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Franklin County History

Area History
Our County’s development was highly influenced by the Indian tribes native to this area as well as those brought here by government treaties. The area that became Franklin County had the most immigrant Indians of all counties in Kansas. Franklin County was home to Pawnee, Missouri, Muncie, Osage, Ottawa, Kansa, Teton, Chippewa, Shawnee, Sac, Fox, and serveral smaller tribes. These tribes were given grants and reservations out of land of the Louisiana Purchase.

Indians lived in this area for thousands of years before European explorers, traders and settlers arrived. French explorers first began to penetrate the area now known as eastern Kansas around the time of the establishment of the Province of Louisiansa. The French named the river that flows though Franklin County, the Marais des Cygnes, which means “marsh of the swans.” The river served as a route for trappers headed west. The French traders of the 1600s forged good relations with the Indians during this time period. In 1801, the Spanish gave the territory back to the French who sold it to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

The Ottawas became one of the tribes with a great deal of influence on the county. The word Ottawa means to trade, and that is what this tribe did. They supplied two thirds of France’s New World supply of fur during the 1600s. The British offered more supplies for their furs so the Ottawa sided with the British during the Revolutionary War. When America won, the Ottawas were foreced to give up their homes.

In 1832, the Ottawa Indians gave up their Ohio lands to the U.S. government in exchange for 34,000 acres of what is now Franklin County Kansas. Joseph Badger King, an Ottawan who was forcibly removed from Ohio to Kansas and eventually relocated to Oklahoma once wrote: “It was indeed a beautiful country which we had left in Ohio but as I recall now, the new land in eastern Kansas was not a whit less attractive and pleasing. The swelling upland prairies and wooded valleys were not only beautiful to the eye, but they were teeming with wild game, which of course, made it rich to the Indians’ way of thinking.”

The first permanent white settlers to make their home in Franklin County were the Rev. Jothan Meeker and his wife, Eleanor, American Baptist missionaries assigned to help the Ottawas. The Rev. Meeker founded the City of Ottawa as an Indian Mission. Ottawa was incorporated as a city on Nov. 23, 1867, and still serves as the Franklin County seat. When the Ottawas signed a treaty moving them to Oklahoma in 1867, settlers flocked in and the town of Ottawa prospered. The land was well suited for farming and ranching.

Development was spured by the coming of the railroads in 1868. A period of economic expansion resuted in construction of homes and storefronts, many of which are now restored to their original beauty and grace the pages of the National Registry of Historic Places.

The nationally famous Chautauqua Assemblies were near the banks of the Marais des Cygnes and played a central role in the development of the area.

Ottawa wasn’t the only community prospering in Franklin County. Centropolis, was formed by Indian agent Perry Fuller in 1856. Le Loup in northeastern Franklin County, was an early shipping point for grain, hay and stock on the now defunct Southern Kansas Railroad, which later became the Santa Fe.

Pomona, now known for its lake, is situated 10 miles west of Ottawa and is one of the most scenic regions in the state. This land was once owned by the Sac and Fox Indians. The city’s founder, John H. Whetstone, chose the name Pomona for the goddess of fruit. Whetstone planted 30,000 fruit trees and established the Pomona Fruit Company, which shipped jellies and preserves all over the United States.

Princeton, 6 miles south of Ottawa, was a stop for the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston Railroad company. Rantoul, in east-central Franklin County, was named for Robert Rantoul, a Massachusetts abolitionist and is near Brown’s Station, the land of John Brown’s sons. Richmond, a railroad town laid out in 1870. Wellsville, in the northeast corner of the county, was known as the “English Blue Grass Capitol” of the world for its production of grass seed. Williamsburg, in the southwest part of the county was established as a railroad town in 1868. Lane, named for the charismatic early Kansas politician, U.S. Senator and General, James Henry Lane, grew from a ford on the Pottawatomie Creek called “Dutch Henry’s Crossing”. John Brown’s Pottawatomie Massacre took place just north of Lane.

The Ottawa Indians & Tauy Jones
The Meekers were followed by John Tecumseh “Tauy” Jones, part Chippewa Indian and part white. Jones, who came here as an interpreter for the Pottawatomie, joined the Ottawa tribe and became their interpreter, advisor and minister. He operated a trading post just south of the Marais des Cygnes, right where downtown Ottawa is today.

Jones married a missionary, Jane Kelly, and built a home northeast of of Ottawa. Before the Civil War, Jones helped abolitionist John Brown in his anti-slavery activities.

The Indians saw what education did for Jones and wanted their children to have the same opportunities. The American Baptist Churches and the Ottawa Indians joined forces to create a university in 1864. The Indians agreed to donate land, 20,000 acres, for the college in exhange for an education for their children. Ottawa Universtiy received its charter April 21, 1865. In 1869, the first permanent building was eracted on the campus.

While today campus enrollment averages near 550, the University’s worldwide enrollment stands at approximately 8,000. In addition to the College, Ottawa University centers exist in Kansas City, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia.

The original college building, named in honor of John Tecumseh “Tauy” Jones, has served as a vital part of the campus landscape since 1869. The word Tauy–pronounced “toy”–is derived from the original pronunciation of Ottawa.

Bleeding Kansas
John Brown of Kansas, as he was known, was not always the wild-eyed man with a flowing white, Moses-like beard depicted by the John Curry murals at the capitol building in Topeka. No, John Brown was a deeply religious man who set out to fulfill God’s word and abolish salvery.

Brown was born in 1800 in Torrington, Conn. He was raised in the Western Reserve of Ohio. A devout Calvinist and father of 12 children, this tall, slender man arrived in Franklin County in 1855 heavily armed and determined to stop the spread of slavery.

Neighbors to the east in Missouri, which was already a pro-slavery state, bagan the tug-o-war with numerous attempts to relocate their slavery supporters into the new territory to influence the election results. As tensions grew, bold militia leaders rose up and set the prairie on fire with blood and heartbreak.

In 1856 hostilities between free-state and proslavery forces erupted again. On May 21st the city of Lawrence was sacked by Missourians. As he had done serveral times before, John Brown set out to aid in the defense of Lawrence only to find out he was too late.

On the evening of the 24th of May five pro-slavery settlers were hacked to death near the Potawatomie creek. This act of butchery shocked the territory and becam known as the Potmawatomie Massacre. Brown never admitted nor denied any direct involvement in the killings.

The battle of Black Jack took place on June 2nd in the southeast Douglas County, where Baldwin City is located. The battle between John Brown’s men and those of Henry Clay Pate is considered the first battle fought between free state and proslavery forces. Brown’s forces routed Pate’s men and took most of them prisoner.

By Aug. 30, the battle of Osawatomie was raging along the banks of the Marais des Cygnes River. General John W Reid and 250 men were on a mission to destroy the abolitionist stronghold of Osawatomie. John Brown and his men were the primary targets. There was a furious firefight along the river, with Brown eventually retreating across the river to high ground where he watched Osawatomie burn.

After years of making Kansas Territory his battleground and pulpit, John Brown put his last plan into action with the raid on Harper’s Ferry. First he and his men captured the federal armory and arsenal. Then, they captured Hall’s Riffle Works.

The local militia pinned Brown and his men down. Under a white flag one of Brown’s sons was sent out to negotiate with the citizens. He was immediately shot and killed. News of the raid soon reached President James Buchanan in Washington D.C. Marines and soldiers were dispatched under the leadership of Colonel Robert E. Lee. Lee’s men quickly moved in and eneded the ordeal.

Brown was seriously wonded and was taken to Charlestown, VA along with his surviving men. There they were quickly tried, sentenced and then executed. John Brown’s words and action were the prelude to the American Civil War.

For more information on this and many more stories on the Civil War please goto the website of the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area at

William H. “Dad” Martin

In 1894, William H. “Dad” Martin took over a photo studio in Ottawa, Kansas. In 1908 he began venturing into trick photography, producing a series of wildly exaggerated photographs. They had so much success for Martin that the following year he sold his studio to concentrate on his postcard business. During the next three years, Martin’s fun loving postcards had earned him a fortune. In 1912 Martin sold the business and founded the National Sign Company.

Historical Points of Interest

Historic Buildings
Ottawa’s prosperity in the late 19th century resulted in many Victorian buildings being built downtown. They have cast-iron storefronts with large windows on the lower level, one or more stories of brick and stone masonry, ornamented window openings and very decorative cornices. Some of Ottawa’s buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. There are a number of historic buildings located throughout town and the county.

Historic Homes
Franklin County Heritage Homes is dedicated to the historic preservation of Ottawa and Franklin County’s older homes and farmsteads. One of the activities of the group is to encourage its members to research and record the history of their homes. They have put together a brochure of over 30 Heritage Homes that have been researched and documented through 2011. It included photographes along with a paragraph on each of the homes listed. This is a self-guided drive tour of the homes. These are private homes and this guide is not for an open house tour. As you walk or drive by these homes please respect the privacy and property of the residents. The brochure is available at the Franklin County Visitor Information Center at exit 187 off of I-35.

Architecture of Franklin County
George P. Washburn is a man who definitely left his mark on Ottawa. In fact he left his mark on many communities across the state. Today, many people are thankful he touched their cities with his talent.

Washburn moved to Ottawa at a time when there were fewer than 50 architects in the entire state of Kansas and opened an office that would serve the city for nearly 60 years.

He was involved in all aspects of building during the town’s boom of the 1880s and 90s. He built churches, public buildings, stores, barns, buildings for the Chautauqua grounds in Forest Park and hundreds of residences. At the same time, he worked on major public commissions in the state and outside it, designing thirteen county courthouses in Kansas, one in Illinois and one in Oklahoma.

Washburn’s long career, as seen in the buildings in Ottawa, traces the passage of architectural styles from Victorian Gothic through Shingle Style, Queen Ann Revival, Romanesque Revival, Colonial Revival to Free Classical after the turn of the century. Research has documented only a protion of the many buildings he designed and built.