade schoolhouse in Bison in 1937. Joseph Tuzicka of Timken dressed the native stone blocks used for the structure. The W.P.A. built the hand dug municipal water well eighteen feet in diameter and sixty-nine feet deep, in 1935, then built the native limestone Bison City Hall over the well. Today, the well continues to produce an abundance of water.
The earliest churches in the Bison community were the English Methodist Episcopal, the German Methodist Episcopal, and the German Baptist.
The first gas well drilled in Rush County was at the north edge of Bison in 1903 and reached a depth of 2,000 feet. This marked the beginning of oil and gas development in Rush County.
"LaCrosse was filed in 1876 as an original town site by the Missouri-Pacific Railroad when Rush County was re-surveyed two years after it was organized, making this location the exact center of the county. The land belonged to patentee and surveyor, Denman A. Stubbs, and wife, Ellen Jewell Stubbs, who came from Wisconsin and settled in 1874. Sgt. David C. Stubbs, a surveyor and a brother of Denman, applied for a 160 acre patent in 1877 which was granted on June 1, 1878 after David had filed his survey plat, including layout of streets, alleys, and lots, before G.W. Cooley, Register of Deeds of Rush County. John R. Kemmermer, a patentee, recorded his plat in August 1878. These early settlers were the first developers of LaCrosse. Lots in the town were soon sold to young men, mostly members of the Society of Friends, from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Eastern Kansas.
The county offices were moved to LaCrosse from Rush Center in 1876, much to the dismay of Rush Center's citizens, and (usually) occupied the second story of a stone building on the west side of Main Street, with the court in a small frame building next door. The present court house was built in 1888 and became the permanent home of the county offices. This building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
The first LaCrosse school was erected in 1877. The earliest churches in LaCrosse were The United Brethren Church, first known as The LaCrosse Meeting of The Society of Friends, established in 1877; The Christian Church, established in 1887; and The Methodist Church.
LaCrosse is known throughout the nation as the 'Barbed Wire Capital of the World' and hosts the Annual Barbed Wire Convention every spring. The Barbed Wire Museum, The Post Rock Museum, The Rush County Historical Museum, and a plaque honoring Howard R. Barnard (1863-1948), pioneer educator, founder of consolidated schools, and the school bus system, are located in Grass Park (the old Varney homestead) at the south side of town.
From: "Die Liebenthaler und Ihre Kirche 1776-1976"
Liebenthal, on Big Timber Creek, is one of the oldest of the settlements in Rush County, founded by the immigrants of the Saratov/Volga region of the Ukraine in Russia, who were under the jurisdiction of Francis Joseph I, Austrian Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1875 the Czar of Russia sent out a decree that the German colonists had lost their 100 years of special privileges and must fulfill the same duties and military obligations as all other Russian citizens.
The colonists arranged to come to the United States, leaving Saratov, Russia, on October 24, 1875, and on November 2, 1875 the first group boarded the steamship, "Ohio", at the Port of Bremen, Germany, landing 21 days later at the Port in Baltimore, Maryland. Of these immigrants, fourteen families, about 60 persons, founded Liebenthal on February 22, 1876. The town was named after Liebenthal (love valley), Russia. The next group of 59 persons came soon after and settled about a half-mile north of the present town. The Liebenthal settlers could not agree and separated into two settlements. One group moved north a few miles and founded Schoenchen, on the south bank of the Smoky Hill River. Both are named after their towns in the Ukraine.
In Liebenthal a little over two acres were donated for a new Roman Catholic church. Church services were held in homes and in the open air, weather permitting, when an itinerate priest would visit the village, or they would drive to Hays for church. The first church was completed in 1878. In the fall of 1889, a parish house was erected and their first parochial school was built in 1897.
"By the early 1900's, the population had increased to over 500 and a new church was needed. From 1902 until 1905, the members of the parish worked to complete the present native stone church. Over two thousand loads of stone were required. This stone was dug from the nearby hills, moved by wagon, cut and shaped, stacked and set to form the walls of this beautiful building. The project was entirely done by the parishioners. The stained glass windows were made by an Austrian/German artist. Twice fire destroyed all of the wood sections and the roof of the cathedral. It was rebuilt and rededicated in 1921 and 1961 but the interior walls and the altar are no longer as beautiful and ornately fine as before the last fire, however, the original stone walls are those erected by the Liebenthal forefathers. St. Joseph's Kirche stands as one of the most beautiful churches on the Kansas plains.
The Liebenthal cemetery sits on a hill overlooking the town. The tombstones are uniquely like those found under the jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Empire.
From: "Rush County, Kansas..a century in story and pictures", 1976
The settlers of Loretto came to Rush County in August 1876 from Pfeifer, Russia, situated 75 miles southwest of Saratov, Ukraine, and west of the Volga River. In 1875 three explorers were sent to Kansas to locate a new home for those who would soon leave Russia. They reported that the land in Kansas was good, very much like that in Russia with fertile soil, grass and streams, but with a more moderate climate.
By 1912, seventeen families of the Ellis County settlement of Pfeifer were living just over the county line in Rush County. These families had contributed money toward the construction of a church in Pfeifer with the stipulation that if they decided to establish their own congregation, they could have that money back. Thus, with $3,000 in funds, they decided to build their own church, four and one-half miles south of Pfeifer. Adam S. Urban and Stephen S. Urban each donated five acres of land for the townsite; Martin Urban gave one acre for a cemetery; and Joseph Urban donated land for a church, parsonage, and school. From this, the town of Illinois was born.
In the fall of 1912, a combination church and school was built. It was a two-story structure 60 feet in length and 28 feet in width. Classes were held on the first level, and the second floor served as the church. In 1913, parishioners constructed a rectory.
In 1913, the name of the town was changed from Illinois to Marienfeld, and later, at the recommendation of Father Stutz, renamed Loretto. That year, the townsite was divided into building lots that were sold to raise money for the church. In 1916, there were sixty families living in town and a few years later, the school enrollment peaked at seventy students. At first, laymen taught in the school. In 1918, the Sisters of the Order of the Precious Blood were employed as teachers and a convent was built.
Construction of a new brick church began in the spring of 1927, and in May of 1928, the new “Mariahilf Kirche ” (St. Mary’s Help of Christians Church) was dedicated.
Loretto had a marching band during the years from 1916-1936 that proudly entertained at baseball games and celebrations in Loretto and the towns in surrounding counties. Music was in the heart of all the families. For many years, Loretto was also known for its winning baseball team. In 1920, Loretto managed to defeat Fort Hays State College, 10-8 in a dramatic upset. For a time, the Loretto club played semi-professional baseball in a lighted ballpark.
On March 10, 1948, the old combination church and school building was destroyed by fire. Parishioners built a new parish hall in 1955, and a new public school followed in 1958. The school remained in operation until being consolidated with the Otis-Bison Unified School District in 1968.
On June 29, 1997, the final mass was held in the church and the building was re-designated as a shrine. By 1999, less than a dozen people remained in the community. Today, very little remains of the towns of Loretto and Pfeifer. The beautiful churches are closed but can be toured by appointment.
The stake was driven in December 1886 for the new town of McCracken, located at the western edge of Rush County along the soon to be completed Missouri-Pacific Railroad. The town was named in honor of J. K. McCracken, one of the first trustees. The same day the town was organized, a few lots were measured and sold to investors who had faith that the project would grow into a real community.
The founders of the town knew that Eastern newspapers were promoting the new railroad town sites, and that settlers and businessmen from the East would come to McCracken and build their businesses in town, or set up their farms nearby. Within the first year, McCracken boasted a bank, two grocery stores, a newspaper, drug store, theater, and numerous other businesses. Soon after, two physicians moved to town and set up practice. One of the earlier churches in Rush County was the Evangelical United Brethren Church of McCracken established in 1887 by members of the Society of Friends.
McCracken's business section was twice destroyed by fire. In 1905, half of the business section of the town lay in ashes after a fire swept through the east side of Main Street. A second fire struck McCracken in January 1909, wiping out most of the buildings and businesses on the west side of Main Street.
One of Rush County's most unusual industries was the production of the "wonder mud", from shale quarries near McCracken, discovered by oil engineers in 1939. The product was widely used by drilling companies throughout the United States.
McCracken was a prosperous and busy town until the Missouri-Pacific Railroad removed it from its depot list for passenger and freight trains.
The McCracken City Library has a collection of memorabilia of early McCracken history that may be seen during library hours.
The Santa Fe Railroad Town Site Company platted Nekoma as a Post Office Depo and Stockyard in 1884. By 1900 the village boasted three grain elevators, a hardware store, lumber yard, implement dealer, barber shop, resturant, and two general merchandise stores. A two room school house continued to be used until the mid 1950's.
The town of Otis was founded in 1886 by Major E. C. Moderwell of Salina, Kansas. The town was named for Major Moderwell's son, Otis, and the name was officially adopted by the Rush County Court in 1887. The Major also donated a plot of ground where the first grade school was built and the present school still stands. As the streets were laid out, some were named for children of the original founders. The site of the town was determined by the Missouri- Pacific Railroad as it was heading west into Rush County. The train depot and section house were built by the railroad and new business places were soon opened by new settlers. In 1902, a band was organized and composed of about thirty members. Concerts were given at picnics, town celebrations, and certain train arrivals and sendoffs.
The first two churches in Otis were the Trinity Lutheran and the Methodist. The Methodists first held their services in the school house until a church was built in 1895. The Lutheran Church was founded by settlers from the area of Russia under Prussian rule during the Prussian-Austro-Hungarian Wars. The June 1880 census lists these immigrant families who migrated from Russia in 1876 and settled in the Otis area.
Industry has played an important role in the development of the community. A cigar factory was built in Otis in 1911 and was in production for several years. It was rated as one of the best in Kansas. Natural gas was discovered in 1928 south of Otis and later 50 producing oil or gas wells brought income and activity to the community.
One of the most noted industries in this section of the country is the Otis Helium Plant. The huge plant was constructed to extract helium from natural gas. One of the largest of it's kind, it was originally constructed in 1943 by the United States government. An entire "community" was constructed south of Otis by the government to house plant workers. Today, a privately owned helium extraction plant, the second largest of its kind, operates near the community. The former government plant has been abandoned and only a few buildings remain at the site.
In the early pioneer days, Rush Center was the county seat of Rush County and it was here that the county was organized. The rich bottom lands of the Walnut Valley gave the promise of bountiful crops and the residents aspired to make Rush Center a trade center of this region. The settlement was first known as Walnut City, and in 1874 the name was changed to Rush Centre with a spelling change in 1895.
As early as 1874 many business houses and dwellings had been erected. In 1875 the first school district in the county was organized in Rush Center. By 1878 one store carried insurance of $40,000 and the population was more than 1500 citizens. The City Bus Line had fancy coaches drawn by two matching horses. By the time the railroad arrived in 1886 Rush Center was a thriving city.
The Pennsylvania House, a hotel and dining room, was built in Rush Center in 1875. An additional 10 rooms were added in 1887. It was a two story structure with 46 rooms, a wide "covered entry porch", a large windmill for fresh, cold water, two fireplaces, and a passenger depot for the City Bus Line. The hotel was named for the State from where the first settlers came.
The Harvey House, a 50 room hotel and dining room, was built by the Santa Fe Railroad as a regular stop for passengers before continuing their journey. The Harvey House dining rooms were famous for their Harvey Girl waitresses, big steaks and sharp knives. This hotel had three fireplaces, a wrap-around porch, and a passenger depot for the City Bus Line.
The county was re-surveyed in 1876 and six miles were cut off the south boundary of the 1867 county survey and given to the north side of Pawnee County. This put the center of the county four miles north of Rush Center, and on the future Missouri Pacific Railroad Line. The new town of LaCrosse was platted immediately. A "tug of war" between Rush Center and LaCrosse for the courthouse caused the records to move, by wagon, back and forth between the villages, sometimes under threat and gunfire but no physical harm. This event is celebrated every year in the two mile long St. Patrick's Day Parade. "The Courthouse" is carried by wagon back to Rush Center every March 17th.
Timken, nestled on the south bank of the Walnut Creek, owes its name to Henry H. Timken (1831-1909). Timken was a developer of the 1827 French Pecqueur differential system of rear axle gears, and patentee of the Timken Buggy Spring and Timken Roller Bearing. Henry made a fortune and speculated in lands along the future railroad sites, including 4800 acres near Timken, in several patents, including the land where the City of Timken now stands.
Henry Timken sold the section of land where the town is now located, to the Santa Fe Railroad Town Site Company who determined the location of the town and depot. The area was surveyed and the plat was filed on July 11, 1887, the depot was built but no lots were sold. In 1897, a merchant purchased most of the town sites and opened a general store to serve the new settlers from Czechoslovakia, Bohemia, and Moravia, who had lost their special privileges under Francis Joseph I, Austrian Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire when he lost the war with Prussia in 1866.
In 1874 Francis J. Swehla came to Kansas to search an area for a Bohemian settlement. Frank Holopirek was one of the first who emigrated from Bohemia to the Timken area by sailing from the Port of Bremen, Germany, on the North Sea, arriving in Kansas in 1878. In 1880 Jacob N. Pivonka brought his family from Moravia. The Czechs came soon after to settle south of Timken with surnames: Smrcka, Pozalek, Tuzicka, Bucl, Petrik, Horacek, Horyna, Hottovy.
In 1904, a community hall and a Catholic church were built. The first lumber company was established in 1905, and a bank was organized in 1913. Timken was a thriving community and was incorporated as a city of the third class in June 1930.
Timken is home to the unique, and beautiful, National Bohemian Cemetery, located south of the community.