Leavenworth – First City in Kansas

Leavenworth City grew up around Fort Leavenworth, which had been established years earlier in 1827.

Leavenworth City grew up around Fort Leavenworth, which had been established years earlier in 1827.

In the midst of the Civil War, some, who were not actively involved in the conflict, were busy with another matter – the building the Kansas State Penitentiary south of Leavenworth. Though the Kansas Legislature had passed an act authorizing a state penitentiary in 1859, it would be years before it was completed. Forty acres were purchased in November, 1861 on Seven Mile Creek about five miles south of Leavenworth. Before construction ever began a warden was appointed in 1862 and directors in 1863, who were to determine how the prison would be built. Visiting eastern prisons, the Kansas penitentiary was modeled after the prison in Joliet, Illinois. The penitentiary finally began to be built in the summer of 1864 with convict labor, but, it would not be ready for prisoners until 1868. Several years later, the town of Lansing would grow up around the penitentiary.

In March, 1864 the Sisters of Charity opened the first private hospital in Kansas — St John’s Hospital. It was operated by Sister Joanna Bruner, the first trained nurse in the state and surely the first woman in the West to be a hospital administrator. Sister Bruner also taught nursing care to other sisters. The hospital continues to operate today.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Alexander Gardner, 1867

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Alexander Gardner, 1867

Later the same year, in September, the cornerstone of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was laid. Work would continue on the beautiful church for the next four years, before it was dedicated in 1868. A boy’s school was also opened in connection with the cathedral. Unfortunately, the magnificent church was destroyed by a fire in 1961. The present church was begun in 1962 and dedicated in May, 1964.

In the meantime, the St. Vincent Orphan Home was also opened by the Sisters of Charity in 1866. It would continue to operate until it was moved to Topeka in 1948.

In 1865 Fred Harvey, of Harvey House fame, moved his family to Leavenworth. Beginning work as a ticket agent and moving up through the ranks of a couple of different railroad companies, he would eventually persuade the manager of the new Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad that he could provide quality food in pleasant restaurants inside railroad stations. Soon Harvey Restaurants and Hotels were born, featuring the popular Harvey girls. Harvey would later purchase a lovely three story stone building for his family. Today, the building is preserved as the Fred Harvey Museum.

One of the biggest events of 1866 that caused quite a stir in Leavenworth, as well as in the state and the rest of the country, was the suicide of General James H. Lane. Though Lane certainly had his faults, he was recognized for his vigorous efforts in securing Kansas as a Free-state. After the Civil War, Lane had been re-elected as a United States Senator and in June, 1868 left Washington to return to Kansas for a short period.

Though he seemed to be in poor health and depressed, he began his return to Washington with his wife, but, upon reaching St. Louis, Missouri, his symptoms were so alarming that his physicians expressed fear for his recovery, and expressed the opinion that he was was suffering with softening of the brain. Under doctors’ advice he then returned to Kansas on June 29th, and stopped with his brother-in-law, Captain McCall, at the Government Farm just outside of Leavenworth. Here, his symptoms were said to have gotten worse. On Sunday, July 1st, he expressed a desire for a carriage ride and was accompanied by Captains McCall and Adams. As they stopped to open one of the farm gates, Lane jumped out of the carriage exclaiming “Good-bye, gentlemen!” and discharged a revolver in his mouth, the ball passing upward through the head and out almost at the center of the cranium. He was carried to the farm house and remained in a comatose condition, with spasmodic motions of the arm and right leg, until July 11th, when he died. At one time he seemed to be recovering and recognized friends, even naming them in a whisper. His remains were returned to his home in Lawrence, where he was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery.

Lane’s despondency has been attributed to various causes, but, many felt it was because he had began to lose favor among his supporters when he backed then President Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction policies, including the president’s veto of the Civil Rights Bill. He soon became despondent and was accused of abandoning his fellow Radical Republicans, as well as rumors of financial irregularities.

St. Marys Academy, Leavenworth, Kansas

St. Marys Academy, Leavenworth, Kansas

By 1870, the fostering effects of the Civil War had waned and the population of Leavenworth had dropped by several thousand. This, however, didn’t effect the busy Sisters of Charity who began work on the the St. Mary’s Academy in April, 1870. The following month, the school was granted a charter by the Kansas State Legislature to confer degrees and academic honors.

The school still stands in Leavenworth and many of its original buildings are still utilized. Today, called the University of St. Mary, the private liberal arts university is coeducational and continues to be sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. St. Mary’s Academy for high school students is located on the same campus. The mother house of the order is also located on the premises.

By 1870, the fostering effects of the Civil War had waned and the population of Leavenworth had dropped by several thousand. This, however, didn’t effect the busy Sisters of Charity who began work on the the St. Mary’s Academy in April, 1870. The following month, the school was granted a charter by the Kansas State Legislature to confer degrees and academic honors.

The school still stands in Leavenworth and many of its original buildings are still utilized. Today, called the University of St. Mary, the private liberal arts university is coeducational and continues to be sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. St. Mary’s Academy for high school students is located on the same campus. The mother house of the order is also located on the premises.

In 1871, the name of the town was officially changed from Leavenworth City to simply Leavenworth. The following year, a Leavenworth County Jail was finally built and following years of delay, the Leavenworth County Courthouse was completed in February, 1873. Built of red brick, with stone trimmings, the two story building was topped with an elegant mansard roof with a lofty tower and fine clock. Unfortunately, the first courthouse building was destroyed by a fire in the Spring of 1911. A new courthouse was built at the same location the following year. It continues to be used today.

Though its population had dropped from a high of 20,000 following the end of the Civil War, to just about 16,500 in 1880, Leavenworth was still a bustling city and would become even more so, as the city turned her attention to manufacturing. With its ideal location on the Missouri River, several railroads running through the city, and several coal mines which opened in the area, Leavenworth became a hub of factories producing mine and mill machinery, steam engines, stoves, wagons, shoes, bakers’ ovens, pumps and implements, furniture and more. By the turn of the century, her population had grown again to almost 21,000 people. The city also boasted packing houses, flour mills, and creameries, and Leavenworth was a jobbing point for a large territory. During these flourishing times, numerous stately homes were built to house the families whose wealth grew as the city grew. Many of these beautiful homes continue to stand today.

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