History of Newton
Newton History – 1871-Current
Wickedest City in the West…
Follow the famous Chisholm Trail into Harvey County and discover how from 1871 to 1873 Newton came to be known as “bloody and lawless, the wickedest city in the West.” In 1872 the western terminal for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the railhead for the Chisholm Trail were established here. Newton’s early days are filled with tales rivaled only by Dodge City.
The coming of the railroad brought with it a horde of gunslingers, gamblers, “soiled doves,” cowboys and railroad crews of every kind. By the end of 1872, twelve murders were documented although there was evidence of twice that many and uncounted gunshot accidents were common.
Western hospitality and rugged pioneer spirit live on in Newton’s festivals, historic buildings, museums and outstanding antique stores. Groups can enjoy an authentic camp style event, complete with a meal and entertainment through Country Boys Carriage and Prairie Adventures.
Turning to Rails…
Heartwarming memories of the past and future dreams are alive in the city of Newton. These memories and the people who have preserved them for future generations are best represented by five buildings in downtown Newton listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. Each is unique and has contributed to the memories of Newton that make the community a special place to visit or live.
On February 22 of 2003, the Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review approved the nomination of the Newton Main Street Historic District. The Main Street district is currently listed on the State and National Historic Register. The district runs on Main Street from 2nd Street to 8th Street.
The designation of a historic district has helped to protect the contributing buildings and encouraged preservation of historical and architectural history; it has also brought the potential of financial help through State and Federal Tax Credits.
The Newton Station modeled after Shakespeare’s house on Stratford-on-Avon, was constructed for $350,000 in 1929-30 during the depression. This was the fourth depot in Newton on the AT&SF Railway. In 1883, Fred Harvey located his Harvey House Restaurant in the second Newton depot and it became famous for the waitresses known as “the Harvey Girls.” In 1956 the boom era of the Newton Station slowed as more people began to travel by air. Today, the Newton Station not only houses the ticket office, waiting rooms and baggage room, it serves as a thriving location for several professional offices.
Across the street from the Newton Station stands the historic Railroad Savings and Loan building now known as 500 Main Place. The original Savings and Loan Association consisted of railroad men who desired a home financing agency and grew to become one of the lar4gest financial institutions in Kansas.
Revitalization of this beautiful building was completed by Ron Harder, a local developer in the mid 1980’s. The building is a fine example of American Renaissance architecture and is built of limestone, granite, marble and brass. Then entrance hall called the “great hall” displays 20-foot ceilings, tall arched windows, marble floors, decorative egg and dart plaster moldings and beautifully finished birch woodwork.
And where the Mennonite Heritage lives on today…
The Harvey County area boasts one of the largest Mennonite populations in the country. While bonnets, beards and buggies have been forsaken for a more modern lifestyle, the Mennonites today, like their ancestors before them, are warmhearted, courteous and friendly, more liberal than their Amish cousins and well-known for the hospitality and good co9oking. The Mennonites left Russia for fear of religious persecution int eh 1870’s.
Today, the Mennonite influence is clearly visible. Harvey County is home to nearly two dozen Mennonite Churches, two colleges, a national recognized mental health center, the Mennonite church USA national headquarters and Mennonite Press. Each was founded by and is supported by Mennonites.
The Old Mill Plaza, as it is known today, was originally built by Monarch Steam Mills in 1879. Bernhard Warkentin, a young Russian immigrant who was living near Newton in Halstead, purchased it in 1886. He needed the mill to handle the “Turkey Red’ hard winter what which he had encouraged the immigrants from Russian to bring. It was this new high-yielding wheat variety that gave Kansas its enormous productivity and recognition as the “Breadbasket of the World.” Lloyd Smith now owns the Old Mill and has restored the building to its original style and design. It houses many local businesses and a restaurant.
The Warkentin House (211 E 1st) is a 16-room Victorian house museum. Bernhard Warkentin, who played a prominent role in helping 5,000 other Mennonites settle in Kansas between 1874 and 1884, completed this elegant home in 1887. Bernhard Warkentin encouraged the settlers to bring the “Turkey Red” hard winter wheat to which Warkentin has discovered was so well suited to the Kansas Plains. The Warkentin’s enjoyed entertaining in their elegant home. The large oak dining table, with its leaved and searing for 20, can still be seen in the home along with 80-90% of the original household furnishings.
The Harvey County Historical Society Library and Museum (203 N. Main) holds historical records such as Civil War discharges and pensions, births, marriages and other courthouse records. A Mexican Heritage rooms honors the contributions of Newton’s Mexican-Americans. Other exhibits include musical instruments, a large collection of Santa Fe Railway artifacts, old fire equipment and a collection of Civil War and WWII artifacts. On the grounds is the Kellas School, an authentic one-room schoolhouse which can be visited or used for a field trip school lesson.
Information provided by:
Newton Convention & Visitors Bureau
201 E. 6th Street
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 am – 5 pm (except major holidays)