Yankee Settlement to Kansas Town, 1854-1894
Kevin G. W. Olson
Winner: Tihen Historical Publication Award
A Kansas Notable Book
When Isaac Goodnow and five fellow New Englanders arrived at the junction of the Kansas and Big Blue rivers in March of 1855, they pitched a tent and launched a town. Harassment and homesickness almost drove them back east, but they held their ground to establish an anti-slavery and educational stronghold: the town of Manhattan, Kansas.
“A lively and well-researched study.”
“Olson has penned a lively history of Manhattan’s founding that illuminates the divisive forces that had to be overcome amidst the turbulence of the Civil War era and the drama of building a town from scratch on the Great Plains frontier.”
—Topeka Capital-JournalSee all reviews...
“Kevin Olson has fashioned an exceptionally thorough account of the first decades of Manhattan, Kansas-the Little Apple. In a significant way, Olson chronicles the development of the city through the lives of Isaac and Ellen. With excellent research and clear writing, Olson gives a fascinating, detailed picture of life in Manhattan from its founding as an anti-slavery stronghold called Boston to its social and economic transformation into a quiet Midwestern college town, one governed by political moderates.”
“This well-written study utilizes a wealth of primary documentation to authenticate the transformation of a small community into a thriving city that still pays homage to its Yankee roots.”
“Olson paints a clear and delightful word picture of how Manhattan came to be and how it grew. The book will undoubtedly become a classic.”
—David Dary, author of True Tales of Old-Time Kansas
“A fascinating picture of life in the city from its founding as an anti-slavery stronghold to its social and economic transformation into a quiet Midwestern college town. An important contribution.”
—James Sherow, Mayor of Manhattan and author of The Grasslands of the United States
“An outstanding history based on extensive and original research. The look and feel of early Manhattan and its people come through very strongly.”
—Craig Miner, author of Kansas: The History of the Sunflower StateSee fewer reviews...
Kevin Olson's lively history of Manhattan's founding illuminates the divisive forces that had to be overcome amidst the turbulence of the Civil War era and the sheer drama of building a town from scratch on the Great Plains frontier. With an eye for vivid detail and reflecting a native's deep knowledge of the city, Olson chronicles the first four decades of Manhattan as it grew from tent to town.
Although spared much of the Bleeding Kansas violence, Manhattan saw its share of shootouts and lynchings in its Wild West days. Olson evocatively recaptures those rough-and-tumble times and effectively describes the town's key social and economic transformations. He also highlights the emergence of a college town and "New England village" by 1866, followed by Manhattan's growth and modernization in the 1890s.
Drawing on town records as well as the personal papers of boosters, Olson mirrors the history of Kansas through the lens of this one community by interweaving ecology, relations with Native Americans, agriculture, literature, architecture, social mores, politics, economic issues, and university origins to recreate a vibrant cross-section of town life. His account of Kansa Indian settlement Blue Earth Village shines a light on a prehistory that until now has been little covered; his retelling of the emigration of the New England settlers recalls one of the most compelling stories of the antebellum era; and his coverage of the 1860s surpasses that of most previous histories.
Written for general readers while boasting an impressive depth of scholarship, Frontier Manhattan takes us on a journey into the past to shop at Higginbotham and Purcell's or enjoy a stay at the Manhattan House hotel with jovial mayor Andrew Mead. With its strong sense of place and personality, Olson's book is as engaging as it is informative in celebrating the origins and early life of this quintessential Kansas city.