Humboldt, named after Baron von Humboldt, was founded in 1857. Germans migrating from Hartford, Connecticut, began organizing a colony during the winter of 1856–57. They arrived in Lawrence, Kansas, in March of 1857, and at the townsite on May 10, 1857. Orlin Thurston, a young attorney, moved to Humboldt during the summer of 1857 and put up a steam sawmill; he began sawing wood and building houses on the prairie side of town. The first frame building was erected by J.A. Coffey; and in May of 1858, W.C. O'Brien opened the first gristmill in the county. The United Brethren Denomination erected the first church in 1859.
The city was organized as a village in 1866 and incorporated as a city of the second class by the act of February 28, 1870. In October of 1870 the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston railway was run through Humboldt; the railway is currently a short line owned by BNSF Railway.
Humboldt was the Allen County seat for seven years, from 1858 until 1865, when Iola became the seat. Humboldt won two contentious legislative elections to become the seat in 1858 and 1860, but another election in 1865 in the midst of the American Civil War resulted in the re-location of the county seat to Iola. The legitimacy of this election was questioned by Humboldt residents due to low turnout arising from soldiers fighting the War. Some residents claim that the county seat was "stolen". Iola effectively secured the seat by donating 100 lots to the county to aid in the construction of public buildings and subsequently raising funds to build a courthouse. County seat wars of this sort were common in Kansas and the American West.
The Early History of Humboldt
by William G. Cutler (1883)
This is a thriving business town, situated in the southwestern part of the county. The location is a desirable one, on the level valley lands on both the east and west banks of the Neosho River. The business portion of the town is on the east side of the river and about one half mile from its bank. Coal Creek forms part of the southern limits. The two railroads are the Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern Kansas on the east side, and the Missouri, Kansas & Texas on the west side of the river.
The population of Humboldt is about 1,400, and the town is at present about at a standstill, though there are prospects of increased progress in the near future. There are here some of the best business houses in the county, and the town enjoys a large and prosperous trade. The Neosho River furnishes an abundant water power which is already being utilized for manufacturing purposes. The citizens are of a substantial class and progressive.
In the fall of 1856 B.M. Blanton, a Methodist missionary, in making a trip through southern Kansas became impressed with the idea that this was an excellent point for the foundation of a town. He returned to Lawrence and told his brother, N. B. Blanton, and J. A. Coffey of this selection, advising them to locate a town site. In March, 1857, J. A. Coffey selected the site, and with the aid of a pocket compass made a temporary survey. He found an abandoned log cabin there; it had been built the spring before by some claimant who abandoned the country. In the fall of 1856 Charles Baland, who was sick, abandoned his claim near there and moved into the cabin, where he spent the winter, and in the spring, intending to leave the country, he presented the cabin and his claim to the land to Mrs. E.H. Young, but finally decided to remain, and located another claim where his farm now is. Coffey finding a claim on the land paid $20 for it to secure peaceable possession. He then returned to Lawrence, where he and Blanton met a German Colony, which was induced to help them form a town.
The German Colony was organized in Hartford, Conn., during the winter of 1856-7, and consisted of F. M. Sarenbets, Jacob Schleicher, William Lassman, John Frixel, Franz Trontz, -- Landerwasser, A. Senner, H. Zwanziger and N. Kemmerer. All of these with the exception of the last named, who did not come until a year later, arrived at Lawrence in March, 1857. There they were met by Blanton and Coffey, who induced them to locate on their town site. The Humboldt Town Company was organized and the town so named in honor of Baron von Humboldt. Among the members were J. A. Coffey, N. B. Blanton, F. M. Serenbets, J. H. & H. W. Signor, Dr. Hartman and A. D. Searle. The German portion of the colony arrived on May 10, 1857, and were soon followed by Coffey, Blanton and others.
The first house built was one of the logs built for J. A. Coffey, at a cost of $25. It was located on Bridge street, on the east side of the river. The next house was built southwest of Coffey's in the summer of 1857, and was known as "Bachelors' Hall." It was occupied during the summer by Dr. G. A. Miller, R.M. Works, J. W. Sperring, J. H. and H. W. Signor, B. H. Whitlow and W. W. Pollock. During the same summer, a man by the name of Clark, built a two story log hotel. In June, J. A. Coffey opened a store in a cabin in the timber near the river. This store was soon after sold to W. C. O'Brien.
During the summer of 1857, Orlin Thurston, a young attorney, was persuaded to locate at Humboldt, and put up a steam saw mill. He soon began sawing lumber, and then building began on the prairie portion of the town site, where the business center now is. Before this most of the building was in the timber along the river. In the spring of 1858, Charles Fussman opened a tin shop, in a log cabin, in the timber. The first frame building erected was on the corner of Eighth and Bridge streets, which was a residence and store of J. A. Coffey. It was afterward part of the cigar manufactory of W. H. Holtschneider, destroyed during the fire of January, 1883.
In the spring of 1858, a steam saw and grist mill was opened by W. C. O'Brien. The mill was hauled from Jefferson City, MO., and required the use of nine yoke of oxen and one span of horses. It took fifty-four days to make the trip both ways. The mill was in operation by May 1st, and had one run of buhrs (sic). It was the first grist-mill in the county.
During 1858, the town grew quite rapidly. Prominent among the settlers of that year was John R. Goodin, who has since distinguished himself as a District Judge, and as a member of Congress. The first physician to locate in Humboldt, was Geo. A. Miller, in 1857. His office was first in a tent, and his sign as "physician and surgeon" was nailed to a jack oak tree.
The post-office was established in 1858, and A. Irwin appointed Postmaster. A postal route had been established from Lawrence, the same year. Before that time the mail was brought from Fort Scott by private carriers. Among them were S. J. Stewart and a young man named Dotson. The mail was weekly until 1865, when it was changed to tri-weekly, and not long after to daily. The first brick was made at Humboldt, in 1859, on the place now owned by Capt. O. S. Coffin, adjoining the town on the south.
Prior to the year 1860, meetings of the town company were held at Lawrence, and some of the members never removed to Humboldt. On June 20th, however, the company reorganized and was incorporated under the name of the Humboldt Town Association, which was composed of N. B. Blanton, J. A. Coffey, J. H. Signor, H. W. Signor, Geo. A. Miller and W. C. O'Brien. The town site was entered on November 16, 1860, by J. G. Rickard, in trust for the Town Association.
In 1861, the United States Land Office was removed to Humboldt from Fort Scott. N. B. Blanton had been elected a member of the first State Legislature, and all his work had been in the interest of Humboldt. He voted for both Lane and Pomeroy for United States Senators, securing from them the promise that the land office should be removed to his town. J. C. Burnett was Register of Land Office, and Charles Adams, son-in-law of Lane, was Receiver. Senator Lane gave them orders to select a new location. Humboldt finally secured it, but the Town Association had to give 200 lots in order to obtain it. The removal was effected and the office opened for business, September, 23, 1861, in a building on Bridge street, the old red frame structure now used as a barber shop. It was then used as the court house as well.
From the foundation of the town, until the summer of 1860, its growth was quite rapid. There was then a population of perhaps 300, and there were about fifty buildings. The drought of that year had such an effect on the country that for the remainder of the year and early in 1861, the town progressed very slowly. During all its earlier history, Humboldt was more prosperous than most of the Kansas towns, having such a large trade with the Indian tribes on the south and west.
In 1861, the war broke out, and most of the able-bodied men having enlisted in the army, but little building was done. Then in September of that year, the town was robbed, and about one month later was burned by rebel raiders. Only a few buildings were left, and until the close of the war, but few new buildings were erected.
The first building of any consequence that was erected after the raid, was the "red store," on the corner of Bridge and Eighth streets, now a part of the store of Neal & Cunningham. The lower story was built by Col. W. Doudna, and the upper one by the Masonic fraternity. This was followed by a few more buildings.
In 1866, the town began to progress quite rapidly, and a number of fine structures were erected. Among them were the schoolhouse, Catholic church, the brick block on Eighth street, of which the Monroe House now forms a part, and a number of other good buildings. During the next three years the growth of the town was quite rapid. In 1865, a treaty was effected with the Osage Indians which permitted actual settlers to enter 160 acres each, at $1.25 per acre. This land was sold in 1868, and the Land Office being at Humboldt, brought an immense trade to the town, which made it for some time one of the most thriving business places in the State.
On April 2, 1870, the M., K. & T. R. R. was completed to the town site. To secure this road, the city voted $75,000 in bonds. The citizens also bought for $1,300, 160 acres of land on the west side of the river, of which they gave to the railroad company ten acres for depot grounds and right of way, and the remainder was divided into lots, of which the railroad company received one-half. In October, 1870, the L. L. & G. R. R. (now the K. C., L. & S. K. R. R.) was finished to Humboldt and the event was celebrated the following month.
The years 1870 and 1871, were marked by the rapid growth of the town. Large numbers of buildings were erected, some of them being constructed of brick and stone. Property greatly increased in value until it was almost impossible to buy lots. An iron bridge was built across the Neosho River by the Humboldt Bridge Company, which was composed of some of the leading men of the town and various other improvements were made.
In 1872, the improvements of the town was not so rapid, and the inflated prices of property began to decrease. In 1873, the great financial crash seriously affected the business of Humboldt, and this was followed by the general devastation of crops by grasshoppers the following year, which resulted very disastrously to the town, some of the merchants failing in business, while many of the citizens moved away. Then followed a dull period, but before it commenced the town had arrived to nearly its present proportions. For the last ten years, while it is true that at no time has there been any great progress, Humboldt has always held its ground as a prosperous business town, and if slowly, improvements have steadily been made and at the present time its future prospects seem more favorable than at any other period in its history.
The Fire of 1883. - Since the burning of Humboldt by the rebels in 1861, noted in the history of the county, there have been very few fires. The last one occurred on the night of January 11, 1883. About eight o'clock the fire was discovered in the brick building owned by Dayton, Barber & Co., on Bridge street. The lower floor was occupied by the grocery store of Charles Lehman, and the upper story by law offices, and the Independent Press printing office. On the same floor H. D. Smith and family and Mrs. Lydia Sniff resided. All had gone to church and left a lamp burning in the printing office and it is supposed it exploded. The building was soon in flames, and to prevent the fire spreading further, the cigar factory on the east was torn down. On the west was Curdy's double store, over which were law, insurance, and real estate offices, as well as dental rooms. This building was soon covered with men who, by hard work, saved the building. The greater part of the goods, furniture and fixtures, were carried from all these rooms, except Smith's private rooms and printing office, the contents of which were all destroyed. The damage to the goods, as well as to Curdy's building, was great, but most of the property, except Smith's, was insured for nearly enough to cover the losses.
Humboldt was organized as a village on April 6, 1866, by an order from A. L. Dornberg, the Probate Judge. The trustees appointed were Orlin Thurston, W. Doudna, J. C. Redfield, George A. Miller and N. Kemmerer. Orlin Thurston was elected chairman, and Charles Baland, clerk. In the spring of 1870, Humboldt was incorporated as a city of the third class, W. W. Curdy was elected Mayor; T. L. Byrne, Clerk; and J. C. Redfield, Treasurer. The Council was composed of Moses Neal, Charles Fussman, William Rath, W. H. Andrews and N. Kemmerer.
At the present time the city can hardly be said to have an organized government. Some years ago bonds to a large amount were voted to the Fort Scott narrow-gauge railroad, which were to be paid when the road was completed across the town site from the M. K. & T. to the K. C., L. & S. K. R. R. The track was laid for that distance, but the road was never finished. The city, feeling the claim for bonds to be unjust, dropped its leading city officers, that a suit could not be brought against the corporation. Therefore, there is now no Mayor, Clerk, Treasurer, or President of the Council. Yet to keep up some form of government, two members of the council are elected and perform the regular duties of a city board. The only other official is the City Marshall.
Schools and Churches
The first school was taught in 1858, by S. W. Clark. The next teacher was Prof. Hand, who, in 1859 and 1860, began the erection of an academy. The drought coming on, this was abandoned. In 1860, the teacher was Miss Myra Pitcher; in 1861, William Hart; Miss Kate Burnett, 1862. The improvement of the schools has kept pace with the progress of the town, and now there are seven departments, four being taught in one schoolhouse, and the other three in another. The old schoolhouse was built in 1866. The school is in a very prosperous condition and under charge of Prof. H. C. Ford.
In 1856, Rev. C. R. Rice, of the Methodist Episcopal Church Society, preached in the neighborhood of Humboldt, and was followed in 1857 by Rev. Mr. Thompson. The first sermon was preached in Humboldt in 1857, by Prof. F. M. Serenbets. He preached in both the English and German languages. During the years of 1859 and 1860, Rev. A. Coffey, a Baptist minister, preached in Humboldt and throughout the county. Among other early ministers were Rev. Messrs. Garrison Cable, S. M. Webb, I. Knott and W. W. Witten.
The first church erected was that of the United Brethren in Christ, began in 1859 and finished the following year. Among the leading members of this society were N. B. Blanton and his family and Evart DeWitt and family. This church was for some years used as a union church for all denominations, also for a schoolhouse.
The first Sunday-school was organized in the Union Church on May 13, 1860, by Revs. I. Knott and S. M. Webb. It was a union school, and Dr. William Wakefield was elected the first superintendent. This school was kept up during the summer for every year except that of 1862, until April, 1867. It was then succeeded by the Methodist Episcopal Sunday-school, of which Dr. William Wakefield was elected superintendent.
Methodist Episcopal Church. - This church was organized in the summer of 1860, with John Tripp, class leader, and Rev. Mr. Bukey, minister. The church was built in 1870. It is located on New York street. It has always been prosperous, and has a large membership. Rev. Mr. C. R. Pattee is pastor.
The Evangelical Association. - In the year 1860, the Germans built a house of worship on Bridge street, east of the public square. The church was under the charge of Rev. Dubbs. Some time afterward there was some difference of opinion among the members, and the Evangelical Lutherans withdrew, since which time the old society has been known as the Evangelical Association. The society is prosperous, with Rev. H. Toedman the present pastor.
German Evangelical Lutheran Church. - In the year 1863, this church society built their brick church with a stone front. William Lange was the first pastor. The church has always enjoyed prosperity. Rev. F. Karth is the present pastor.
St. Joseph's Catholic Church. - Many Roman Catholics located at Humboldt at an early date. In 1865 steps were taken to build a church in the northern part of the town. The citizens contributed liberally, and in due time their house of worship was completed. The church has quite a large membership, under charge of Rev. Father Charles L. Kearful.
The Presbyterian Church. - On July 12, 1868, this church society was organized by Revs. A. T. Norton and James Lewis. The first members were James Blyth, C. P. Ives, H. A. Curdy, Naomi Goodin, Emma Wakefield and Mrs. Eliza Savercool. Rev. James Lewis was pastor until 1875. The society is prosperous, and Rev. W. B. Chamberlain is now pastor. The Sunday-school was rganized in 1868, and has since been kept up.
The Baptist Church. - Services were held by this church denomination from the first year of the history of Humboldt. An organization was soon effected. Among the prominent members were Rev. H. K. Stimpson, A. L. Dornberg and family, and Dr. George A. Miller and family. Occasional services were held until the church was re-organized, on January 30, 1870. There were then eleven members, and Rev. A. Hitchcock was the first pastor. The church was built in 1872, being dedicated on May 19 of that year. It is situated on Ninth street.
The Christian Church. - This society has an effective organization, and services are held regularly. Rev. G. W. Taylor is the pastor. The church was organized at quite an early date, the prominent members being Elders Brown and Shaw, and the families of E. H. Young, O. B. Young, and Phineas Cox.
Banks, Manufactures, Etc.
The history of the banking institutions of Humboldt, is as follows: In 1869, Pratt & Ten Eyck founded a bank, and continued in partnership until 1870, when they dissolved. Pratt & Dayton then founded the Humboldt Bank, and Bacon & Ten Eyck, the Allen County Bank, which failed the next year. In 1875, the Humboldt Bank passed into the hands of Dayton, Barber & Co., who are still its proprietors.
The Humboldt Water Flouring Mill occupies the site of the old O'Brien grist mill. It was rebuilt by him in 1866. In 1875 O'Brien & Lindsay put in a dam, making a water-power mill. The entire property was afterward purchased by William Lindsay and improvements made until it is now one of the best mills in the State. Flour is manufactured by the new patent process, and the capacity of the mill is one hundred barrels per day.
Coal Creek Flouring Mill is a stone grist and flouring mill on Coal Creek, south of town. It is operated by steam. It was built in 1871 by Torbert, Dickinson & Co.; but is now operated by Greenfield & Co., and a good quality of flour is made. Lander's Carriage Factory is operated by Charles Lander, and is located on Bridge street. Wagons, carriages, buggies, phaetons, etc., are manufactured. Redfield's Carriage Factory is located in the northern part of the town, and is owned and operated by W. A. Redfield, who turns out a good quality of work, making all kinds of vehicles.
Humboldt Furniture Factory is situated on the west bank of the Neosho River, on Bridge street, runs by water-power, and is owned and operated by Utterson & McLeod. The manufacture of furniture began in 1875, and has since been kept up. Eight hands are employed, and about $6,000 paid out annually. The value of the factory is about $4,000.
Humboldt Woolen Mill. - In 1882 E. Stickler purchased the old brewery on the east bank of the Neosho River, on Bridge street, and began work to construct a woolen mill. The building is to comprise two wings, one 20x45 feet, and the other 16x45 feet. The machinery is on the ground and the mill nearly ready for work. It is to be a one-set mill of six looms and will require ten operatives. The capital is $10,000. It is proposed to soon add a machine shop.
The Neosho Valley Land Agency
This is one of the institutions, not only of Allen County, but of all southeastern Kansas. It was organized in 1875, with George A. Bowlus, the former land broker, as general manager, and J. H. Richards as its attorney. Mr. Bowlus carried his already extensive business into the new concern. It advertised largely in almost every State and Territory in the United States. It has published books, papers, statistical information, circulars, corresponded, and by every fair means laid before home-seekers everywhere, reliable facts concerning that part of Kansas particularly known as the Neosho Valley.
It has not therefore been local or altogether selfish, but has been a most important factor in all that part of Kansas within the radius of its labors and influence. It is hardly necessary to say that its immediate vicinity has been greatly benefited by it, and its population wonderfully multiplied. During its years of existence it has required the most of the time of one person to answer the numerous inquiries from all parts of the country and supply statistics asked for. They have carefully boxed and shipped to many commercial centers of the country samples of the various cereals, grasses, roots and fruits of this rich valley.
In 1882 they sent a large selection of these samples to Hon. Frank Dundore of the Philadelphia Exchange, and were exhibited to the great satisfaction of the Stock Exchange and others of that city, until literally carried away piece-meal by the multitudes who came to wonder and admire. The following article is taken from the Philadelphia Evening Star, of July 3, 1882:
"An agricultural fair in a broker's office; the wonderful display of fruits and cereals made by Kansas at the Centennial exhibition will be long remembered by those who saw it. That the things exhibited were not grown for an international exhibition has been proved repeatedly, by the exhibitions given since of the wonderful fertility of the soil of that State. One of the finest exhibitions of what the State can do, if not the finest, was seen this morning in the office of F. Dundore & Co., brokers, 38 South Third street. The stock board closed, and therefore the brokers had plenty of time on hand to view the exhibition in Mr. Dundore's office. They availed themselves of the opportunity so unanimously that when the reporter entered the place he thought he was attending an agricultural fair. Mr. George A. Bowlus, of Iola, Allen County, Neosho Valley, Kansas a personal friend of Mr. Dundore, sent him by express a box containing specimens of the cereals, fruits and vegetables that are raised in that vicinity, and could be seen on the farms at the time the box was expressed, June 29. There were in the box large apples, almost ready for eating, more than ordinary sized crab apples, onions, some of which would weigh a pound; Lima beans, the pods of which were fully three inches long; new potatoes, averaging two to a pound; large luscious blackberries, peaches almost ready for picking, specimens of flax fifty-four inches in height, oats that had grown fifty-eight inches and were remarkably heavy, clover as full of the flower as an egg is of meat, three feet high; timothy thirty-eight inches high; wheat as thick, heavy and white as seen anywhere, and corn seven feet high, full of ears. Mr. Bowlus, in a letter accompanying the box, said that the corn was growing in that section at the rate of four inches a day, and if the weather was as good as it had been there would be the largest crop ever gathered in the State. The wheat, oats and flax had all been cut, and had yielded more than the most enthusiastic farmer anticipated. The exhibits are certainly remarkable, and go to show what the great West can do."
But its work seems to be just begun. Its proprietors seem to never tire of their ceaseless round of toil. New features are to be added, a regular bureau of statistics and current information is to be established. A paper to be regularly published, not only as an advertising medium, but of general news. A traveling agent and correspondent to be put in the field. A land agency, as a rule, is a private enterprise, operated for making money in the ways characteristic of too many such, and altogether selfish in its plans and purposes, but the manner in which the Neosho Valley Land Agency of Iola is conducted, demonstrates that a land agency under the management of competent and conscientious men, whose lives and business have been worked into the very foundation walls of the community may rise to a dignity and office of an institution such as we have already declared this to be.
Humboldt is located at 37°48'39N, 95°26'15W (37.810738, -95.437418). The city is situated along the east bank of the Neosho River, midway between Iola (to the north) and Chanute (to the south, in Neosho County) along Old 169 Highway. The old highway passes through the center of town, while the current U.S. Route 169 passes by at about a mile to the east. A short line for BNSF Railway passes along the eastern side of town and terminates in Iola. Allen County Airport is located only a few miles to the northeast. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.7 km² (1.4 mi²), of which 3.7 km² (1.4 mi²) is land, and 0.70% is water.
Humboldt's population was estimated to be 1,921 in the year 2005, a decrease of 87, or -4.3%, over the previous five years. As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 1,999 people, 825 households, and 554 families residing in the city. The population density was 543.5/km² (1,403.3/mi²). There were 925 housing units at an average density of 251.5/km² (649.4/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 93.00% White, 1.75% Black or African American, 0.45% Native American or Alaska Native, 0.10% Asian, 2.65% from other races, and 2.05% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.15% of the population.
There were 825 households out of which 27.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.4% were married couples living together, 8.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.8% were non-families. 29.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.92.
In the city the population was spread out with 23.6% under the age of 18, 8.9% from 18 to 24, 24.2% from 25 to 44, 22.9% from 45 to 64, and 20.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 96.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $30,408, and the median income for a family was $39,750. Males had a median income of $28,512 versus $18,712 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,651. About 9.8% of families and 12.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.1% of those under age 18 and 10.8% of those age 65 or over.
The Humboldt school district (USD 258), with three schools, serves more than 500 students.
Humboldt Elementary School, grades K–5
Humboldt Middle School, grades 6–8
Humboldt High School, grades 9–12
Humboldt is the site of Biblesta, a parade through the center of town. Local churches, businesses, and organizations create floats for the parade based on Bible stories. Other festivities during Biblesta generally include a Christian-music concert and bean-feed.
Humboldt only has one traffic light.
Humboldt has three water towers.
Walter Johnson, who won 416 games for the Washington Senators, second all-time behind Cy Young, was born in Humboldt 1887.