The first train rolled into Augusta in 1881 to support the growth of livestock production and increased agriculture in the area. Shortly after the turn of the century two railroad companies would serve the town, the Santa Fe and the Frisco. The discovery of oil and natural gas in Butler County lead to further growth and became a major source of employment for many years.
The Augusta Theater, now home to the Augusta Arts Council, is a classic example of Art Deco. It was the first theater to be illuminated entirely by neon lighting.
Early History of Augusta
by William G. Cutler (1883)
Augusta is located at the junction of the Whitewater and the Walnut, on a level plateau. Its history, or rather that of the land upon which it stands, runs back to an early date in the Territorial days of Kansas. In 1857 a party of explorers from Lawrence camped at this point and made it for some time a rendezvous of their trapping and hunting parties. So much were they pleased with its natural advantages that they laid out a town and called it Augusta. In 1858 a party from Topeka jumped the old town and proceeded to lay out Fontanella, surveying streets and laying out business blocks, many of which were disposed of in Eastern markets. This same year, according to another account the town of Orizonia was laid out at the junction of the rivers.
In the spring of 1859 the town was raided by the Indians and passed out of existence. These lands, it must be remembered, were then Indian property and no whites had any rights in the premises. At a later day the Creeks, Cherokees, Seminoles and Delawares, all loyal tribes driven from their reservations by the rebels, were quartered here. Near the close of the war a trading post was established by Hagan & Morrill, who were succeeded by Conner & Dunlap and Daniel Stine, one of the early settlers of the present town. Early in 1868 the treaty with the Osages was made and this part of the county opened for settlement. The same year Shamleffer & James opened a trading post on the site of the present town, having purchased the claim on which the town stands for $40. The old log store was completed in July and C. N. James moved into it. This was the initial step in the building of the present fair city, which was named Augusta in honor of Mrs. James.
The James & Shamleffer store stood alone until the spring of 1869, when C. C. Grant opened a harness shop. A blacksmith shop and the residence of C. N. James soon followed and the same summer Hon. Thomas H. Baker located a claim adjoining the townsite and put up a general store. This year saw a considerable growth in the new town; a land office was opened by J. M. Herman and an attorney's shingle tacked up by E. E. Eaton and I. N. Phillips. The first hotel, the Augusta House, was also built this year as was a wagon shop and several minor buildings. Thus far although the town was named and had practical existence, it was unsurveyed and the James claim had not even been entered at the proper land office. Both these duties were attended to in the winter of 1869-70.
The latter year a new United States land district was established and the land office opened in June at this point. The town was already spreading as only a well located Western town can and the acquisition of the land office was all that was needed to raise the 'boom' to a furor. By the close of 1870 nearly every quarter section within ten miles of the town was taken and Herman & McKitrick had laid out a very substantial addition. The following year saw a second addition to the town. This was, however, more than counterbalanced the following year by the removal of the land office to Wichita. In 1872 the city, it is claimed, received a majority of the votes cast for the county seat, but the election was declared illegal and the vote never canvassed. With the struggle for the county seat the early history of the city may be said to terminate, and we pass to the more minute description of its corporate existence.
The Augusta postoffice was established in 1870, and C. N. James appointed Postmaster. In 1874, Mrs. M. S. Harrington succeeded to the office, which she held until November 2, 1881, when C. H. Kurtz, the present official, received his appointment. The postoffice was first kept in the original log building of James & Shamleffer, next in Brown's block, in a small building of its own in the south part of town, and finally in the front room of the Southern Kansas Gazette. It was made a Presidential office on October 1, 1882.
The first schoolhouse in Augusta was erected in 1870. This was an exceptionally large and good building for the times, and sufficed for all the wants of the city until 1880, when the present fine building was erected. This is of stone, two stories high and has six rooms. It is in charge of O. E. Olin, principal, and Miss Mary Betts, assistant. Six grades are taught, and six teachers employed. The public schools of the city have always been noted for their excellence, and those of 1882-83 will suffer nothing by comparison with those of earlier years.
The first train on the St. Louis & San Francisco road reached this city on May 8, 1880. This was the signal for a rapid increase of the city's population and a fair launch upon the tide of prosperity now enjoyed. In the spring of 1881, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe road began to build southward from El Dorado, and on August 2nd reached this place.
Augusta was incorporated as a town in 1871, the Board of Trustees consisting of W. A. Shannon, chairman; C. N. James, G. W. Brown and J. R. Nixon. This organization lasted but a short time, and April 13, 1871, the town became a city of the third class.
Methodist Episcopal Church - Augusta circuit was formed in the winter of 1870-71, by Rev. E. S. Snow, a superannuate of the New England circuit. Rev. C. A. Stine took charge of the work in October, 1870, and remained upon it during 1871-72. Rev. Enos S. King was pastor in 1873; Rev. Walter Oakley in 1874, and Rev. Geo. W. Harrison in 1875. Up to this time the society had worshiped in the schoolhouse and in Good Templars Hall, but this time the fine stone church, 30x50 feet, costing $2,485.35, was erected. A parsonage was built near the church in 1878 at a cost of $500. Returning to the list of pastors of the church we find Revs. John Harris, 1876; I. N. Boycourt, 1877; J. Albert Hyden, 1878; W. H. Cline, 1879- 81; E. C. Brooks, 1881-83. The society now has a membership of 106. A Sabbath school established in 1877, has an average attendance of 100 and is in charge of Mr. George Sullivan. On one Sabbath of the month services are conducted by Rev. W. H. Munger, of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, which has a find building in Fairview Township.
The Baptist Church at this point was at its organization, a very weak one. Its first pastor was Rev. Jesse Stone who preached about 1875. At that time a small building on Main street, now used as a carpenter shop, was occupied for services. A church edifice was built in 1878 at a cost of $2,000, and a parsonage purchased in 1882 at a cost of $600. This improvement was accomplished in the pastorate of Rev. C. G. Manly, who held office five years, giving place to Rev. Francis Rice, the present incumbent, in 1882. The society now has a membership of sixty-three. A Sabbath school was organized at an early day and now has an average attendance of sixty-three. It is in charge of E. Hill.
The Presbyterian Church was organized on November 24, 1878, by a committee sent by the Presbytery. For some time the church was unsupplied, but in October, 1879, secured the services of Rev. P. Reed, who still is in charge. Services were held in the Baptist church for six months, then in Custer's Opera House, and then in the present church building. This is the old schoolhouse remodeled and refitted at a total cost of $1,500. The present membership of the society is sixteen. A Sabbath school organized August 17, 1880, is now in charge of Dr. J. W. Brown and has an average attendance of sixty. Since the organization of the church at Augusta several branch societies have been organized; one at Waverly schoolhouse, organized in 1879, has a membership of 23 and is supplied by Rev. P. Reed. Another at Indianola schoolhouse is supplied, at present, by Rev. G. E. Bicknell, of Plum Grove.
St. Henry's Catholic Church was organized in 1879 by Father Thomas J. McCaul, of Wichita, who still supplies it. A church building 20x40 and costing $500 was erected the same year, and services conducted once a month. Prior to the location of the church in Augusta there had been irregular services at the houses of communicants in this part of the county. The organization is now one of considerable strength, having a membership of 150.
The Crescent - This paper was established at Augusta in 1870 by Putnam & Perry. After a brief time the paper passed into the hands of the senior partner, and subsequently into those of Mr. J. B. Davis, who changed the name to the Republican, and soon after sold the material out of the county.
The Southern Kansas Gazette was first issued on July 4, 1874, by C. H. & J. A. Kurtz. Under this management it was conducted until the fall of 1879, when it passed into the hands of C. H. Kurtz alone. It has always been an eight column folio sheet of strong Republican views, has now a circulation of 800, and is issued on Thursdays. The press and much of the type are of historic interest, having been the property of old John Brown, of Osawatomie and world-wide fame. In the attack on Brown the printing office was raided, the type pied, and the press thrown into the brush and broken. From Osawatomie the entire outfit traveled to Paola, Florence, and finally to Augusta, where it is now doing good work.
The Augusta Republican was started on June 9, 1879, by W. A. Albin, who still owns and edits it. Its first form, an eight column folio, has been preserved, and the paper has now reached a circulation of 675 weekly. It is issued on Wednesday of each week from the publication office, in the basement of G. W. Brown's bank building. Its politics are straight Republican.
The first bank in Augusta, as well as in the county, was the private banking house of G. W. Brown. This institution, as a private concern, gives no statement of its resources, which, however, are known to be ample. A fine stone building was erected in 1880 at a cost of $10,000. This is used on the lower floor for banking and on the upper for residence purposes.
Reid's Bank is also a private institution. It was started on September 18, 1880, by John Reid, who now operates it. No statement is made of its resources, but they are known to be about $30,000, of which $20,000 is cash, subject to demand.
City Mills. The Augusta City Mills were built in 1870 by Manly Bros., who operated them until 1879 when they were purchased by A. J. J. W. Ground, who now operate them. Upon taking possession the new owners completely remodeled the mills, making them worth today $10,000. Four run of buhr stones are kept in motion by a sixty horse power engine and have a capacity of sixty barrels of fine flour per day. The mill building, which is 40x50 and two stories in height, stands on the line of the A., T. & S. F. Ry., in the southeastern part of the city.
The Haines Elevator was built in 1882, the old corn mill, which now forms part of the building, having already been in operation several years. The elevator has a capacity of 2,000 bushels of corn and 500 bushels of wheat per twenty-four hours. Power is furnished by a twelve-horse power engine.