Early History

Alta Vista


Construction of Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, Alta Vista, Kansas

A work gang of men constructing the railroad bed for the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska Railroad through Alta Vista, Kansas is dated 1887. At the far left, the railroad’s two-story depot is visible, and at the far right, the Fairview Hotel is seen under construction. In this view, teams of mules are pulling “slips” to level the ground.

The town of Alta Vista was established in 1886, first named Pike, a name which was changed to Cable City and then Alta Vista when platted by the surveyors and engineers of the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska Railroad in 1887. Among the first buildings constructed were the Messenger store, the Fairview Hotel and the railroad’s two-story depot.

Alta Vista Under Construction, 1887

The town of Alta Vista was under construction when this 1887 photograph was taken. The man in the foreground right is Buffalo Smith and the boy to his right is identified as Herman Syring, Sr. The two-story white building in the left center of this view is the Messenger Store, the first building constructed in Alta Vista.

Business boomed in the 1890s in Alta Vista as a livery stable, mercantile, grocery store, restaurant, hardware store and lumber yard opened in short order. The town was still in need of a bank, and in 1905 a group of local businessmen formed the Alta Vista State Bank, electing A. H. Meseke as president, an office he held until his death in 1929. Meseke’s wife, Lillian succeeded him as president of the bank until she sold the enterprise to Bruce Clark in 1931.

Alta Vista State Bank

This view of the Alta Vista State Bank was created by Alma, Kansas photographer, Gus Meier in 1907. In addition to housing the bank owned by A. H. Meseke, the building also housed Meseke’s real estate and insurance offices, and the right half of the building as seen in this photo was occupied by J. N. Bolton’s Dry Goods Store.

In 1904, Alta Vista meat market owner, Union Thomas constructed a two story stone theater that he named the Pearl Opera House, after his son, Pearl Thomas. The top floor of the building was a large auditorium used for many public events, while the first floor was divided to accommodate two businesses. U.S. Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan spoke to a packed house of spectators at the Pearl Opera House.

Buster Brown Show, Star Mercantile, Alta Vista, Kansas

A traveling “Buster Brown Show” drew a fine crowd in front of the Star Mercantile at a Chautauqua held at Alta Vista in August of 1912. Originally a cartoon created in 1902, the “Buster Brown” character was purchased by the Brown Shoe Company as a mascot in 1904. In the early 1900s, little people were hired to portray Buster Brown in traveling shows, promoting the show brand. The Star Mercantile was located in one half of the first floor of the Pearl Opera House.

In 1900 Alta Vista received telephone service for the first time, and in 1908 the first electric company, the Alta Vista Light Company was formed. Initially, when electricity came to Alta Vista, the power was shut down to the city each night at 11:00 pm. Alta Vista was incorporated as a city in 1905 and held their first election of city officials that year.

Fairview Hotel, Alta Vista, Kansas

This view of the Fairview Hotel in Alta Vista, Kansas was taken by Alma photographer, Gus Meier on August 30, 1912. The Fairview, constructed in 1887, was among the first buildings constructed in the new town of Alta Vista, Kansas. Frank Dean is the man at the left wearing a hat, and the well-dressed gentleman in the black suit is William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

The 1907 Wabaunsee County Directory lists two banks in Alta Vista, two barbers, a dentist, furniture store, five general stores, a hardware store, two hotels, a jewelry store, lumberyard, meat market, two millinery stores, a music store, a physician, two restaurants, a produce dealer, and a newspaper.

The 2010 census enumerated 189 households and 444 residents of Alta Vista. The city serves a farming and ranching community.

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