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Franklin Street in WaKeeney in 1886
Brad Rhoden, “History of Trego County 1879-1971,” Western Kansas World, 19 April 1971.
(Today Franklin Street is Main Street and the Commercial House, pictured above, sets where Dietz's IGA is located. On March 4, 1893 the row of 13 frame buildings extending from the Commercial House on the south to the First National Bank were destroyed by fire.)
Like Collyer, WaKeeney began with an advertisement, a railroad advertisement that James F. Kenney of Chicago noticed. In 1877 he purchased some of this railroad land, and another speculator, Albert E. Warren, joined Keeney to found Warren, Kenney, and Company. Soon, these two men, along with others who sought business opportunities, James’ brothers John Keeney and Charles Keeney as well as George Barrel, Thomas Peck, W. S. Harrison, C.W.F. Street, and F. O. Ellsworth, traveled west to found a colony. Contracting their names, Warren and Keeney had their colony, WaKeeney, surveyed and plotted in 1878.
Mrs. Albert Warren
The Albert Warrren House
To attract settlers to their colony, Warren, Keeney, and Company turned to advertisements and celebrations. Hoping to draw people to their colony, Keeney and Warren organized a grand July 4th celebration. Singers and organ music entertained the large crowd. Invited, Governor John P. St. John spoke before the potential settlers. In 1880, WaKeeney was incorporated into a city by Judge John H. Prescott.
Advertisement for land in Trego County
Among the settlers to WaKeeney were those of English descent. G. B. Baker moved his family from Illinois to WaKeeney in 1878. Settled, he turned to a profession he had when he lived in England, a butcher. Having run a successful meat market and having gained the public’s trust, he was elected WaKeeney’s sheriff. In 1884 he became a U.S. Deputy Marshall.Although crop failures forced some settlers to leave in 1879 and 1880, others soon took their places. Volga Germans moved into the area. On October 31, 1897, those who settled west and north of WaKeeney founded the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Those who settled south of WaKeeney founded the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1905.During its boom, WaKeeney area businesses included four hotels, four mercantile stores, two banks, two newspapers, an Opera House, and at least six churches. According to William G. Cutler, WaKeeney was a settlement of activity:Never did people flock to a place as they did to Wakeeney [a former spelling of WaKeeney]. Merchants by the score, professional men by the dozen, mechanics and tradesmen by the hundred, and speculators by the [hordes], all rushed to Wakeeney as though it was a new [El Dorado]. About one hundred carpenters were kept busy night and day, and yet houses could not go up fast enough to accommodate the people. Buildings would be occupied long before they were finished, and although they sprung up as if by magic, “[More] houses” was still the cry. The immense crops of that year added to the rush, and during the fall of 1878 and spring of 1879, Wakeeney was literally jammed with people.*
*William G. Cutler, “Trego County,” chap. in History of the State of Kansas (Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1883; repr., Atchison: Atchison County Historical Society, 1976), vol. 2, 1927.Custer, Sr., Mrs. R.E. “Early Days in Trego County and WaKeeney.” Chap. in Local History as Presented to the Trego County Historical Society. 7th ed. n.p. 1979.Cutler, William G. “Trego County.” Chap. in History of the State of Kansas Vol. 2. Chicago: A.T. Andreas, 1883. Repr. Atchison: Atchison County Historical Society, 1976.Favinger, Lynne. “Early History of WaKeeney.” Chap. in Local History as Presented to the Trego County Historical Society. n.p. 1973.Heckman, Robert Wilson. “Robert Coulter Wilson.” Chap. in Local History as Presented to the Trego County Historical Society. 7th ed. n.p. 1979.Kroeger, Nadine. Interview by author. Trego County Historical Society. WaKeeney, KS. 5 August 2002.Rhoden, Brad. “History of Trego County 1879-1971.” Western Kansas World, 19 April 1971.“Warren, Keeney & Co’s Lands in Trego County, Kansas.” Advertisement. Reprint. Hays Daily News, 25 April 1990.
PhotographsCourtesy of the Trego County Historical Society
Advertisement for WaKeeney“Warren, Keeney & Co’s Lands in Trego County, Kansas,” advertisement, reprint, Hays Daily News, 25 April 1990.
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