Evolution of Olathe
The following information was provided by the Olathe Historical Society.
In the Beginning
Overland trade with Mexico along the Santa Fe Trail brought enterprising merchants, the military and the first settlements to the western borders of the United States. Government treaties forced many woodland Indian tribes to move into what is now eastern Kansas. The Rev. Thomas Johnson immigrated with the Shawnee tribe to the new reserve in 1829, and established a mission.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 created the Kansas Territory, opening the land to pre-emption by home seekers of European descent from the more heavily populated states. Counties were formed late in 1855.
In the early months of 1857, the survey of the Shawnee lands was followed closely by land speculators, among whom was Dr. John T. Barton, a physician assigned to the Shawnee tribal headquarters. Preemption law provided for town sites that gave town companies the opportunity to gain power, money, political influence, and concessions such as post offices.
Barton and his associates chose the geographic center of the county, crossed by Mill Creek and the Santa Fe Trail, to claim for their town. Olathe, a Shawnee word understood to mean "beautiful," was incorporated in 1857, and because of unstable political institutions, again in 1858. The Mahaffie family was among the first to settle near Olathe. The first Board of Trustees, headed by John T. Barton, was elected in 1859. Olathe legally became the county seat in October of that year.
Pat Cosgrove took the Johnson County Census in 1860. Of the 4,364 enumerated, 52 percent of the population were less than 19 years old; 11 percent were foreign born, mostly from Germany or Ireland; .01 percent was age 60 or older. Olathe's population was 341.
The few homes and businesses were built of rough lumber and native stone. Public amenities did not exist, and streets were left to the imagination. One building, 12 feet by 14 feet, served as grocery, drug store, dry goods store, salon, and hotel. By fall, severe drought caused many settlers to pack up and return to the East.
About 1859 or 1860, Barton left Olathe for good. He served in the Confederate Army and later settled in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas came into the Union under the Wyandotte Constitution in January 1861. The Civil War began in April. Two-thirds of all adult males in Kansas served in the Union Army. The infamous Quantrill raided Olathe on Sept. 6, 1862. General Price was forced from Westport to defeat at Mine Creek in 1864.
More than half the buildings standing in Olathe in 1861 were moved or destroyed long before the end of the war. During this time, city government was very chaotic, but after Appomattox, Olathe was reincorporated as a city of the third class.
The 1865 Johnson County census was 6,093. The Institute for the Deaf and Dumb was organized in Olathe in 1866. Olathe's first public school was built of stone in 1868. The railroad reached the eastern edge of the city in 1867, and the southern edge of the county by 1869.
1870 - 1890
The town became a second class city in 1870, having 2,045 inhabitants. The 1870s saw growth in the physical plant at the school for the deaf. Churches, which organized after the Civil War, began to erect centers of worship. A subscription library began in 1874. The first history of the city was written that year.
In 1875, 72 percent of the county worked in agriculture, 11 percent in professional and personal service, 8 percent in trade and transportation, and 9 percent in manufacturing and mining. Olathe's population in 1875 was 2,146.
Growth was not achieved without a struggle. Crops failed because of drought, tornadoes, and grasshopper plagues in the middle ‘70s. Economic depression, lack of business regulation - especially of the railroads - and social concerns about temperance and women's suffrage came to a head at this time.
John P. St. John, who made his home in Olathe, began his political career here, was elected governor in 1878 and 1880, and ran for president on the Prohibition ticket in 1884. The Johnson Cooperative Association, an outgrowth of the area grange movement, opened a store in Olathe in 1876, and soon branched into Stanley, Edgerton, De Soto and Gardner.
The 1880s saw the rise of the Hyer Boot factory, the milling industry, Hodges Brothers and Lanter Lumber companies, Patron's Mutual Insurance Association, and the building of Fairview Race Course, Olathe's second horse racing track.
1883 marked the founding of the Ladies Reading Circle, Olathe's first federated women's club, the first high school graduation, and the second written history of this area. Olathe's population in 1880 was 2,285 and in 1890, 3,294.
1890 - 1910
1893 saw 48 scholars enrolled in the high school course at the old rock school. A separate high school building was completed in 1898, and a football team organized by 1902. The Johnson County Old Settlers Association formed to celebrate the history of the area in 1898.
Serious flooding of the Missouri and Kansas rivers occurred in 1903 and again in 1904. A souvenir photographic publication showing the progressive nature of Olathe was made by F.S. Mickey and G.A. Roberds, and distributed in 1907. That year the first cars of the Strang Line, an interurban electric railroad, reached Olathe from Kansas City.
Native sons, J.C. Nichols and Herbert S. Hadley were in the news during this time span. Nichols graduated magna cum laude from the University of Kansas in 1902, and Hadley was elected Governor of Missouri in 1908. The population of Olathe in 1900 was 3,451. The marking of the Santa Fe Trail by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1907 was celebrated on the Courthouse lawn. The once lively roadway to Mexico had become a historic monument.
1910 - 1930
In 1914 the Johnson County Merchants and Farmers Association was formed to aid its members "in saving on advertising, collections, credit, merchants delivery, and free employment department. Over 300 farm hands had been placed by January 1915. Through the cooperation of this association many public improvements have been agitated."
An influenza epidemic and other diseases created a need for public health safeguards.
From about 1910 until the start of World War I, the Olathe Chautauqua pitched a big tent on the natural slope of Parker's pasture during the hottest two weeks of the summer. D.R. Ott's Boy's Band was organized in 1913. Ed Blair of Spring Hill published the third printed history of Olathe in 1915. Earl Milton Collier, killed at Belleau Wood in 1918, was the first Olathe casualty of World War I.
The need for army boots increased the reputation of the Hyer Boot factory, and Olathe, in the United States. Olathe population in 1920 was 3,268.
Former Olathe resident Albert I. Beach became mayor of Kansas City, Mo., in 1923, the year Gemmel Memorial Gymnasium opened to student athletes. Kansas City Road, formerly the Santa Fe Trail, was paved in 1925. James "Indian Jim" Brown paved his way into local folklore during a contest among the bricklayers on the new road. The Roaring '20s was a particularly happy time for Olathe youth.
Olathe was described as "a prosperous market town of pleasing residences and stately elms. So popular is the courthouse with couples eloping from Missouri and eastern Kansas that the town has become a local Gretna Green. Judge Bert Rogers, father of Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, orchestra leader and motion picture actor, presides in its 'Cupids Parlor' which is decorated with more sentiment than restraint."
Lake Olathe (now Cedar Lake), covering 57 acres, was constructed in the 1930s. A swimming pool was built under the Works Progress Administration in 1934. It was located in the City Park at Poplar and Woodland. A Colonial-style post office was constructed at a cost of $90,000, and dedicated at Old Settlers in 1939. Albert T. Reid, an artist of national reputation, created the mural "Romance of the Mail" for the new building under WPA grant. Bus service for rural high school students began in 1938.
Olathe's population in 1940 was 3,979 and Johnson County's 33,327. The Strang Line went bankrupt in 1940 and a short time later World War II began.
The first Olathe residents to die in the war were Harlan H. Harper and Don W. Roberds. The Olathe Naval Air Station was commissioned Oct. 1, 1942. In May, 1943, a tornado destroyed more than 100 airplanes. Housing was at a premium because of the migration of military families. The Navy Hill area was constructed to alleviate the shortage. The presence of the military jolted a 50-year social and economic status quo for Olathe. After the war, rapid development in the northeast part of the county set the stage for the urbanization of Johnson County and Olathe.
The Korean Conflict broke out and the first Olathe casualty was James C. Donham, who died Sept. 24, 1950.
The '50s brought many other changes to Olathe. A new courthouse was dedicated in 1952 and the old Washburn building was razed. The Olathe Community Hospital opened in 1953 at the southeast corner of Santa Fe and Cooper and delivered 411 babies in 1956. A central office for Southwestern Bell was constructed in 1957 and Delco-Remy, a division of General Motors, opened its plant in 1956.
Spiraling population as a result of the "baby boom" necessitated the construction of Westview Elementary in 1954 and Ridgeview Elementary in 1956.
Olathe celebrated its centennial in 1957 with a true festival of history. The fourth printed history of the city was produced for the event. Two long-time weekly newspapers, “The Olathe Mirror” and “The Johnson County Democrat,” were purchased by Harris Newspapers in 1959 and became “The Olathe News.” The newspaper survives today as “The Olathe Daily News.”
Rock 'n' roll music came into its own in the '50s. The poet Annie Dillard asked "will the music ever be loud enough?"
1960 - 1970
I-35 was completed in Olathe in 1961. That year, Kansas celebrated its centennial. John Kennedy was inaugurated as president, and Olathe resident John Anderson became governor of Kansas.
Grace Bilger painted the murals in the lobby of the new courthouse, KSD also celebrated its centennial, and Patrons Mutual Insurance began a new office building east of I-35.
Twenty-four inches of snow fell in January 1962. The old Lincoln School, a segregated school for black children that had fallen into disuse, was sold to a private individual. Oral polio vaccine was being tested in some school districts. Kennedy ordered 1,800 Marines into Thailand. Metcalf South Shopping Center began construction.
Squabbling among city commissioners caused so much excitement in Olathe that one resident quipped, "We could hardly wait to get up in the morning to read about it in the paper!" Medicare and women's issues were debated topics. The new Johnson County Home for the Aged was dedicated in July. The largest enrollment ever, 287 started at KSD in September. The first annual All-School Reunion brought 587 out-of-town alumni to Olathe during Old Settlers.
City commission problems were settled by the election of 1963. The restaurants of choice in Olathe were the B & B Cafe at K-150 and I-35, and Custor's Last Stand, a fried chicken establishment sporting a conspicuous chicken head from the roof. It was at the edge of town on the corner of Ridgeview and Santa Fe.
Drought conditions pointed up the inadequacy of the city water system. President Kennedy was assassinated in November.
1964 saw Hyer Boot Factory move to a new building at I-35 and Rawhide. King Radio began a new plant east of I-35, and Safeway began construction of a new store at Woodland and Santa Fe. Fund-raising began for a new hospital. A serious fire destroyed several retail stores on Park Street, which were rebuilt and opened the next year. Olathe's population in 1965 was 12,661. Ernie Miller was named the first "Mr. Olathe" by the Chamber of Commerce. The Snepp family ended 90 years of ownership of Snepp Drugstore when they sold to Roy Taylor. The old St. Paul's Catholic Church was razed in September. The Marley Company and RO Products came to Olathe, and the Sunflower Ordnance Plant was reactivated.
Ambulance service began in Olathe in 1966. The new water system was operating, and the city commission purchased 18 acres of land on north Ridgeview Road to be used as a recreation area. Portions of the movie “In Cold Blood” were filmed here.
1967 saw the advent of urban renewal, MidAmerica Nazarene College (now MidAmerica Nazarene University), cable television, daylight savings time, Johnson County Community College and a new Olathe Community Hospital.
Santa Fe Trail Junior High opened with 600 students in 1968. Hyer Boot Company was sold to a Kansas City firm. Olathe tripled its size through annexation. MANC enrolled 300 students, and Twin City Tool and Die moved into a new plant. Mel Winters was hired as superintendent of schools, and Olathe residents first used voting machines.
Among others, the old Hyer Boot building, the Ernie Miller building, the Avenue Hotel and Hotel Olathe were razed. "Cruzin' the 'Fe" was the thing to do for Olathe youth. Martin Luther King was assassinated, and the newspaper was printing letters from Olathe residents serving in Vietnam, now America's longest war.
1970 - 1980
1971 saw Kansas 18-year olds receive voting rights. Santa Fe was widened to four lanes. Urban renewal continued to ravage older neighborhoods.
In 1972, Edgar Moore graduated with the first class of MANC students and went on to win a seat in the Kansas Legislature. Widening of Santa Fe east of I-35 began in March. A seven-story addition to the Johnson County Courthouse was awarded to J.E. Dunn Co. Ernie Miller Park was sold to the county. The First National Bank moved into a new facility at Kansas City Road and Santa Fe. The new Masonic Lodge was built at K-7 and Park. The Havencroft subdivision was nearing completion in 1973. Plans for the construction of a new city hall and the destruction of the old building were completed. Southwest Grease and Oil broke ground for a new plant. Plastic garbage bags were in use by the city sanitation department subscribers. Water shortage was again critical.
In 1974, the Olathe School District operated 10 elementary schools, two junior high schools and one high school. “The Daily News” moved to its current site on South Kansas Avenue. The Olathe Community Theater Association was established and produced “Bye Bye Birdie.” Chur Switzerland became Olathe's sister city. MANC received full accreditation and Town Square Shopping Center began construction. The street numbering system of Kansas City, Mo., was used on Olathe's east side. Johnson County Industrial Airport was dedicated.
Olathe became the tenth largest city and the Olathe School District became the sixth largest in Kansas in 1978. The Southgate cutoff from Kansas to Harrison was approved. Plans for Crossroads Shopping Center were approved as were plans for the new library, post office, and six buildings for MANC.
New housing starts boomed, but new industry did not materialize. A downtown redevelopment committee was formed. More than 31,000 vehicles a day crossed I-35 on Santa Fe and there were 2,130 parking meters in place. Overcrowding in some Olathe elementary schools was again a problem.
Major issues in Olathe City Commission election of 1979 were traffic problems on Santa Fe, the need for industry and planning, controversial street projects, parks development, and sanitation department problems. The Ridgeview and Harold Street projects were approved and Olathe annexed 440 acres from Ridgeview to K-10 north of town. MANC enrolled 1,253 students, and a second parish was created by the Catholic Archdiocese for the east side of Olathe. The new $1.6 million Public Library was dedicated in November.
1980 - 1989
In 1981 the Olathe population was 37,258 and 270,269 in Johnson County. Good Samaritan Towers, a senior high-rise apartment building, opened in January. North Supply began a $36 million building at the Industrial Airport. Olathe High School graduated its last class of students. Classes would begin in two schools in the fall. A strike by air traffic controllers affected the Olathe FAA Center.
In 1982, business slowdowns caused layoffs in Olathe industries. A bandstand sponsored by the Olathe Arts Council was built on the Courthouse lawn. Plans for a new county jail to be constructed on the former site of the Olathe City Hall began. The Holiday Inn broke ground at US-169 and I-35. Wal-Mart selected a site to build a store at Santa Fe and Mur-Len.
The Trail Theater closed in 1984 to make way for the renovation of the Park Cherry Building. The first phase of Northgate access road system was approved in 1985.
Other landmarks of the ‘80s are:
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