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History of Wabaunsee County

Wabaunsee County boasts a rich history. The Wabaunsee County Historical Museum, located in Alma, has fabulous displays and interpretation of the area’s history.

In 1855 the Kansas Territorial Legislature defined the boundaries for a certain portion of land west of Shawnee County and named it Richardson County after William P. Richardson, a strong pro-slavery member of the Kansas Territorial Council in 1855.  The county was attached to Shawnee County for business and judicial purposes and had no officers or records until 1859.

In the early days of the county, most settlements were in the present day Wilmington and Wabaunsee townships.  In 1856, a colony of abolitionists from New Haven, Connecticut, known as theBeecher Bible and Rifle Colony, settled near the Kaw River where a town site called Wabaunsee had been previously laid out. Wabaunsee was the name of a famous Potawatomie Chief and meant "Dawn of Day" in the Indian language.

In 1860, a strip of land six miles wide and as long was added to the west line of the county.  When Morris County was established in 1864, the state legislature took 72 square miles of land from Wabaunsee County.  In 1870, a compromise returned to Wabaunsee County one-half of what was originally given to Morris County.  In 1871, the state legislature detached most of Zeandale Township from Wabaunsee County and gave it to Riley County.  The loss of this land in the northwest corner to Riley County, as well as the loss to Morris County in the Southwest corner, left Wabaunsee County with a stubby panhandle on its west boundary line.

When the county organized in 1859, the town site of Wabaunsee was selected as the county seat because it was the only place in the county that resembled a village.  No permanent building was constructed for the courthouse, and it was located on the top floor of a general store.  The population continued to grow, and those living in the southeast part of the county began to complain about the distance to the county seat and their desire for a more central location.  An election was held on March 6, 1866, to determine the county seat location. Alma received 137 votes to Wabaunsee’s 112.  However, questions arose about the legality of the vote, and a new election was held on November 22, 1866.  Alma again tabbed the most votes of 142, while Wabaunsee received 114.  Alma was then declared the county seat. and the records were moved from Wabaunsee to Alma in time for the January, 1867, Board of Commissioners meeting.  The records and safe were hauled in two wagons and deposited in the new courthouse known as the Kaufman Building, which was located where the Wabaunsee County Historical Museum building stands today.  The first story was used as a general store and post office, with rooms behind that for the county offices.  The upper floor was the courtroom and was also used for church and social functions.

In 1869, the Pottawatomie Reserve land was thrown open for settlement, and a large area in the northeastern part of the county was formed into Newbury Township in 1870.

If you would like to further explore the history of the area, please visit the Wabaunsee County Historical Museum and individual community pages.

History courtesy of Alan Winkler, Wabaunsee County Historical Museum

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