History of Tonganoxie
Tonganoxie derives its name from a member of the Delaware tribe that once occupied land in what is now Leavenworth County and western Wyandotte County. While the Delaware later relocated to Oklahoma, some Delaware remained here. European immigrants and US migrants designated Tonganoxie, a remaining Delaware member, the local honorary chief and revered him by naming the town after him. Magdalena Bury operated a saloon at that time, and many locals wanted to call the town, "Buryville," in her honor, but Mrs. Bury insisted that they name the town after Chief Tonganoxie.
The City of Tonge-Noxie was established on July 21, 1866. After 1900, the spelling was amended to its current form.
The first general merchandising store was opened in 1866. Almost all of the early buildings and houses were built of clapboard or rough Native lumber. Each early house had a barn, a cow, a garden, and often chickens.
Many early settlers were foreign born English, Irish, German, Russian, and French, and others migrated from Chicago, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. They served as blacksmiths, butchers, stonemasons, wine growers, and farmers. Throughout the 1860’s-1870’s many former slaves sought to restart in and around Tonganoxie reaching 25% of the population was African American, and legacy names such as Jarrett and Quarles continue that presence.
The first hotel was built in 1868. Between 1867 and 1900 fifteen hotels were built throughout Tonganoxie. During times of flooding it was often impossible for travelers to make it between Leavenworth and Lawrence.
The first school was a log cabin that was built in 1869. A brick building was built to replace it in 1874 on the site of the present grade school. In 1910 the high school was built and the gymnasium was added in 1925. In 1883 Tonganoxie Friends Academy was founded for higher learning. The Friends Academy was shut down in 1899.
Molly Myers opened the Myers Hotel in 1889, which ran through 1931. Her breakfast was known as the finest west of the Mississippi River. The hotel was on the stage coach route from Kansas City to Denver. Later, stage coaches were replaced by buses, and the Myers Hotel was a major bus stop. Among famous people to stay in the hotel were General John J. Pershing, former President (General at the time) Dwight D. Eisenhower, and William Inge, writer of the Broadway play, "Bus Stop," which became a feature film in 1956 starring Marilyn Monroe. The plot was derived from people that Mr. Inge met and observed in the Myers Hotel.
The “Chief Tonganoxie” swimming pool was built in 1925. The pool was opened by local businessmen and citizens that were hoping to boost the spirit of Tonganoxie. The pool was used until 2007, when it was replaced with a new state-of-the-art water park.
The biggest business Tonganoxie has ever had was established in the 1922. The Franklin Ice Cream Company employed forty or more local men and women at one time, and was a very successful business until 1958. Prior to the Franklins Ice cream company, the building was a canning factory in the 1880’s and in the early 1900’s was; “The Tonganoxie Faultless Condensery.”
In the 1860’s there was no local law enforcement. If there were a problem that citizens could not resolve themselves, they would contact the county sheriff. In the 1870’s Tonganoxie had over ten saloons and the town was becoming very rough. The City Council appointed Willard Angel as the first Town Marshal. The original city jail was located on Main Street; the building was first burned down by friends of a several time offender that was locked up. In 1880 a sandstone jail was built. In the 1920’s they added a steal cage to the basement of City Hall to hold offenders. The early Marshals provided transportation for themselves, most of the time if there was a citizen seeking his help, they would provide the transportation. One of the Tonganoxie Marshals, Bill Stone was famous for riding a milk cow around town on his rounds. The first marshal was paid $6 a month. Every year the City Council would usually vote to raise the marshal’s salary but sometimes also increasing the marshal’s responsibilities. It was not uncommon to see one of the marshals doing street work, such as cleaning the gutters and the street. During the depression crime such as bootlegging and theft was severely increased because of many citizens being out of jobs. In the 1950’s the first police car was purchased for the town so that the police could be more mobile. There are currently 15 full-time and part-time officers working for the City of Tonganoxie.
Over 5,000 people of different faiths and ethnic origins call Tonganoxie, "home." Crime is low, the school system is vibrant, access is quick to both urban and rural amenities, the air is clean, and the scenery is captivating.
For more information about our history, visit the Tonganoxie Community Historical Society.
Read the Kansas roadside marker located at the south edge of Tonganoxie about Chief Tonganoxie.