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Lyon County, Kansas

Lyon County was one of the original 33 counties created by the Territorial Legislature, created as Breckinridge County in 1855. The county was organized in 1858, but after the Civil War began and as John C. Breckenridge, for whom the county was named, was a secessionist, the name was changed to Lyon for Civil War General Nathaniel Lyon, who led Lyon County soldiers in the Battle of Wilson's Creek. The county was founded by Oliver Phillips; Jefferson Pigman; John Fowler; Charles Withington; Chrles Johnson; James Phineas; David Vangundy; John Rosenquist; Joseph Moon; Lorenzo Dow; R. H. Abraham; William Grimsley; Thomas Shockley; Joseph Hadley; and William H. Eikenberry, and contains the cities of Allen, Bushong, Americus, Olpe, Hartford, Emporia, Admire, Neosho Rapids and Reading.

The Finney Bond Scandal involving the discovery of over $1.25 million in forged bonds and warrants in 1933 was a major event in county history. Before the resolution of the affair, martial law was declared in the statehouse, four criminal convictions were effected, including the three longest sentences in state history, and the scandal reached greater proportions when it was discovered that the Finney's were involved with William Allen White and Alf Landon.

The First Christian Church of Emporia claims to be the oldest, having held its first meeting in 1856. However, other sources indicate a Methodist church had announced meetings prior to that time. The first county fair was held in 1871 and it continues. The first school was a subscription school held in Emporia in 1858.

The county is home to many interesting figures, such as William Allen White (d. 1944), and William L. White (d. 1973), father and son editors and publishers of the Emporia Gazatte. Many stories have been written by both Whites that are at times fiction but mostly factual. Other authors have written mostly of factual stories or biographies, but Bell Graham Livingston's book, Belle Out of Order, is a novel. Preston Plumb, was one of the founders of Emporia and a United States Senator, 1877-1891. Dean Edward Smith, the basketball coach of North Carolina University was born in the county. Alvin King was an Emporia shoe salesman who wanted to honor all veterans. He celebrated the first Veterans Day on November 11, 1953. Congressman Ed Rees took the idea to Washington, and on June 1, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill renaming Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Alfred W. Benson served in the U. S. Senate from 1906 to 1907. Edward Rees was a Congressman from the county (1937-1961), and Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court include Lawrence Bailey (1861-1869), Edwin Cunningham (1901-1905), and Charles Graves (1905-1911).

The story is told that Oliver Phillips, when traveling from his home on Duck Creek to survey the town site of Emporia, traveled on a diagonal route, thus marking out that portion of the Burlingame Road. John Hammond, an early Emporia settler, is said to have dug a well and found water, thereby saving the town as many were ready to leave unless water could be located. Another legend relates that Sarah VanGundy Carver was shot to death by Union sympathizers when they came to Neosho Rapids to scare away southern sympathizers.

Interesting sites in the county include the Preston Plumb Building, now the Emporia Community Center, the Emporia Carnagie Library, the S. H. Kress Building, the Fox-Granada Theater, Emporia, the Soden's Grove Bridge, Emporia, the Hallie Soden House, the Hartford College, the Richard Howe House and the William Allen White House.

For more information see the Lyon County website. The Lyon County Historical Society has a museum, library, and archives that contain a large collection of local historical records and publications. The Emporia Public Library also has a local history collection, and Emporia State University's White Library has a "Normaliana" collection concerning the University.

Entry: Lyon County, Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2010

Date Modified: May 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.