History of Tonganoxie
Tonganoxie derives its name from a chief of the Delaware tribe that once occupied land throughout what is now Leavenworth County and western Wyandotte County. While the Delaware relocated to Oklahoma, local immigrants and friends of Chief Tonganoxie honored him by naming the settlement after him. Magdalena Bury who is the founder of Tonganoxie also operated a saloon at this time. The town was originally going to be named after her, and called “Buryville”. But Mrs. Bury insisted that they named the town after Chief Tonganoxie. 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.
The City of Tonge-Noxie was established on July 21, 1866. After 1900, the spelling was amended to its current form.
Most early settlers were foreign born; English, Irish, German, Russian, French, and were poor. They served as blacksmiths, butchers, stonemasons, wine growers, and farmers. Throughout the 1860’s-1870’s many former slaves sought to restart in Tonganoxie, and at that point 25% of the population was African American.
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.
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 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 is Currently 15, full-time and part-time officers working for the City of Tonganoxie.
Tonganoxie has come a long way in the last 150 years; a city formed off of friendship and trust between white men and the American Indians. The city has remained a close tight-nit community throughout the years and still has a bright future ahead of it, with the advancement of businesses and education.
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.