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Kansas Heritage: Rooks County

Aimed at preserving the heritage of central and western Kansas

Rooks County Map 1899

Rooks County map

Prentis, Noble Lovely. "History of Kansas". Winfield, KS: E. P. Greer, 1899

Homesteading in Rooks County

There were many reasons for the people emigrating from Europe to the new continent of North America and the new country of the United States in the late 1700's and the 1800's. The chief reasons were to escape religious persecution and the compulsory military conscription for all young men regardless of their religious beliefs. Other reasons were the destitute poverty in their homeland; to escape debtor's prison; to escape felony offenses; new opportunities for siblings, other than first-born sons, known as remittance men with money from their families in their native country; and new opportunities for the adventurous in a new land.

There were many reasons for the movement of people from the thirteen original colonies of the United States to the undeveloped regions of the Great Plains and Kansas. These reasons were: poverty at home with new opportunity for free land and a fresh start; overcrowding for those who liked to be more isolated from the heavily populated areas; those fleeing the law for various offenses; the adventure into the wide open spaces of the undeveloped country; for health reasons going to a drier climate; and the exploiters with money taking over the abandoned homesteads or foreclosing on bad debts.

The outflow of settlers from Rooks County was occurring at the same time as the inflow of new homesteaders coming into the area. The people of that era were a restless lot. Many were destitute and looking for a new start. Many could not stand the hardships involved and returned to the east. Others stayed a while and then moved farther west searching for a paradise.

The biggest majority of settlers in Rooks County came from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and Missouri. Many immigrant families had lived for many years, or many generations, in America before they settled in Rooks County.

The alien immigrants were mainly from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France, Sweden, and the smaller northern European countries.

Many of the German and Swedish family names were anglicized when they reached America.

After the Civil War, when Rooks County was settled, the Confederate soldiers were not eligible to homestead as they had borne arms against the United States.

The earliest settlement was along Paradise Creek in southern Rooks County with John C. Smith
homesteading five miles east of present Codell in 1868, the first homestead of record in the county; Bow Creek, a tributary of the North Solomon River above Kirwin, where the U.S. Land Office was located after 1875; Medicine Creek, a tributary of the South Solomon River, along the east edge of the county; with the first claim taken in 1871, and up the South Solomon river valley to Stockton, founded in 1872, progressing westward as the valley land was claimed.

These settlers came from the east to take advantage of the free land and open range for livestock herding operations in 1871 and 1872. They were from no particular area or heritage; the earliest settlers got the best claims.

In 1877, several men called the "Pennsylvania Colony" settled and founded Cresson, near present Palco.

In 1877 or 1878, a group of French Canadian settlers came to Logan Township around Zurich. It became known as the "French Settlement".

In 1878, the George F. Slason colony took everything from Plainville to the present West Plainville schoolhouse in one day. The next day others took everything west to Zurich. The third day they took everything from Zurich to the west county line.

In 1885, Francis St. Peter settled near present Damar. Almost immediately, other French Canadian Catholics followed. It became known as the "Acadia of the West".

There were many settlers from Czechoslovakia that settled in the Zurich area, the Greenfield and Twin Mound areas, and in Ash Rock Township in the northeast corner of the county. French settlers in the Damar and Palco areas; German settlers in the Natoma area, one mile into Osborne County, and southeastern Rooks County.

Quakers settled in the Mt. Ayr and Round Mound areas of Osborne County and in the Laton and Chalk Mound areas of eastern Rooks County to north of Codell, in 1877 to 1880.

The Negro settlement of Nicodemus was one mile west of Rooks County in Graham County; it was founded in 1877. Graham County was formally organized on April 1, 1880.

Written by Gail McComb, Rooks County Historical Society
March 25, 2002

Sod House in Western Kansas

Chalk Mound Church

More on Rooks County

In 1867, the Kansas Legislature defined the boundaries of Rooks County with twenty-three (23) townships. The county was named for a private, John C. Rooks, of the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, who died from a wound suffered during the savage December 7, 1862, Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas. Rooks County is the only county in Kansas named for a private.

The first settlers in Rooks County were ten persons engaged in the stock business named James, Thomas, John and Francis NcNulty (originally from Massachusetts), Tunis Bulis, John Wells, John Powell, Seal Northup and Capt. J Owens. They arrived in January, 1871, and all took the first claims made in the County, in what afterwards became Stockton Township. They came from Washington County, Kansas and with the exception of James McNulty and Capt. Owens, all became permanent residents.

Soon after these settlers followed John Shorthill who resided on a claim in Lowell Township. Mrs. Robert E. Martin, who came with her husband and family in the fall of 1871, was the first woman who settled in Rooks County. She also resided in Lowell Township. Following these early settlers soon came Thomas Boylan, Henry Purdy, S.C. Smith, M.M. Stewart, G.W. Patterson, Henry Hill, George Steele, John Russell, Lyman Randall, John Lawson, W.H. Barnes, George W. Beebe, the Dibbles, Parks and others.

The first house erected in Stockton Township, and Rooks County, was erected in February, 1871, by the McNulty Brothers, two and one half miles south of town on the south side of the South Solomon. The first marriage occurred in Lowell Township, January 1, 1873. William E. Newton was married to Mary M. Young, by B.M. Cooper, a Justice of the Peace.

The first child born in the county was Myrtle Maud, daughter of Thomas McNulty, born Christmas night, 1871, on Elm Creek, three miles east and south of Stockton. The first death in the county was Erastas Foster, two miles from Stockton, in the spring of 1878. He was buried in the Stockton graveyard.

Books on the history of Rooks County

  • Pioneers of Western Kansas by Myrtle D. Fesler 
  • Palco Centennial Book - September 1988
  • St. Ann's Church Book - 2000
  • Damar History Book - 1988
  • Lest We Forget by Leo Oliva 
  • Bird, Kansas by Tony Parker
  • Pioneer Naturalist of the Plains by David M. Bartholomew
  • Stockton Heritage in Wood, Stone and Brick: The Town and its Historic Structures by Leo Oliva 
  • Plainville Centennial Book - 1988
  • Woodston: The Story of a Kansas Country Town by Leo Oliva 
  • Plainville: Its Early Beginnings by Margaret Houser  


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director

Cresson and Palco

Cresson was the first village in Northhampton Township. It was located one and one-half miles northwest of the present town of Palco. During the year of 1877, several men from Pennsylvania arrived via Union Pacific Railroad who were dubbed "The Pennsylvania Colony". They named the village after a town in Cambria County, Pennsylvania near Esbenburg, the county seat where they came from.

The first thing on the agenda was to build homes and other essential buildings on their homesteads. The following year, after the homes were built, these first settlers sent for their families, women and children.

The post office was officially established here in February 1879, with Wm McLaughlin as the postmaster. The first school was organized in 1879, District No. 68, and was located on the Wm. P. Jones homestead. In 1883, the first church in Cresson was the Seventh Day Adventist Church. By 1885, there were three more churches: Christian, Presbyterian, and Free Methodist.

Rumors spread throughout Cresson in regards to the new railroad that was being built by the Union Pacific Railroad Company. Rumors were that the railroad was going to bypass Cresson, so the people decided to relocate where they thought the line would be constructed in the near future. They called their new town "New Cresson". By 1886, some of the businessmen pulled out of Cresson and moved to New Cresson. Just when the new community was steadily growing, something happened that they hadn't expected. The railroad tracks veered off to the northwest, bypassing them by a mile or more. As it turned out, the railroad went near the previous town of Cresson. Had people disregarded the rumors, there would possible still be a Cresson.

With this latest development, it meant another move for the enterprising businessmen taking their belongings, families and even buildings to the railroad site in the fall of 1888. The new village was names "Palco". It was decided to use the first letters of the last names of the two railroad officials, Mr. Palmer and Mr. Cole. Thus "Pal" and "Co" resulting in Palco.

The current library, built in 1928, was previously the First National Bank. This bank was one of the few banks in Rooks County that did not close its doors following the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

The Palco Township Hall, still used for many community activities, was completed in 1917.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.

Early Sod house Palco Early Sod House

Early picture of Palco

Early picture of Palco

Mack-Welling Lumber

Mack-Welling Lumber Co.

Badger Lumber Co

Badger Lumber Co.

George Homan Meat Market

George Homan Meat Market in 1909


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director

Palco Centennial History Book Committee. Palco, Kansas Centennial: September 1988. Palco, 1988.


On October 8, 1884, President Grover Cleveland signed the document which entitled Francis St. Peter to one hundred and sixty acres of land on the western edge of Rooks County for the consideration of $4.00. By 1880, most of the government land had been "taken up." Francis St. Peter had hauled ammunition during the Civil War and, like so many other veterans, was lured to seek the free land made available by the Homestead Act.

Almost immediately, other Canadian French Catholic people followed. They came by way of Illinois, then Concordia, Aurora and St. Joseph and on further to the west looking for cheap land and a new home. The community became so solidly French in character that it was referred to as the "Acadia of the West." It has retained much of its original tradition to this day.

The first church services were held in the home of Ezra St. Peter, in 1887. Mr. St. Peter then donated three acres for a cemetery and two acres for a church to the east of his home. The new community was first known as St. Petersville. However, the first post office located about two miles to the northeast was named Ainsworth. When the Union Pacific Railroad passed nearby, the first small frame church was moved to the site of the present church. The post office moved also, to the railroad station. It was at this time that the new town became known as Damar.

Today, the St. Joseph Catholic Church is recognized as one of the most beautiful churches in the area. Due to hard times, the building was completed in stages. The limestone was quarried at Waldo and shipped to the site. The towers were completed in 1913 and the first mass celebrated in 1917.

The Damar Knights of Columbus Hall, located on Main Street, was completed in 1922 and serves many functions in the community.

A war memorial next to the post office in town, commemorates those citizens that served and dedicated their life to the freedom of the United States.


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director

Motor and Codell

Paradise Township was settled between the years of 1868 to 1878. During that time, the town of Motor, the first town to be established in Paradise Township, came into being. It was one mile east of what is now Codell, and was located on all four corners of what is now 25 Road and 18 Highway. The name "Motor" meant a "moving force". Instead of it moving things forcefully, it was destined to be moved to a new location, and its name changed to Codell.

In 1887 and 1888, the Union Pacific Railroad ran a branch line from Salina to Oakley. The survey ran just south of Motor, and because of the failure of the railroad to agree on a price for the town site, the railroad refused to build a depot near the town, but built one three-fourths of a mile west. It bought land for a town site and named it Codell. The name "Codell" means "a retired glen". The frame buildings were moved from Motor to Codell.

The Codell School District No. 11, was organized in 1879 at Motor in a sod building with hand-sawed logs for benches. In 1894, a two-story building was built in Codell, but was destroyed by a tornado in 1918. A new brick building was erected in 1920, which served as both grade school and high school for 20 years. In 1938 to 1940, a new high school was built as a W.P.A. project. Because of school unification and lack of students, the high school closed in 1965. The grade school closed in 1978.

During the early settlement, the Church appeared on the scene along with the school. The Methodist and Baptist denominations were first, each using the same building, alternating services, which were held in the school building. In 1908, both congregations made new edifices. The Baptist Church was built on the present location, and the Methodist Church was built in the northeast part of Codell. The town also had many businesses that do not exist today such as a bank, hotel, restaurant, and hardware store.

The little village of Codell went through an experience, the effects of which rated sufficiently to make "Ripley's Believe or Not". It had a tornado three times in successive years - 1916, 1917, and 1918 on the 20th day of May. The first year the twister passed at the west edge of town in the late afternoon. The second year it passed very close to the east edge of town in mid-afternoon. The third year, it came after dark and wiped out a large part of town.

The 1918 tornado was a hard blow to the town, the effects of which it has never fully recovered. In spite of that and other deterrent influences, Codell remains a peaceful, friendly little village.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director


The area surrounding what is now Plainville was first called the Paradise Flats. The name was derived from the fact it is a large and level plain situated at the head of Paradise Creek, where buffalo, deer and antelope were once so plentiful, it was given the name, "Hunters Paradise".

The north half of the original town site of Plainville was first settled upon by Mr. Washington Irving Griffin on July 1, 1876. Mr. Griffin, from Pennsylvania, and his wife, Lydia R. Griffin, settled near what is now the east corner of Washington and Mill Streets. Mrs. Griffin was the first lady resident of the town and, for some time, was the only woman on the prairie between the Solomon and Saline Rivers.

In May 1878, the Plainville post office was established with Mr. Griffin as postmaster. He soon started a store, which was then the only trading point between Stockton and Hays City, a distance of 45 miles. The name "Plainville" was arrived at when Mr. Griffin went to the homestead of Lambert P. Darland to fix up the papers to start the new town. Mr. Darland suggested the name Plainville, and without questioning, Mr. Griffin, on whose farm the town was to be started, agreed, and Plainville it was.

Charley Weeks started a store farther to the south in a "soddy". Mrs. Weeks served meals in the back of the store, and Plainville's sod house became well known.

The G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) Monument stands in downtown Plainville next to the new library, which was built on the site of the previous library. The G.A.R. Hall, built by the "GAR boys", was a one-story frame hall located in what is now the 100 block of west Mill Street. It served as the first city library beginning on May 24, 1902.

A fire in October of 1909 destroyed as many as sixteen business buildings and the opera hall in downtown Plainville. The fire destroyed buildings on both sides of Mill Street and one of the few structures left standing were the stone walls of what is now the True Value Hardware store. Damage estimates of the time showed over $45,000 in damage of which only $19,600 was covered by insurance.

The first Plainville school system was formed on May 14, 1880. The first school building was erected the following summer. In 1888, a two-story frame building was erected on the grounds where Plainville High School is located. The PHS football program began in 1904. The old junior high gymnasium was constructed as a Works Progress Administration project. The current high school was complete in 1952 at the site of the original two-story structure.

Several former Plainville teachers went on to become very important figures. C. E. Rarick, who served as principal, became president in 1933 of Fort Hays Kansas State College, the forerunner of Fort Hays State University. Rarick Hall, on the FHSU campus, is named for the former president. Also, Jack Hartman, a football coach at PHS, would go on to become legendary at Kansas State University as a basketball coach and was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director


The Stockton Town Company was chartered in August of 1872 and incorporated in 1880 to develop a new community in the valley of the South Solomon River in Rooks County, Kansas as a market center for farmers and ranchers. Early settlers, mostly cowboys, named the town Stockton hoping that it would be a livestock center with the coming of the railroad.

A good many people wanted to call the town McNultyville, (after Joseph McNulty who homesteaded 160 acres just above the creeks mouth) but Joe thought the name might be considered a little too suggestive of a fresh importation from Limerick or Cork (Ireland). As stock raising was the only industry at first, the names of Stockville and Stocktown were urged, but Stockton was finally settled upon.

McNulty built a log home on his property, which adjoined the townsite on the west and was later added to the town when the McNulty Addition was annexed, This building was later enlarged and used as a hotel. It was destroyed in 1924, but a replica of the "Log Hotel" was built in 1961 across Main Street south from the original location.

Stockton, and nearby Rooks Center, were both candidates for the county seat after Rooks County was officially organized on November 26, 1872. A contest won by Stockton in an election on December 31, 1872 cemented the town's future as the site of local county government. The hope that the town would become a livestock center never materialized. However, the coming of the railroad would prove to be essential in maintaining Stockton as a viable community.

The increased population of the area following 1877 stimulated the first Stockton boom, and the town grew from a population of about 100, with 20 buildings, to a population of about 600 with over 100 buildings by early 1878. Many of the buildings were constructed of native limestone with no particular ethnic influence. The first church, St. Thomas Catholic, was constructed of native limestone in 1878. A small replica was built at the Catholic Cemetery northwest of Stockton with the stones from the original church.

A County Agricultural Fair Association was organized in June 1879, and the first Rooks County Fair was held October 8, 9, and 10 of that year. This later became an annual affair and is an important institution in the history of Rooks County and Stockton. By the 1980's, the annual Rooks County Free Fair was the largest county fair in the state. The fairgrounds and buildings erected there as a W.P.A. project at a later date (1930's) constitute an important part of the heritage of the community.

The Congregational Academy, which later served as the public high school in Stockton, is an example of the importance that education played in the city's history. At one time, it was hoped that the academy would become a college, but the school fell on hard times and graduated it's last class in 1896.

In 1881, a two-story structure was constructed to house the county offices. The building served the county until the present courthouse was completed in 1923. Today, the courthouse stands as one of the outstanding examples of courthouse design in Kansas.

Stockton remains essentially as it began, a typical county seat town on the Great Plains existing to provide goods and services for the agricultural community. The buildings of the town reflect the heritage of the community as many of the homes and businesses constructed of native limestone or locally manufactured brick are still in use including the wide, brick Main Street.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director

Contact Us

Rooks County Historical Society
921 South Cedar
Stockton, KS 67669
(785) 425-7217

Rooks County Courthouse

In 1881, the county voted to spend five thousand dollars for a 42 x 50 two-story courthouse. The two-story courthouse and a small cottonwood jail was built in Stockton at the corner of 2nd and Elm Streets. The courthouse was used until 1922 when the new courthouse was built at 1st and Walnut Streets.

The present Rooks County Courthouse was built in 1921. The builder was Cuthbert & Sons, and the architect was F. C. Squires from Topeka. The land was purchased as follows: The south 1/2 of blocks 1,3,5,7 from J. T. and Martha E. Smith; the north 1/2 of blocks 1,3,5,7 from the Newahcuba Lodge #189; and blocks 9,11,13,15,17 from Peter G. and Emma C. Griebel. The structure is a Bedford Stone Structure with county offices on the first three floors and a jail on the fourth floor.

The courthouse cost over three hundred thousand dollars. County warrants were sold to Brown Crummer Investment Company for financing for the erection and completion of the courthouse. There was marble imported by Lautz Marble Company, and the decorating was done by William Andrews Company of Chicago.

The cornerstone was laid in a grand ceremony on September 8, 1921. In the cornerstone was placed a copy of each of Stockton's newspapers, the Review and the Record, several old coins, a copy of the by-laws of Newahcuba Lodge #189, a list of the Grand Officers who had charge of the ceremonies, a list of members of local lodges, a statement of the cost description, the date of letting of the contract, and the pen used to sign the contract. The building was completed in 1923.

The staircases are made of solid marble and the corridors are lined from the floor up five feet with solid sheets of marble. The corridor floors are original ceramic tile. The doors and casings are all solid original oak. The third floor contains the courtroom, which has a two-story ceiling. The judge's bench, the jury box, and the press box are enclosed by solid marble. There are seven original vaults throughout the courthouse with beautiful ornate door casings.

In 1974, an elevator, fire escape, and central air conditioning were added. In 1994, a veteran's memorial was dedicated outside of the northeast corner of the courthouse. And finally, near the end of 2000, the building was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director


Abundant underground water and deep fertile soil in the broad Solomon valley in Belmont Township, Rooks County Kansas made an ideal site for a town, which was approximately eight miles west of the established town of Stockton. In 1876 a trading point was located there to care for the early settlers in the western part of Rooks County. There were still buffalo in the area in the spring of 1878 when the town of Belmont was officially surveyed although the plat was not filed at the Rooks County Courthouse until March 24, 1881. The town started on the south side of the river with one store, but due to floods it was soon moved across the river. Webster's patent for 48 acres was issued in June, 1885, and surveyed June 23, 1885 with the plat filed two days later. The new patent for Belmont was issued Sept. 15, 1885 planed on 120 acres adjoining the south side of Webster. Both towns shared two common avenues, Main Street which ran north to south connecting them and Broadway Street running east and west which separated them. Neither town was ever incorporated.

John Stephenson had named the township Belmont in honor of August Belmont of New York, one of the leading Democrats of the nation. When he applied for a post office for the combined town, he asked for the same name, but the application was returned as state records showed a Belmont already existed in Kansas. Demonstrating his patriotism, he reapplied for Webster, after Daniel Webster, one of America's greatest statesmen. The name was adopted and the Webster Post Office was established on the south side of town on December 6, 1879 with Stephenson as postmaster. Both towns were surveyed again, on November 10, 1885, replatted and listed only as Webster with no mention of Belmont.

Webster had a boom in 1885 when the railroad was being built from Downs up the Solomon River into Rooks County. During 1886, there were 36 new buildings, the lumber for them hauled from Hays, a distance of 60 miles. In 1888, the Webster Enterprise newspaper showed that nearby farmers and Webster's 300 residents were served by one bank, two hotels, four grocery stores, three livery barns, two blacksmith shops, three real estate and loan offices, a furniture and harness shop, a hardware store, lumber yard, telephone system, newspaper, barbershop, drugstore, two physicians, two churches, and advertising showed a manufacture of soda pop for Webster and neighboring towns. To cross the Solomon, it was necessary to go up river to the ford about a mile southwest of town near the Charles Doughty farm. There is an early picture of a wooden bridge, location unknown, which washed out. Will Cline, blacksmith, stated he made over four hundred plow lays out of the iron pilings from the old bridge. On August 23, 1888, a contract was let for an all steel bridge for $2424 and completed by November, 1888 just south of town, which stood until the floods of 1951 washed it out. It was soon replaced by a temporary low water bridge. The railroad stopped in Stockton, but again in 1907 Webster's hopes were revived with surveying of a north-south railroad. The road bed was completed from Plainville to a few miles north of Webster when the money panic bit and was never continued.

The Webster School, District #23, was organized March 20, 1879. School was held in John Enick's old log house with a dirt floor, with the 21 pupils sitting on planks placed on blocks of wood. Lola Thompson taught during the summer of 1882 for three months at a salary of $12 per month with the privilege of boarding with local families. The first school, built that fall, was a small one room rock building. An 1886 newspaper stated "Webster is to have a new $1200 school house", which was the two story frame school built that year. It was a village school until 1911 when it was consolidated with adjoining districts in Belmont and Rush townships, the territory including 27 sections. School consolidation in Kansas was an experimental project, Webster being only the second in the state. The new school, Union 3, voted bonds and built a suitable modern two story brick building. Its plans were drawn by Professor Walters and his graduate students at Kansas State College in Manhattan. New school desks were purchased for the classrooms and opera chairs for the auditorium. It was dedicated January 1, 1914, and the students were transported by horse drawn buses. Of the 29 high school students in 1915, 20 were freshmen. Ellsworth Dodrill, a graduate of the Fort Hays Kansas Normal School, was superintendent the first five years, and the high school was soon fully accredited with courses in Vocational Agriculture, Home Economics, Normal Training and Music. Enrollment increased rapidly, and the first graduating class was in 1918. In the 1920's it was the only school in Rooks County qualified to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements. Several years later a gymnasium was added north of the school and a shop on the west. When the government lunch program began, a lunch room was added west of the shop. The 1954 High School class was the last to graduate from the old 1911 brick building, one of the many brick and limestone buildings demolished due to building of the Webster Dam.

Webster School

Webster Schoolhouse dedicated in 1914

Webster School playground 

Webster School playground

Churches were an important part of the lives of the pioneers of Webster. Records of church denominations include:

(1) An early Catholic missionary priest from Plainville included Webster in his circuit, but a church was never established.

(2) The Seventh Day Adventists would preach in the school house or other locations, but had no church building.

(3) According to the official record of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Webster was on a circuit with Mt. Pleasant and Liberty. Their first regular pastor was sent to the Webster charge in 1881. They and the Baptists both held separate worship services in a little stone building, also used as the town hall, which was later part of the J.W. Anderson residence. In 1886 plans were begun to build a church in Webster. The Baptists were in charge of the enterprise, but both groups worked together to build the small wooden structure. Both denominations worshipped in this building for several years. But difficulties between them arose and the Methodists purchased a hall on Main Street, which previously was a pool hall and saloon. In 1892 the Methodists selected a building site and laid the corner stone, but due to hard times the project was abandoned. In 1901 a small parsonage was built, then added onto in 1905. Again in 1910 they began to raise funds to build a new church. $3200 was raised in the first two months and the foundation was begun. Miss Alice Mott was visiting in the community at the time and offered to give $250 if the church be named Philander Mott Memorial in honor of her father. The donation was accepted and the church became known as the Philander Mott Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church. The $6000 cinder block building was free of debt for the June 11, 1911 service of dedication. On Sunday evening, December 17, 1944, fire completely destroyed the interior and contents of the building, including two pianos. Only the cement block walls were left standing. Some thought that when pre-warming the church for the Christmas program, a small stove exploded causing the fire, others said it was arson. In 1947, $500 of the $2000 insurance check was used to purchase the country school house from Fairview District #99 which had recently consolidated with Webster. Church services were held in the High School auditorium after the fire until 1950. The school house was moved to the old location, then remodeled and refurbished, mostly by volunteer labor. The dedication service was held May 21, 1950.

(4) We know from the above records that the Baptist Church was active in the early years. A newspaper article in 1915 mentions them trying to get services started again. One source said the small stone church was built by the Baptists. Memories tell us that their last services were in approximately 1923.

(5) Around 1920 the Pentecostal Assembly Church met in a store building on Main Street. When the Baptists closed their doors, the Assembly purchased the church and property. Some time later plans were to build a new church building but only the basement and foundation were ever completed.


(Continued from box on top) - In the 1920's and 1930's, there was still a post office, bank, several repair shops, an elevator, a hardware store, at least three grocery stores, two churches and approximately the same number of residents. Four newspapers tried their luck in Webster: Webster Eagle, 1995/1887; Webster Enterprise, March/November 1888; Merchants Journal, 1894/1895; and Webster Blade, for four years around 1910. Two telephone centrals were located there in 1915, one on the south side of town which they called Belmont, the other answered to Webster. With the coming of cars, a highway was built from Stockton following the river, going through Webster on Broadway Street and on to Alcona. In 1920 the highway was moved two miles north, leaving Webster isolated. The last bank closed in 1926. A few years later, oil was discovered two miles south of the town, the last chance for a boom but it was not to be. About 1950 the BRA brought electricity to the area and dial telephones were installed in 1952.

In the early years, times for entertainment were few but they made the most of them especially at the annual Pioneer Settlers Reunion. It was an all-day affair held after harvest under the towering cottonwoods in the public park. There was a basket dinner and plenty of good homemade lemonade, a visiting band provided music and a few political speeches thrown in for good measure. A merry-go-round was operating and games of baseball (including a girl’s team), horseshoes, checkers and horse racing were enjoyed. The race track was 1 1/2 miles east of town. This was an annual affair from around 1910 until the early 1920's. Swimming in the Solomon and hay rack rides in the summer and ice skating and sleigh rides in the winter were enjoyed by the young people. Literary debates, box suppers, political rallies and church revival meetings were all times to socialize. School sports were basketball (both boys and girls), baseball and football, although football was taken out of their program in the early 1920's due to a death occurring in a game. Residents were active in many organizations: Union Labor Organization, Knights of Labor, Grand Army of the Republic, Sons & Daughters of Justice Lodge, Women's Christian Temperance Union, Ladies Aid, Young Women's Christian Association, Rooks County Poultry Club, Neighbors Circle, Home Extension Unit and the 4W-4-H Club.

As early as 1932, Webster resident Mrs. Lavinia Fry was in correspondence with Kansas State officials urging that a dam be built over the South Solomon River for flood control. Her scrapbook held twenty two letters as well as 228 column inches on the subject from the Rooks County Record and her statement that she had 83 letters from George Knapp regarding a dam. An organizational meeting was held in Webster in 1938, and a committee was formed to circulate petitions which got 1186 signatures, and then were sent to the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1940 the Kansas Reclamation Association was formed to promote such projects, and the Water Resource Division of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, headed by George Knapp, became interested. The Webster Unit was approved and authorized for construction under the Flood Control Act of 1944 as a unit of the Missouri River Basin Plan. The Kansas River Flood of July, 1951, which was very destructive all the way to the Missouri River, washed out Webster's steel bridge which increased demand for adequate flood control. This led to the US Bureau of Reclamation surveying three sites in the area: (1) one mile west of Stockton, (2) between Stockton and Woodston, and (3) the Webster town site location. Approximately one million dollars was appropriated for the foundation of the dam which was completed December 2, 1953, but there were still doubts about Congress allowing money to complete the dam. But after much persuasion from Kansas politicians and citizens, the last of December, 1953, a contract for Completion of the Webster Dam was awarded in the amount of approximately six million dollars with work to begin in March, 1954 and to be completed in July, 1956.

After many town meetings, the new town site was founded two miles southeast of old Webster. A new $186,000 school structure was built, and the Methodist Church and several residences moved to the new location. Sixty-six adults and filly-nine children moved out of the Webster Reservoir area on account of the dam being built, but only a dozen or so residents made the move to the new town, with the rest moving to other locations of their choice. Approximately 30 buildings were moved to the Stockton area, nearly all by Bigge House Movers. Harry Griffin of Stockton Monument Service with helper Gerald McLaughlin moved all of the bodies from the Webster Cemetery, 200 to the Stockton Cemetery and 29 to other parts of the state. Gerald was hired because he had recently been discharged from the army and had all the necessary vaccinations for moving the dead.

Dr. H.C. Brown was the last medical doctor in Webster, moving his medical practice to Stockton. The Methodist and Pentecostal Assembly Churches, Fry's Store, Northup's Store which included the post office were the last churches and business in Webster. The last stamping at the old Webster post office was June 30, 1953 by Margaret H. (Amy) Northup, post mistress. This office was never known by any other name.

The dam was completed July 26, 1956. Water was impounded May 13, and on July 23, 1956 water covered 700 acres which was the end of old Webster. The program of dedication was held October 5, 1956 in Stockton with a parade on Main Street and a dance in the evening at the city auditorium. The official dedication was held the next day, October 6th, at the Webster Dam site with a free barbecue meal. The speaker was Fred G. Aandahl, Assistant Secretary of the Interior. Mrs. Curtis Fry was among the following dignitaries attending: Wilbur A. Dexheiner, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner; Andrew F. Schoeppel and Frank Carlson, U.S. Senators; and Wint Smith, 6th District Congressman. The main purpose of the dam is for flood control, but irrigation, recreation, fishing, and wildlife are all important reasons for its construction. The dam stores flood runoff of the South Fork of the Solomon River to permit the irrigation of 8500 acres of lands in the lower valley between Woodston and Osborne. The maximum water storage during a flood period is 415,000 acre feet, covering a surface area of 19 square miles. At the time the dam was built, a small airstrip was put in at the south end of the dam, but has since been closed.

The little village of new Webster is a cluster of well-kept homes and yards. The residents are good neighbors who are there for each other and the farm families in the area in good times and bad. At the present time there are three resident families living in new Webster and four seasonal homes. The church, later a community building, and the school building both are now owned by individuals. The last high school graduating class was in 1963 and the grade school transferred to Stockton in the fall of 1969. The small convenience store/bait shop has been closed for the past few years.

All that is left of the town of old Webster are pictures and fond memories, but more important has been the control of flood waters for towns and farms below the Webster Dam along the South Solomon River. Campers, boats, hunters and fishermen abound which is good for the economy of the area.

Written by Jean Lindsey, Stockton, 2001

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.


History of Webster from resident interviews by Beulah Kellogg 1930

History of Webster from resident interviews by Jeanice Blauer 1952

Webster Dam Dedication Book including writings by Carl Brown 1956

Centennial History of Rooks County Townships, including Belmont 1961

Lest We Forget, Rooks County History, copyright 1980

Rooks County Record newspaper microfilms at Stockton Library 2001

Interviews with Duane Dunning, Myrtle & Mike Hassett, Beulah Kellogg, Harold Lowry, Neva Marshall, Gladys Northup, Don & Earl Richardson, and Elva Walker 2001

Forsyth Library Photo Archives

Webster Dam

Settlement in Rooks and Osborne Counties began in 1869, and by 1880 their population was more than 20,000. Favorable precipitation in the 1880's resulted in good crop yields but the following years were interspersed with years of extreme drought. Prolonged droughts in the 1930's emphasized the need for a program to stabilize agriculture by storing destructive flood waters for irrigation.

The Bureau of Reclamation initiated investigations in the area in 1939 and the Webster Unit was authorized as a part of the Missouri River Basin Project by the Flood Control Acts of 1944 and 1946. Webster Dam construction began in November 1952. The plan for irrigation was presented in a definite plan report which was approved in February 1957. Construction started on the Woodston Diversion Dam and the Osborne Canal in July 1957.

Organization of Webster Irrigation District No. 4 was completed in February 1957. A repayment contract with the United States was signed by the District in April 1957.


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director


Woodston was founded in Lowell Township, eastern Rooks County, in October of 1885 because of a single creating force - the railroad. The railroad, so vital to the economic well-being of every frontier region, was slow in coming. There were already several older towns nearby to serve the needs of the settlers.

The man most responsible for the construction of the railroad and the founding of Woodston was the Stockton businessman after whom the new town was named, Charles C. Woods. He came to Stockton from Marion, Iowa, in 1879, and established the first bank. Woods understood the importance of railroads, and when he could not persuade the Missouri Pacific to extend the Central Branch from Bull City (Alton) to Stockton, he contacted an Iowa contractor and organized the Rooks County Railroad Company to do the job.

The Rooks County Record reported in 1885, "The proposed railroad from Bull City to Stockton contemplates the establishing of a station and shipping point in Lowell Township, and a nice lively little village could soon be built there. " The railroad did eventually come, and the townsite was officially founded July 4, 1885. Because of his efforts in securing the location of the townsite, Robert L. Stephens was acknowledged as the town's founder. But the town was later named Woodston in honor of Mr. Woods.

Woodston, after one year, boasted a population of almost 200 people and almost 40 business establishments. Businesses included five general stores, four carpenters, three insurance agents and land offices, two blacksmith shops, two hotels, two lumber yards, two livery stables, two meat markets, two drug stores, two boot and shoe repair shops, and one each of at least 12 other businesses.

The Rooks County State Bank was organized in April, 1909 and opened for business on June 14. A decision was made to erect a new building in the fall of 1909. Robert Brittain, a local contractor, designed the bank and contracted for the construction. The building was erected during 1910 and opened for business on November 10 at the location where the bank operated until the year 2000 when it was closed.

Woodston received its first post office in February of 1886 in the general store of James S. Wilson, Woodston's first postmaster. The post office moved several times, once because of fire, before being located in March, 1934 in a new building that is still in use today.

When Woodston was established in 1885, there were rural schools in operation in every direction from the new town. The residents of Woodston wanted their own attendance center, and a subscription school was organized during the first winter. The residents went on to construct new grade schools in 1886 and 1907. Construction began on a new high school in August, 1921 at the east end of Main Street. The building was completed in May, 1921. A new auditorium and grade school were built onto the south of the high school building in 1958-1959. Classes continued in the high school until 1968 and in the grade school until 1974.

Among the most important institutions of rural America, including country towns, were churches. The first church organized in Woodston was the Free Methodist. Two churches in Woodston still stand today as monuments of the past. The Methodist Episcopal Church held their first services in their new building on September 17, 1911 and today is the only active congregation in Woodston.

The Ash Rock Congregational Church or "Stone Church," located north and east of Woodston, held it's first services on March 4, 1883. The native limestone building was renovated in 1976 and today is one of the truly historic sites in Rooks County.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director.


In 1877 or 1878, a group of French Canadian settlers came to western Kansas and homesteaded in Logan Township of Rooks County. It was soon identified as "The French Settlement".

In 1880, President Rutherford Hayes granted this settlement its own post office. Mrs. Armenda Webb was appointed the first postmaster. Mrs. Webb was asked to submit a name for the community before the Proclamation would become official. Since she and her husband, John Webb, were born in Zurich, Switzerland, they submitted this namesake as the name for the settlement. The first post office was in the home of the Webb's located at the west edge of Zurich.

The Union Pacific Railroad came to Zurich in 1887 and, with four trains daily, became one of the most prosperous trading points in Rooks County. Zurich was formerly known as "The Gateway to the Northwest Wheat Belt of Kansas".

The town of Zurich once had three grocery stores, two grain elevators, a bank, telephone office, a medical doctor, drug store, implement dealer, two car dealerships, lumber yard, hardware store, hatchery, three gas stations, creamery, barber shop, real-estate office, blacksmith, auctioneer service, and a cafe. Fire destroyed several of the businesses and they were never rebuilt.

In 1882, a new Catholic Church was built in Zurich with Fr. M. B. Pujoz as pastor. At one time, a Catholic Convent was built in the northeast part of Zurich where classes were held by the nuns. This school was dissolved before 1892.

The present St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church was completed in 1950 on the site of the original church built in 1886. The parish hall that is adjacent to the church was originally intended to be the supporting foundation and basement of the new church. However, the basement, which came to be known as the "Catacombs", was found to be too weak to support the super-structure of the new church. Plans were then put in place to build the new church on its present site. The parish hall now serves as a reminder of the original plans.

The Zurich School was built in 1930 and has had several additions added to the original structure. School unification brought an end to the use of the school building for Zurich students who are now bused to nearby schools. The building continues to be used for meetings and various family activities.

The Zurich Township Hall was built in 1914 and is one of the oldest structures in town. No longer used as it once was, the building stands as a testament to the hard-working people who once made Zurich a bustling community along the Union Pacific Railroad.


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director.