Early History

Eskridge

     Eskridge, Kansas was founded in 1869 by Colonel Ephraim. H. Sanford who platted the town built on the rolling prairie of Wilmington Township. Sanford’s town was located at “the Corners”, an intersection Bronc Rider Road and Eight Mile Road, just about a mile east of the current downtown.

Sanford was an accomplished criminal attorney, and he had been a judge, a former esteemed member of the State Legislature, a newspaper publisher and editor at papers in Akron, Ohio and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a highly regarded Union army officer.

sanford-house

The home of Col. Ephraim Sanford sat atop a hill overlooking his town of Eskridge. This house is located on Locust Street in Eskridge. Photo courtesy Dean Dunn.

Col. Sanford platted his town and named it Eskridge after a friend of his, C.V. Eskridge, the publisher of an Emporia newspaper, the Emporia Republican.  Sanford purchased Eskridge’s paper and moved the equipment to his new town, starting a newspaper called the Landmark.

Although a few people built houses and even had businesses in Col. Sanford’s Eskridge located at the Corners, the town never flourished.

It was almost a dozen years later that the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway sought to lay a rail line between Burlingame and Manhattan. Every town and settlement in the vicinity of the proposed line eagerly wooed the railroad, hoping that it would run directly through their town. Such was not the case. With the exception of Alma, Wabaunsee, and Manhattan, the railroad chose to create new towns on property that they owned by virtue of land grants, rather than run their tracks through property owned by settlers.

Thus, Eskridge was platted by the ATSF on a section of property that the railroad owned which bordered Col. Sanford’s town along its west side. With the new depot and the proposed business district being located a mile to the west, the businesses at the Corners moved their buildings to the new town’s Main Street. Within two years of the creation of the new town, it boasted a population of over 400 residents. Thus, Eskridge, as we know it, was born.

main-1889

A crowd lines the street for a 4th of July celebration at Eskridge, Kansas. This is the only known view of the west side of the street taken before the fire of 1890.

One curiosity with regard to the layout of the Eskridge streets is that the new town’s streets were all drawn to run parallel and perpendicular to the railroad tracks as they pass the depot. However, as the rails pass through Eskridge, they travel across that portion of the township at a 45 degree angle.  So, all of the roads in the new town are shifted 45 degrees clockwise relative to a north-south orientation.

Once the railroad had come to Eskridge, the town flourished. Perhaps the biggest growth came in the cattle business.  While the expansive tallgrass pastures had provided great opportunities for the earliest settlers who had owned livestock, the ability to transport large numbers of cattle into Eskridge by rail made the cattle pasturing business explode.  The Eskridge railhead became one of the leading shipping points for cattle in Kansas.

esk-stockyards

A load of cattle are being moved off ATSF cattle cars and into the Eskridge, Kansas stockyards.

Two banks were established in town, the Security State Bank and the Eskridge State Bank, each located on opposite ends of the 100 block of Main Street. By 1900 there were two dentists, three physicians, two druggists, two dry goods stores, two general merchandise stores, a hardware and machinery store, two hotels, two lawyers, two lumber yards, two newspapers, a meat market, livery stable, a restaurant, a photographer, and two stores, Trusler’s and Earl’s, that “sold everything.”

In 1890, disaster struck Eskridge, as a fire destroyed all of the buildings on the west side of the 100 block of Main Street  to Trusler’s store, where a stone “firewall” saved that building and two buildings to the south. The town quickly rebuilt, with virtually every shop that was destroyed replacing their loss with a new building.

On April 11, 1911, a fierce tornado struck Eskridge, inflicting severe damage to many homes and other buildings. While the business district was undamaged by the winds, the east part of town suffered severe losses. Two churches were destroyed and the Eskridge School was damaged beyond repair, leaving twenty to thirty students injured.

Christian Church Destroyed by Tornado - 1911

This cabinet card, dated 1911, shows the Eskridge, Kansas Christian Church after it was destroyed by a tornado. Many houses and buildings, including the Eskridge Public School, located across the street from this church, were also destroyed.

Then, in 1913, the unimaginable happened. Another fire on Main Street destroyed nine buildings on the west side of the 100 block, all located on the same lots which had burned in 1890.  Again, the Trusler building’s firewall stopped the fire’s advance, but all buildings to the north were lost.

1913 Fire on Main Street, Eskridge, Kansas

This real photo postcard by Easter Studio, Eskridge, Kansas, shows the destruction wrought by a 1913 fire which destroyed nine of the twelve buildings on the west side of the 100 block of Main Street of Eskridge. The same section of this block had been destroyed 23 years earlier in an 1890 fire which swept down the street. Photo courtesy the Dean Dunn collection.

Once again, Eskridge rebuilt.  In fact, in the years that would come, the town would experience growth and prosperity as it had not yet known.

West Side, Main Street, Eskridge, Kansas - c.1940

This real photo postcard is titled, “Westside Main Street, Eskridge, Kansas” shows the town’s business district in about 1940. Handwritten in the left corner are the words, “Scales of Lumberyard.”

As with many towns in the Midwest, time brought change to Eskridge.  In the post-World War II economy virtually no one commuted outside of the county to work, but by the 1970s, the coming of paved highways and the Interstate Highway system made commutes to Topeka, Manhattan and Emporia commonplace. In many ways, Eskridge has been redefined as a bedroom community for those who seek to escape urban living.

Click on any image below to view photos in a gallery format.


 

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