A Perspective on Chase County History


 

I like to look at the history of a place in terms of its architecture and town planning. The period that interests me most about Chase County is the last twenty-five years of the 19th Century when so many of the impressive stone structures in the county were built.

Year

Population

The monumental character of the Chase County Court House and its dramatic placement on the main street axis in Cottonwood Falls suggest to me that a sense of optimism and pride guided the local government leaders of the time.

The scale and refinement of the Sam Wood House, the Clover Cliff Ranch House, the Spring Hill Ranch House, and others, clearly show that private citizens with the resources to do so built their houses to make a statement, not just to provide a place to live.

During this period of great optimism we also saw construction of the Clements Bridge. As a public works project it was far more than a utilitarian device to get people and goods across the river; it included art with its engineering.

In the century just behind us however, things changed. It became obvious that optimism in the future of the county could not overcome the realities of the natural environment. Only so many people could make a living here; no more. A look at the county population, at left, shows what I mean.

In 1859 the Chase County boundaries, enclosing about 750 square miles, were established by the Territorial Legislature. Two years later, in 1861, Kansas became a state. The federal census of population started in Chase County in 1860.

In 1890 the era of optimism was in full swing. By 1910 the decline was underway. The 1950 figure showed the effect of WWII. 

A question that keeps coming back to me is: Would anyone today have the ambition and fortitude to build anything like the county's grand stone structures? I have to say I think the answer is no, not even close.

I think all we can realistically expect to do now is to preserve the architectural heritage bequeathed to us by our optimistic 19th Century predecessors. We owe that much to our heritage.

1860

1,046

1870

1,975

1880

5,081

1890

9,233

1900

8,246

1910

7,527

1920

7,144

1930

6,952

1940

6,345

1950

4,831

1960

3,921

1970

3,408

1980

3,309

1990

3,021

2000 3,030

2010

2,790

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