Centropolis Kansas

The following has been abstracted from documents found in the files of the Franklin County Historical Society, Ottawa Kansas.

When the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was passed in 1854, very little of Franklin county was open to white settlement. Much of it was divided among the various Indian tribes into reservations, including the Shawnee, Sac and Fox, Chippewa, and Ottawa. There was a strip around the north edge of the county, about three miles wide , known as the Shawnee purchase, which was opened on May 10, 1854.

From June, 1854, there was a steady stream of settlers arriving; the first of these settling in the Shawnee purchase in Franklin county. At this time, the pro-slavery issue was a hot one with many settlers arriving for political reasons, On the evening of June 26, a group of 15 men arrived on Eight-Mile-Creek near present Centropolis. They camped on the creek bank that night and the next morning a vote was taken to decide whether Kansas should be a free or slave state. All voted free except two, these being J.M. Bernard and Timothy Keizer, The other settlers included JACOB CLARK, I.C. Hughes, Thomas Doty, John F. Jaens, Franklin Barns, Johnson Farris, Perry Fuller, Leander McClellan, John E. McClellan, and Manfield Carter. This important matter of slavery being settled, each man selected his claim, Bernard's being east of and adjoining the present townsite of Centropolis, John Javens build the first cabin on Eight-Mile-Creek.

Early in 1855, Bernard opened a store on his quarter-section and on March 3, he was appointed postmaster, and the post office being appropriately named after him St. Bernard. St. Bernard, however, was a short-lived settlement. Although the Kansas Territorial Legislature designated it as a county seat in 1855, the town neither grew nor prospered. Finally a raid by free-state men was carried out against Bernard and his post office after he had made himself obnoxious and threatening one to many times, and when Bernard was induced to leave, there was nothing left of the town. The St. Bernard Post Office was discontinued on November 26, 1858, immediately changing to Minneola.

The town of Centropolis found its suspicious beginnings in the hand of pioneer Perry Fuller. Sometime later in 1855, Perry Fuller build a frame store building on the townsite. Almost from the start, Fuller conceived of his townsite as the county seat and territorial capital of Kansas, hence its often used post office name is a contraction of Central Metropolis -- "Centropolis".

Fuller's store based much of its trade on the nearby Indian populations. His stock of goods were shipped overland by West & James Company of Kansas City. Business was good for Fuller, his aggregate sales amounting to $50,000 a year! In 1856 Fuller took William Moore into partnership. The new firm bought out West & James and continued the business for themselves. About this time the Centropolis Town Company was organized with he following members: Perry Fuller, John F. Javens, Franklin Barns, George Powers, Samuel T. Shores, William Moore, J.K. Goodin, George W. Smith, Benjamin C. Westfall, Samuel Mewhinney, Ralph Mayfield, Cyrus K. Holliday, William Y. Roberts, and Cyrus Currier. The goal of the Town Company was to make the new city not only the county seat, but also the territorial capital as well. The town grew quite rapidly and lots were sold at what then were exorbitant prices - $500 a lot! {Cyrus K. Holliday went on to be one of the founders of Topeka Ks}

Throughout 1856 many dwellings were erected. A Dr. Hall opened a dry goods and grocery store which, within two years was sold to H.H. Bliss. George Powers build a boardinghouse and in 1857 a restaurant. Jacob Long built a trading house and sold liquor to the indians. Fuller and Moore, not wanting to see such a business in their town, purchased Long's supply of liquor and, knocking in the heads of the barrels, let it flow out into the in the prairie. The Indians, however, sorry to see so much liquor wasted, gathered up as much of it as they could with buckets as it seeped into the ground. A school was opened in 1855, William Cator being the first teacher. In the fall of 1956 Centropolis gave Franklin county its first town newspaper, the "Kansas Leader", published by W.H. Austin. Previously, the Reverend Jothan Meeker had published a missionary newspaper in the county.

Centropolis reached its peak around 1857. At that time there were 30 buildings in the town, among them being four saloons and a prosperous gambling house. The town also completed a large steam saw mill that year operating by J.A. Marcell. In 1860 a severe drought hit the farmers in this area hard. Many packed their belongings and moved away. The "Centropolis Journal" was started on March 9, 1864, by Charles W. Goodin. It was a small paper and acquired a circulation of about 500. It was suspended just six months later. A school was build in 1877 at the cost of $1,200. A church was built in 1880 at Centropolis at a cost of $1,000. By 1880 Centropolis had a population of 175, with two general stores, one hardware store, two blacksmith shops, one wagon and one machine shop, one grist mill, one cabinet shop, and one hotel. The railroad bypassed the town in favor of Norwood, LeLoup and Baldwin City.

The bypassing of the railroad did not kill the town an example of civic pride was the ball teams. Below is one of the teams from the 1920's.

Back row: Tom Sands, Lanty Brubaker, Hayden Turner, Dr. Claud Flora

Middle row: Alvin Fisher, Harold Fisher, Clyde Gruver, Vern Clark, Oren Oyler

Front row: Orval Baker, Dr Homer Flora

With the advent of the telephone, shares of stock were sold in the Centropolis Telephone Company. Service was furnished to outlying areas, in places using barbed wire fences to carry the service. The switch board was located in the front from of a home, and calls were "put through" from 7AM until 8PM. Only emergency calls were allowed after hours, and often a crusty, sleepy operator, impatient at being wakened, would demand to know the nature of the message before completing the call. If he decided it was not of a truly "emergency" nature, he merely dropped the key and went back to bed, the call not made. This system, surprisingly, lasted until 1969, when the company was sold to Contel Telephone. It was one of the last independent telephone companies in Kansas to "go modern", putting an end to many frustrated callers!

The great depression of the 1930's was even harder on the town. One of its doctors left, the harness making shop closed, bowing to the inevitablilty of the automobile, and the bank failed. Finally only two general stores, the blacksmith and garage, a barber shop, and the restaurant remained. The restaurant, whimsically named "The June Bug" was a favorite gathering place for the townsmen. Oldtimers fondly recall the old building, and how one of the village characters, "Dinger" Turner, would empty the restaurant in record time. It seams that Dinger, when he grew tired of listening to the general conversation, would enliven things by whipping out his pistol and shooting flies off the ceiling -- guaranteed to cause a speedy retreat by all present!

Two businesses survived the ups and downs of the small town. One was Gilliland's, a garage and tire shop started in 1926 by Elmer Gilliland. For a time it also included a sawmill and an icehouse, and provided electricity for fourteen houses in the town, finally selling out that portion to Kansas City Power and Light about 1940. It continues to serve the community, operated after Elmer by his son Leland "Bud", and now by his grandson, Gene, and his grandson-in-law, John Bowman, and is recognized by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. as the third oldest dealership in Eastern Kansas.

The other mainstay of the town through the decades was the Farmers Union Mercantile, fondly called "Olga's" after Miss Olga Simmons, who came to work there in 1924. She continued on, first as clerk and then as proprietor, for 57 years -- until illness forced her retirement in 1981. The old store was auctioned off in 1983, and purchased by Leland & Mabel Gilliland, owners of the garage and tire shop across the street. For a time, new life was breathed into the old store when it was reopened by the Gilliand's daughter, Robyn Bownam. She operated the store until the fall of 1988, when the difficulties of delivery service by suppliers and lace of help forced her again to close. Since that time, the building has stood empty, giving mute testimony to the echoes of a boisterous past and an almost forgotten dream.

  • The Clarks of Centropolis
  • Web page of John R. Clark