Map shows the North half of present-day Lyon County, KS. The double line is the Kansas Turnpike; n-s thru Admire is Hwy 99. The dotted line angling across the top is the route of the Santa Fe Trail, ca. 1821-1870.
Kansas was opened to settlement in 1854. The next year in 1855, one of the first post offices in Kansas Territory was at the 142-Mile Creek crossing, where Charles Withington had established his trading post. The post office was named after Withington’s friend, pioneer Allen McGee, and the growing community also became known as Allen. The settlement prospered until the Trail fell into disuse in the 1870’s. In 1886 when the railroad was proposed, Allen was populated by many who had been settled in the area for years and who wanted their own rail station from which to ship livestock and other goods. The railroad agreed, but stipulated that the station had to be located along their proposed route. The people moved their Allen community about three miles southwest, and platted the new town site. The former site on the Santa Fe Trail became known as Old Allen.
Allen street scene, 1917
Old Allen had been the closest trading community to the big Wiser Ranch, established in 1880 with its headquarters just north of the county line and many acres of ranch land in northern Lyon County. With the move to the railroad tracks, Allen was still closest and the nearest rail shipping point, although Wiser also went north to Eskridge. In 1890, ’92 and again in 1894 a new county was proposed, comprising the north part of Lyon Co. and the south part of Wabaunsee Co.; it would have been Wiser County, and Allen was proposed as its county seat. The Kansas state legislature ailed to pass it.
The first house in the new town of Allen was brought from a farm five miles north, and the first town meeting was held in it in 1885. During May 1886 the railroad was completed across Lyon County and the depot, roofed with steel shingles and painted cream with brown trim, was completed in August 1887. The first boy born in Allen, on May 30, 1887, was named Allen Reaburn. The post office was moved from “Old Allen” to the new town in April 1887, and wooden sidewalks were installed in 1889.
Newspapers in Allen started with the Allen Tidings, founded in May 1887. It changed hands in 1894 and was called the Allen Herald until 1897. At that time a new owner/editor operated the paper as the Northern Lyon County Journal until 1908, when it changed hands again and the next owner ran it as the Allen Enterprise until 1914. The previous editor, D. S. Gilmore, returned and it remained the Northern Lyon County Journal from 1914 to 1952.
Allen was home to typical businesses over the ensuing years: hotels, blacksmith shops, hardware and implements, general mercantile, harness and livery, grocers, dry goods (clothing, etc.), tonsorial artist (barber), mortician and furniture, butcher shop, cheese shop, bakery, creamery, blacksmith, animal feed and flour, lumber yard, and a broom factory.
Dr. E. H. Shellack was the first physician surgeon, arriving in Allen in early 1887. He was also the proprietor of the Palace Drug Store. Other physicians came and went, and eventually Dr. Edwards was the one who remained for many years.
Allen has had four hotels. The first was built on the west side of Main Street in 1887 and was known as the “Lehman” house or Grand Central Hotel. E. R. Marcy had a hotel and rooming house above his grocery store. On the east side on Main Street was the wood-frame Allen Hotel built in 1887; it burned in the fire of 1907. The Allen Hotel that replaced it in 1908 was constructed of limestone and was built in the block south of the previous building.
The second Allen Hotel (the first had burned), 1908. Viewed SE with the train depot in background, this building still stands at 4th and Main in Allen.
The State Bank of Allen was founded in June 1895 as a private bank. It was sold in 1900, and again in 1920. During the Great Depression, the bank was closed on December 3, 1930. In 1903, there were two telephone companies in Allen, and that year one bought the other out. It changed hands a number of times, the last one being Arthur Biggs. Allen had its own electric light plant from ca. 1920 until 1940, when it was sold to KPL.
The “Allen Opera House” in the upper floor of a store building provided a venue for public entertainment. Allen had a band that performed for community events. One time in 1912, the band members asked some of the young women of the town to sing with the band at the Allen Opera House. This group enjoyed singing a popular piece of that era. Their preacher became very upset over the public performance, saying that he “thought it was vulgar and they had better put a stop to it.” The decadent song with a catchy tune was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” written in 1911 by Irving Berlin.
High excitement was created in April of 1922, when the engineer of an east-bound freight train approached Allen with orders to take the sidetrack and wait for the westbound local train to pass. Instead, the engineer lost control as he reached Allen, and his train blasted through town at high speed. The two trains smashed together at the east edge of town. Fourteen railcars were demolished, and the two engines were almost welded together. No one was killed or severely hurt.
The new town of Allen soon had two churches, although traveling ministers of many different faiths came through the area. Church services were held on the second floor of the Marcy store building until a church was erected in 1887 at a cost of $384.49. It was used by the Methodist Protestants, Methodist Episcopals, and Christians. It was soon purchased by the MP’s, and the others had to build their own churches; the Methodist Episcopal structure, built in 1892, is the one still in use.
1892 ME Church
1887 MP Church
The school district for the town of Allen was organized in March 1887. After a site was selected, “a lively discussion was held on whether a school house or a sheep shed should be built, but the vote was in favor of a school house.” Classes for grades 1 through 8 started in September of 1887, held in the M.P. Church, and the students moved to the new school house in December, as shown below.
In 1909 the old wood-frame school building was sold and moved, and a new two-story limestone school with a basement was erected. The Allen Rural High School was organized in 1912, and classes were held in the same building with the grade school until 1948 when an addition was added to the east side of the school, as pictured. The school was closed in 1970.
School janitor Harry Grimsley, using the well pump in front of the Allen school, no date.
As the area populations changed and student enrollments dropped, the town schools went through a series of consolidations, as follows:
- 1955 – Bushong HS students to Allen
- 1957 – Northern Heights High School opens for all area high school students
- 1966 – all area 3rd & 4th grades to Bushong, other Bushong elem. to Allen
- 1970 – all area elementary students to Admire, other town schools closed
- 2010 – Admire elem. school closed, students sent to Reading and Americus
Photo, Main Street, early 1900s.
Allen is known for having survived a number of destructive fires, the first of which was started by lightning in 1897 when it struck a barn on Main Street. Another one started in the loft of a livery stable on Main Street in 1907 and with high winds spread quickly to destroy the house next to it, the Allen Hotel, Skaggs Hardware/Allen Opera House and its storage building, and three other houses. A third fire in 1918 destroyed a garage, blacksmith shop, several cars and damaged the hotel. Among other less damaging fires, in August 1923 the fourth fire in a month broke out in the Crystal Theater and also destroyed a hardware store. The Edmunds general store burned in 1934, and the paper reported that on the morning following the fire, all kinds of buckets were found in the yard of the house next to the store, also on the roof where the workers had left them after the danger of the house catching on fire had passed. Major loss by fire struck again in January of 1963 and took out a block of businesses. In 1965 a used truck and water tanks were purchased and converted into a fire truck for the township’s volunteer fire department. Fairs were occasionally held in Allen and neighboring Admire in the early years. The Northern Lyon County Free Fair was held yearly at Allen from 1934 into the 1950s. Prizes were for both local and 4-H entries, and in several years rodeos were held.
Our Land: A History of Lyon County, Kansas, 1976, publ. Emporia State Press.
Allen, Kansas, 1854-1886, 1886-1986 by Donald Scheisser, 1986.
Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol. II, 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar,
Standard Pub. Co. Chicago (available online, see below).
ON THE INTERNET, as of 2016:
KS State Hist. Society, county plat maps
http://www.ksgenweb.com/archives/1912/ Cyclopedia of Kansas, 1912
http://www.kancoll.org/books/cutler/ 1883 History of Kansas by Andreas/Cutler
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