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Sesquicentennial of Chase County Courthouse (1873-2023)

A Photo Album

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Videos by Alfred E. Eckes 




Speculators and swindlers touted railroad construction plans in post-Civil War Kansas to settlers eager for improved transportation.   Many of the more than 1,100 railroads authorized during this Gilded Age of extravagance and corruption turned out to be paper railroads which were never constructed or put into service.  This video focuses on some of the individuals who promoted these railroads and persuaded voters to approve bond subsidies for their construction.   Among the smooth-tongued railroad promoters were Samuel N. Wood, Isaac Kalloch, and Johnny Long.  All had been members of the Kansas legislature.  They moved easily between the worlds of government and business in an era when part-time legislators often had conflicting interests. As the video explains, the public obsession with faster and more reliable transportation sometimes enabled hucksters to influence voters and promote uneconomic railroad projects during the Gilded Age.  Many plans failed because of over-construction and adverse economic conditions.   But successful railroad construction was critical to the long-term settlement and economic development of Kansas after the Civil War.  

Speculators, Swindlers & 19th Century Kansas Railroads, Part 3

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"The Iron Horse Changes Chase County,"  Part 2 

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This is the second video in a three-part series on railroad transportation in Chase County, Kansas  It shows how the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1870s, linked rural residents with distant families, and with the busy worlds of business, education, and entertainment. The Santa Fe facilitated the arrival of migrants from the East and Europe. It hastened the development of Chase County’s cattle and limestone industries, accelerating the transition from small family farms to large ranches and mining enterprises serving international markets.

The railroad brought many positive social and cultural changes. As consumers, rural residents of the Flint Hills could easily order goods from distant merchants. They could travel to distant cities in the U.S. and Mexico to vacation and visit with family members. The arrival of road shows and entertainers enabled farm families to learn more about the nation and the world.
But, the railroad also had negative aspects. As a result, in Chase County agrarian protests of the late nineteenth century had considerable appeal.

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"If Chase County Tombstones Could Talk"

If Chase County Tombstones Could Talk - YouTube


Many of the remarkable people who settled and developed Chase County, Kansas, before and after the Civil War, rest in some 30 public and private cemeteries around the county.   This video, narrated by historian Alfred Eckes, focuses on these pioneers. Some were ranchers, farmers, quarrymen, and homemakers who migrated from the Midwest and Western Europe. In the Flint Hills they struggled to build businesses and farms, and to raise families in an era when many children died from diseases and accidents. Others were prominent lawmen, law breakers, circus entertainers, and distinctive public officials. The last group included the all-female mayor and city council elected in Cottonwood Falls in 1888 at a time when women could not vote in state and federal elections.

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“School Bells in Chase County, Kansas: From One-Room

Schools to Consolidation and Unification”. 

Video Link: School Bells in Chase County, Kansas: From One-Room Schools to Consolidation and Unification - YouTube

Chase County grew rapidly in the decades after the Civil War. The county's population quadrupled to 8,246 from 1870 to 1900, as settlers arrived to stake out farms and work in the booming limestone quarries. Many had large families with eight to ten children. To serve their educational needs, the county established 66 districts with one-room schools where children could obtain a basic education, learning to read, write, and calculate. As this video shows, communities were proud of their local schools and reluctant to lose them. But professional educators and the Kansas legislature favored consolidation to provide country children broader educational opportunities. In the 20th century pressures to consolidate and unify school districts would multiply, as Chase County experienced a sharp decline in pupil enrollments. By 2010, Chase County, which once had 66 common or grade schools, and seven high schools, had only one elementary school and one junior-senior high school remaining.

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“Living with the Forces of Nature in Chase County, Kansas”

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Nineteenth-century settlers in the beautiful Flint Hills had to cope with many weather-related hazards. These included extreme climate conditions in winter and summer, blizzards, strong winds and cyclones, extended droughts, and devastating floods. In this video Nathaniel Reynolds, who teaches meteorology at Wichita State University, considers the Flint Hill's unique weather, and the adverse icing and fog conditions that brought down Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne's airplane in March 1931. Farmer and rancher Chuck Magathan tells how extreme temperature changes impacted agriculture. He also explains how local residents built small water-retention dams to reduce flooding on the Cottonwood River.

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“Chase County's Hidden Wealth: Quarries, Stone Cutters,

and a Construction Empire”   

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Abundant deposits of native white limestone attracted stonecutters and quarrymen to Chase County in the 1870s. Some came to work on the new courthouse. They used beautiful Cottonwood limestone to construct buildings and railroads across the West from Chicago to San Francisco, and from Strong City to Mexico City. Barney Lantry built a construction empire from his headquarters in Strong City. Phil Santy constructed the splendid double-arch bridge at Clements. David Rettiger designed many beautiful homes and buildings -- including the Spring Hill home and barn on the Tallgrass National Preserve.  Limestone quarrymen built the Strong City Opera House where John Philip Sousa, the famous band leader, performed in November 1902.

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“Revisiting the Wild West in Chase County Kansas” 

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During the 1870s and 1880s, with the arrival of the Santa Fe railroad, Chase County became a major grazing area for beef cattle on the way to eastern markets. As in other more famous Kansas cattle towns there were lawless episodes. Strong City's bars attracted cowboys and limestone miners eager to have a good time. Shoot-outs occasionally occurred. Horse thieves and cattle rustlers in the area sometimes experienced justice at the end of a rope thrown over a cottonwood tree by angry ranchers.

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