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.
Born with the railroad, Reading is situated on land that had been part of the Sac and Fox Indian Reservation land in eastern Lyon County. In 1859 the Sac and Fox tribes ceded in trust to the government their 6 1/2 mi. in Franklin Co., and the 3 mi. in Lyon Co.; those areas became Indian Trust Land, and Sac and Fox moved from them to the diminished reserve in Osage Co. They had agreed to sell their Trust lands to white settlers, and use the money for the benefit of the tribes. By 1864 the Trust lands were offered for sale.
In 1867 132,210 acres of reservation land was purchased by John McManus, an agent for McManus and Company, later known as the Reading Iron Works of Reading, Pennsylvania. The Reading Town Company consisted of John McManus, president, representing the Iron Works, and Edwin Wilder, of Topeka, treasurer of the Santa Fe Railway Company, secretary. The Reading Iron Works sold to the Santa Fe a half section of land on which to establish its station, and all of section 3 to the Reading Town Company. McManus, who was a civil engineer, a graduate of an Irish university and an extremely able man, was the active member of the Town Company. He and James Fagan platted the town site tract in 1867. Incorporation papers for the town of Reading were filed for record on March 19, 1872.
By 1870 when the railroad was finished through town, there was a depot, tin shop, dry goods store, several homes, a resident carpenter, general store and post office. The main street of town ran next to the tracks and was called Smoky Row, later Front Street; the first well was dug on the street to provide the town with water. As the town grew, other businesses included hardware, general merchandise, hotel, livery, blacksmith, meat market, lumber, confectionaries, barber shop, a tile factory, buggy and wagon factory, grain elevator and cheese factory. A peppermint distillery and an unprofitable coal shaft were unsuccessful early ventures. The Reading Town Company was incorporated as a city of the third class, the City of Reading, on September 1, 1891.
Interior of Reading’s Blue Front Store
Reading and its surrounding farm communities are situated in the Marias Des Cygnes river valley, with the river formed by the convergence of Duck Creek, Elm Creek, and 142-Mile Creek just north of Reading. White settlers came to the area from many different backgrounds after Kansas Territory was opened in 1854. Oliver Phillips, considered as the second settler in Lyon County, initially claimed property in 1855 on the Sac and Fox Reservation in Lyon Co., but moved and brought his family to a home on Duck Creek in 1857. Working as a surveyor, he surveyed the Emporia townsite and laid out the Burlingame Road from Emporia northeast to Burlingame so that it went past his home on Duck Creek, which served travelers and became known as the Phillips Inn. Prior to the establishment of the town and railroad, a caravan of Irish Catholic families settled between Duck Creek and 142-Mile Creek northwest of Reading. Arvonia was a farming community of Welch people centered in Osage County to the east, and a number of those families settled around Reading.
The livestock industry thrived in the Reading area, with large herds of cattle at pasture on the surrounding grasslands. In 1883, 176 rail cars of stock were received and 287 shipped out, making Reading an important stock point on the railroad. At one time, it was the largest shipping point between Dodge City and Chicago. Local residents recalled seeing cattle trains backed up from the Reading depot three miles, as cattle were loaded and unloaded to feed on the bluestem grass in area pastures.
Reading AT&SF depot, ca. 1950
The Reading State Bank was organized in 1901, and the town streets were first graveled in 1929. Early newspapers started with the 1893-‘95 Reading Advance, The Prohibition Echo, then The Reading Ledger, which closed in October 1896. The Reading Record was published through most of the year 1898, and A. A. Torrance ran The Reading Recorder from 1900 to 1908 when he moved it to Lebo.
The longer-lived Reading Herald was established in June 1908, sold several times and finally purchased in 1913 by Leslie Fitts, who had worked at the paper when it first opened. He published it with help from his family until 1947.
In 1929 Mr. Fitts related his first experience in getting out the paper, as follows: “The week’s issue was partly printed when I took charge of the paper. I faced the proposition of getting out the paper for the week, finding another location and moving by the next night, so the post office could move, August 1, into the building I vacated. Dr. D. S. Fisher’s office was in the building now occupied by the Herald, and he moved from it to the building the post office was vacating. I found temporary quarters for the Herald, moved, then the post office moved, then Doctor Fisher moved, then the Herald moved again. Neither the Herald, the post office, nor Doctor Fisher has moved again.”
With the varied ancestry of the settlers around Reading several religious denominations have maintained churches over the years. In the early 1870s Welsh families in the area established the Congregational Church, the first church in Reading. In 1867 donated land and funds were given to establish a Catholic church. Built by the parishioners, the church was finished in 1870 and for a while was the only Catholic church near the Santa Fe Trail between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Topeka. A new church was dedicated in 1931, the Church of the Assumption. A Methodist church was built in 1883, and in 1886 the old school building was purchased and moved to new lots for use as the Baptist church.
1st Catholic Church, built 1870 Assumption Catholic Church, 1976
First Baptist Church in 1976
Methodist Church, newspaper office, Opera House, IOOF Hall (Int’l Order of Odd Fellows, dark bldg in background)
The first school in Reading was erected in 1875. As the town grew, a new and larger school was built in 1885. In 1915 the present brick school building was constructed on the site of the old wood-frame building, which was moved across the street. Students were inside the old school taking examinations the day of the moving, and continued with their work as they and the building were slowly rolled on logs to the new location. In 1951 a new gymnasium and an addition to the high school building were ready for use, as well as a new shop building. The first graduates of Reading High School were Clara and Frank Agrelius in 1890. Over the years smaller schools have consolidated with the Reading school.
Reading High School and Grade School in 1976
from History of Newspapers in Lyon County by Laura French, in the History of Emporia and Lyon County, publ. 1929
(courtesy Lyon Co. Historical Society Archives)
“The Reading Herald, Leslie Fitts, proprietor, was established June 22, 1908, by Eaton & Halstrom. Eaton continued in the business but a short time, and A. M. Hawks purchased the paper from Halstrom in 1909. Leslie Fitts bought it from Halstrom July 30, 1913. Mr. Fitts relates his first experience in getting out the paper, as follows: “The week’s issue was partly printed when I took charge of the paper. I faced the proposition of getting out the paper for the week, finding another location and moving by the next night, so the post office could move, August 1, into the building I vacated. Dr. D. S. Fisher’s office was in the building now occupied by the Herald, and he moved from it to the building the post office was vacating. I found temporary quarters for the Herald, moved, then the post office moved, then Doctor Fisher moved, then the Herald moved again. Neither the Herald, the post office, nor Doctor Fisher has moved again.”
Mr. Fitts left the Herald and went to work for the Lawrence Journal-World October 1, 1913, and did not return until May, 1919. His father, the late Daley Fitts, his mother and brothers and sisters, got out the Herald each week. “After my return,” says Mr. Fitts, “my father continued to be the guiding hand on the Herald until his death in September, 1925. Since then my mother, Mrs. Mary E. Fitts, has
taken his place.” Mr. Fitts has been postmaster at Reading since January 1, 1922. He owns the Herald Plant and building, and employs one man, James Price, in the shop. Leslie Fitts is a World War veteran.
Reading’s first newspaper was the Advance, its first copy appearing May 27, 1893, editor, Samuel Johnson. In 1894 S. H. Stratton was editor and publisher of the Advance, and the paper was discontinued in 1895. The Reading Record was short lived – February 25-December 30, 1898. The Reading Recorder was established January 13, 1900, by Austin A. Torrance. He ran it in Reading until 1908, then moved the plant to Lebo.
Our Land: A History of Lyon County, Kansas, 1976, publ. Emporia State Press.
Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol. II, 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar, Standard Pub. Co. Chicago (available online, see below).
History of Emporia and Lyon County Kansas, by Laura M. French, Emporia Gazette Print, 1929. (http://history.rays-place.com)
Through the Years With Reading, Kansas 1857-1976, by the Reading Bicentennial Committee, Gladys Whittington & Gayle Graham Co-chairmen, 1976.
ON THE INTERNET, as of 2016:
http://www.kshs.org/p/county-atlases-or-plat-books/13859 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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