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Franklin County, Kansas

Franklin County was one of the first 33 counties organized by the Territorial Legislature in 1855. The county was founded by Baptist missionaries, Reverend and Mrs. Jotham Meeker and Reverend and Mrs. Robert Simmerwell were early settlers. Others included J. H. Whetstone; S. T. Kelsey; and J. M. Bernard. The county contains the cities of Rantoul, Wellsville, Princeton, Ottawa, Pomona, Lane, Richmond and Williamsburg.

The Pottawatomie Massacre was led by John Brown near Lane on May 24, 1856. The county played an important role during the early free-state and proslavery conflicts. The operation of the experimental French silk-producing commune called "Silkville" that attempted to produce silk and silk materials in the 1870s and 1880s brought considerable attention to the area. The second chautauqua in the nation, and the second largest in size, was held at Ottawa between 1883 and 1914.

The first church was at the Ottawa Baptist Indian Mission, later the First Baptist Church of Ottawa, founded in 1837. The first county fair association was formed in 1867, but the first fair was actually held on September 20-21, 1866. The first schools were the mission schools for the Indians, formed in the 1830s. The first white school was probably built at Centropolis in 1857.

Interesting figures from the county include Governor George Anthony (1877-1879), and U. S. Senator Gary Hart (1984- ), Bert and Elmer Underwood, pioneer photographers and founders of the Underwood and Underwood Studios lived in Ottawa and Daniel Valentine (1869-1893) and Alfred Benson (1907-1815), who both served on the Kansas Supreme Court.

A branch of the underground railroad went through Franklin County. One story relates that the John T. Jones house near Ottawa had a tunnel between the house and the barn for the purpose of hiding slaves. As yet this is an unproven legend.

Peg Bracken's book, A Window Over the Sink, has many references to a Ganister, Kansas, that has many parallels to Ottawa.

A considerable portion of downtown Ottawa is of historic interest and several buildings are in both the National and State Register.

For more information see the Franklin County website. The Ottawa University Library has some local history collections, photographs, and early records. The Franklin County Historical Society has genealogical materials.

Entry: Franklin 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: September 2022

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