"Ghost Town" in Kansas
by Harold C. Place
JUST 78 years ago this month the most amazing "ghost town" ever platted in Kansas enjoyed its one brief day of glory and, then, expired with not even a gasp to disturb the eerie silence of its prairie site or mark its passing.
Minneola was the town. Its promoters aspired to make it the capital of Kansas and, by employing methods both dark and devious, did induce the territorial legislature to so designate it. But no legislature ever met in the hastily constructed legislative hall and no governor ever dwelt in the bizarre structure called the "Governor's Mansion."
THE arguments used were simple and the persuasion effective. The legislature, with the pockets of many of its members stuffed with free town stock and free town lots, proceeded to whoop thru a law which made Minneola the capital city of the territory. During the debate which preceded the vote one member of the legislature, not so easily influenced, declared: "Public opinion will brand this outrage as a swindle and its perpetrators as swindlers. You are flattering yourselves that you are locating a capital. It is a mistake; it will prove to be simply a graveyard in which every member who votes for this bill will be politically buried." Later events were to prove him not far wrong.
Holloway's History says of the action that "corruption marked it in the face and public opinion condemned it."
THE brief history of Minneola began shortly after the free-state voters early in January, 1858, wrested control of the legislature from the pro-slave forces. Lecompton was, at the time, the legal capital of the territory but the free-state legislators viewed it with distinct aversion. Consequently, when the legislature convened it immediately adjourned to Lawrence.
This situation gave one Perry Fuller and his associates an inspired idea. They went down into the northwest corner of Franklin county, bought 14 1/2 sections of perfectly good farm land and proceeded to lay out, on paper, the future metropolis of Kansas -- Minneola. Circulars and maps were printed representing Minneola as a city of unexcelled beauty, delightful homes and gorgeous boulevards. Then, armed with free town stock and free town lots, the promoters swooped down on the legislature. They, naively, proposed that Minneola be named the capital.
THE promoters still had to hurdle the governor but that proved to be little more than a hop, skip and a jump for these high-pressure gentlemen. Governor Denver vetoed the enactment and, among other things, his veto message said: "Nor have I been able to ascertain that Minneola has anything more than a descriptive existence on paper. If, therefore, the reasons heretofore assigned for such removals may be regarded sufficiently, the same reasons are likely to exist next year (if this proposition can be carried out) and the 'permanent seat of government' may again be removed, for the benefit of some other paper town, which may be found more needy than Minneola."
Whereupon the legislature still mesmerized by free town stock and free town lots, expeditiously went to work and passed the law over the governor's veto. Then, before adjourning it provided that a constitutional convention should convene at Minneola on March 23, 1858.
THE sponsors of Minneola had less than a month between the time they were assured that victory was theirs and the time the convention was to meet to transfer their paper dream to some degree of reality. They were equal to the task altho the result fell considerably short of the glittering prospectus.
However, Minneola began to experience a boom of formidable proportions the minute the legislature threw the governor's veto out the window. Lots were transferred at fabulous prices as the fever of speculation hit the town; some residences were constructed; a few stores were built; a 3-story hotel with a 2-story dining room and kitchen annex sprang out of the prairie; a legislative hall was thrown together; and a "governor's mansion" took shape. On the day before the convention convened the town swarmed with people, 400 took dinner at the new hotel and, it is reported, the hotel bar did a land office business.
THE convention was called to order at 10 a.m. on March 23. Almost immediately a resolution was introduced to adjourn to Leavenworth. All the rest of the day and thruout the night the resolution was debated without interruption for food or sleep. Finally, about the time the first rays of daylight began to peep thru the cracks of the imperfect architecture of the legislative hall, Jim Lane, convention chairman, made a dramatic speech in favor of adjournment. The resolution was adopted a few moments later and the convention delegates trooped out of Minneola, bag and baggage, to continue their deliberations at Leavenworth.
It is not recorded that any bells were tolled when that happened. But they might well have been. For, then and there, was ended Minneola's dream of future grandeur with nothing but memories of 24 hours of glory. A territorial court declared the Minneola legislative act void and, within a short time, the town's buildings were either torn down or moved to other locations. Part of the governor's mansion and all of the legislative hall were moved to Ottawa. In 1860 the land on the townsite was sold to the county for taxes. There were no buildings left.
Memories of Minneola were stirred once again in 1930 when the granary on the G. B. Nelson farm, near Centropolis, was razed. It had seen better days. It had once been the postoffice of Minneola.