William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 6] [part 4] [Cutler's History]


The town of Atchison was incorporated by act of the Territorial Legislature, August 30, 1855, and the city of Atchison, February 12, 1858. The charter was approved by vote of the people, March 2, 1858. At the first meeting of the Council, held March 15, an ordinance was adopted providing for an election to be held on the 18th, for the purpose of submitting a proposition proposing to take $100,000 stock in a railroad from St. Joe to some point nearly opposite Atchison, on the Missouri River. It was proposed to issue city bonds therefor. The election was to be held in the stone house of Burnes & Bro. The election was held, the stock was taken, and Gen. S. C. Pomeroy appointed agent of the Atchison and St. Joe R. R. Co., in behalf of the city. Among other measures which passed during the month were those fixing the salary of the Mayor at $300, ordering tippling shops to be closed on Sundays, and advertising for the construction of a "lock up," 20X30 feet and 12 feet high, with roof of cottonwood logs. This may be said to be the germ of the present flourishing police system of Atchison.

The first financial statement of the city was brought up to September 5, 1859, and is as follows:

General City Tax, 1858 ....................... $5,927.70
Fines imposed by Mayor's Court ...............    186.50
Dray and wagon licenses ......................    192.00
Dram shop ....................................  1,787.76
Beer house ...................................    101.33
Shows ........................................    130.00
Billiard tables ..............................    225.00
Registry of dogs .............................     50.00
Assessment on C. street from River to Fourth .  3,381.00
                                       Total  $12,008.29
Amount of script and orders issued on general fund to
December 15, 1858 ............................$ 6,317.16
Amount of script and orders issued on general fund to
September 5, 1859 ............................  3,140.53
Script issued towards building jail ..........  1,675.00
For grading streets, curbing, etc. ........... 10,105.39
               Total .........................$21,238.08
General Indebtedness September 5 ............. $9,229.70

In his inaugural address(1858) Mayor Pomeroy had referred to the importance of grading and improving the thoroughfares of the city, especially Atchison, Second and Fourth streets and the levee. At the same time he urged the policy of generous reimbursement to property owners whose land the city condemned for public purposes. The Mayor concluded with a bit of poetry -

Let us, then, be up and doing.
With a heart for any fate.
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

The financial statement of the city, when examined in detail, certainly shows that the people followed Mayor Pomeroy's advice in regard to street improvements, and from 1858 to 1861 there was no place in the State that was more "up and doing" than Atchison. As the outfitting point for the great emigrant trains to Salt Lake City and California, and finally in 1860, as the terminus of the Atchison & St. Joe Railroad, the place was "still achieving, still pursuing" when the war checked her march and she "learned to labor and to wait -" for further growth and - other railroads. The railroads came, the city grew in population and business importance, until it is now one of the most thriving and promising points on the Missouri River. Large amounts of money are being annually expended in grading and improving its streets, it has a fine system of water works, a fire department, a good police service, gas works, street cars - everything usually pertaining to a metropolitan place. Of the bonded debt of the city Mayor S. C. King, in his second annual message, delivered in May, 1882, speaks as follows:

"General Funding Bonds, due 1887 (10 per cent) ....$159,500
General Improvement Bonds, due 1892 (10 per cent) .   2,475
Bridge Bonds, due 1893 (7 per cent) ...............   3,000
C.& S. W. R. R. Bonds, due 1892 (7 per cent) ......  31,000
Interest unpaid and maturing January 1, 1882 ...... 124,755
                        Total .....................$320,730
Seven per cent, new bonds refunded ................ 181,600
Making our total bonded indebtedness
  to January 1, 1882                               $512,330

As you are all aware, the new bonds, amounting to $191,600, are regularly and satisfactorily provided for by an annual levy of taxes to meet the interest accrued thereon, but for a number of years no provision of any description has been made to pay the interest of principal of the unrefunded portion of our debt, amounting to over $320,000.

The holders of these unrefunded bonds appear to be determined not to accept anything less than face value of the principal, but from statements of the great majority of them, I am led to believe that they will accept the principal and four per cent, in new thirty year bonds. That is to say, the principal and accrued interest to date, to constitute the principal, and then new bonds for that amount, bearing four per cent.

As the matter now stands we are responsible for (without reckoning the interest on overdue coupons of the unrefunded bonds) an annual interest of $31,989.50, while if the whole debt of $512,330 could be refunded at four per cent, we would be liable only for an annual interest of $20,493.20, making an annual savings of over $11,496, and in addition save and perpetuate the credit of our city, and relieve us from the stigma and disgrace of repudiation.

This measure, I am fully impressed, can be consummated by a repeal of the clause in our charter confining us to the payment of but fifty cents on the dollar of our unrefunded bonded debt, or by an appeal to the courts, questioning the authority of the Legislature to prevent us from paying our debts at par.

Such a compromise as suggested, I think, would meet with speedy acceptance by our creditors, who ought to be treated with respect and fairness, particularly when the hopelessness, and, in fact, the impossibility of collecting, and the total inability of our city to pay the debt as it now stands, is fairly and honestly presented to them. Situated as we are, writs of mandamus are useless, for if the officers obeyed, and made the levy ordered, our citizens could not pay. But we can pay the interest proposed on the principal and matured coupons, and leave it to the wealthier and more populous generation and city to take care of the principal."


A brisk, energetic, growing city with the most complete railroad connection of any point in the State, situated in the center of a natural amphitheater of hills, with the Missouri River on the east, White Clay Creek flowing through its center from the west; one thousand feet above the sea level, air pure and drainage good; its street filled with driving citizens and lined with busy mercantile houses or comfortable homes; possessing an ably-conducted press and pulpit, good schools, water works, gas works, etc. - all the modern improvements in the way of comfort and convenience; the center of a large grain trade, flour manufacture and stock interest; the center of the river border of Kansas; and should the Missouri River improvement and shipments down the Mississippi by barges become a reality, destined to become a great shipping point for a large extent of the country tributary to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe road, and the railroads of Nebraska, which center here; possessing a splendid retail trade - this is Atchison, and much more could truthfully be said of such a city of 17,000 inhabitants. The exhibit below, however, continues the story.

The act of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Kansas, incorporating the city of Atchison, approved February 12, 1858, provided for the election, by the people at large, of a mayor and councilmen. The charter was accepted by a vote of the people, at a special election for the purpose, held March 2, 1858. The first Mayor and Board of Councilmen were elected at a special election held March 13, 1858. The charter provided for the annual city election to be held on the first Monday in September; hence the first Mayor and Board of Councilmen, elected in March, held their offices only until September. They were as follows: Mayor, Samuel C. Pomeroy; Register, John F. Stein, Jr.; Treasurer, E. B. Grimes; Marshal, Milton R. Benton; Attorney, A. E. Mayhew; Engineer, W. O. Gould; Street Commissioner (by virtue of his office as Marshal), M. R. Benton; Assessor, H. L. Davis; Physician, J. W. Hereford; Board of Appraisers, Messrs. Petefish, Roswell and Gaylord; Councilmen, William P. Chiles, President; O. F. Short, Luther C. Challiss, Cornelius A. Logan, S. T. Walters, James A. Headley and Charles Holbert. John F. Stein, Jr., the Register, resigned in August, 1858, and R. L. Pease was appointed to fill the vacancy. In July Mr. Chilies resigned, A. L. Petefish being elected to fill the vacancy, he having been elected to the council to succeed Luther C. Challiss, resigned. In August the city was divided into three wards, the First ward being entitled to four councilmen, the Second to two, and the Third to three.

The following municipal officers served from September, 1858, to May, 1859: Mayor, Samuel C. Pomeroy; Register, Robert L. Pease; Treasurer, E. B. Grimes; Marshal, Milton R. Benton; Attorney, A. E. Mayhew; Engineer, W. O. Gould; Assessor, H. L. Davis; Physician, J. W. Hereford; James A. Headley was President of the Council until April, 1859, when he resigned, and A. J. Petefish was elected to fill the vacancy.

Samuel C. Pomeroy also served the city as mayor from May to September, 1859, a change having been in the time of election. George H. Fairchild succeeded him as the municipal executive until May, 1862. In January, 1860, the office of City Recorder was created, H. R. Weightman being the first incumbent. During this year (1860) Judge N. J. Ireland was President of the Council. Milton R. Benton acted as Mayor from May, 1862, to May, 1863, to George H. Fairchild being President of the Council. From May, 1863, to May, 1865, John M. Crowell was Mayor, John Belz having served as Register since 1862. John A. Martin was elected Mayor in May, 1865, and was succeeded by John M. Crowell, the next year. Mr. Crowell was succeeded by C. G. Foster. In 1867 the charter was amended so that the election for the city officers occurred in April, Atchison was re-districted into four wards, and the office "City Register" changed to "City Clerk," and "Recorder" to "Police Judge." H. Clay Park, served as Register and Clerk from May, 1866, to April, 1871. Following Mr. Foster in the office of Mayor were William Hetherington, 1868-'69; John M. Price, 1869-'70; William C. Smith, 1870-'72; Edward K. Blair, 1872-'74; Thomas Murphy, 1874-'75; Clement Rohr, 1875-'76; W. F. Downs, 1876-'78; Clement Rohr, 1878-'79; John C. Tomlinson, 1879-'81; and S. C. King, 1881-'83. The present City Clerk, H. R. Bostwick, was appointed in July, 1880. In 1879 the charter was so amended as to provide for the municipal election every two years.

Before closing this chapter in the city's history, however, it is instructive as well as interesting, to observe the change which has come over the financial condition of Atchison since the date of that report published over twenty years ago. From City Clerk Bostwick's last annual report (ending April, 1882), the following figures are taken: Old bonded debt, $195,975; new bonded debt, $191,690.85; County Treasurer, $54,360.65; City Treasurer, $13,444.63; General Improvement fund, $2,572.14. Total, $458,043.27. Credited to the city are: General funding bonds, $159,500: Chicago and Atchison bridge bonds, $3,000; Chicago and Southwestern bridge bonds, $31,000; general improvement bonds, $2,475; refunding bonds, $191,600; refunding scrip, $90.85; interest refunding bonds, $6,834.61; tax assessment, $54,360.65; water fund, $2,342.51; revenue fund, $3,709.75; improvement warrant account, $554.16; revenue warrant account, $507.02; sidewalk repair fund, $792.19; bills payable,$1,093.40.

The actual expenses for maintaining the city, as ascertained from the report of the City Clerk for the year ending April 1, 1882, amount to $30,000 per annum. Of this sum about one-third goes to support the Police Department and one-seventh the Fire Department. The total floating debt of the city is $2,154.58 and its bonded debt $512,420.85.

The assessed valuation of city property is as follows: real estate, $1,434,080; railroad, $101,540; personal, $637,780. Tax levy for 1881, general revenue, $13,040.40; general improvement, $6,520.20; water purposes, $6,520.20; interest on refunding bonds, $16,735.18.

[TOC] [part 6] [part 4] [Cutler's History]