by Linda Henderson, Adult Services Librarian
In 1855, the Hartford, the first little steamboat built specially to travel the Kansas River, beached on a sandbar near the mouth of the Little Blue River. Little could these new visitors to Kansas imagine their legacy: a rich history of people and unique accomplishments! First named “New Boston,” “Manhattan” was established after a compromise between two major settling companies. The Riley County Historical Society, the Riley County Genealogical Society, and Manhattan Public Library maintain reams of history for anyone interested in knowing more about how our city came to be.
Manhattan Public Library makes a point of preserving books about local history. Winifred Slagg’s Riley County Kansas vividly portrays the early settlers of Riley County. A local author, Lowell Jack, in his History of Manhattan, Kansas, Riley County and Ft. Riley, offers an excellent timeline starting in 1850. He recounts personal stories of founders, like Mrs. E.B. Purcell, who persuaded Andrew Carnegie to contribute $10,000 to establish our first library, and Ella Child, women’s suffragist daughter of Seth Child, accompanying her parents to the polls so that they could all vote. Neighbors of the Past, also by Jack, recounts personal histories of interesting historic Manhattanites.
Another local author, Geraldine Baker Walton, wrote 140 Years of Soul: a History of African Americans in Manhattan, Kansas 1865-2005. An excellent review of Manhattan’s local architecture awaits in The Architects & Buildings of Manhattan, Kansas by Dr. Patricia J. O’Brien. The public library also has many calendars and books full of historical photographs. Or, on the fantastic side, Ghosts of Fort Riley shares stories and photos about legendary ghosts said to haunt Ft. Riley. The Official State Atlas of Kansas, published in 1887, holds a historic Manhattan city and Riley county map, along with many other Kansas locations, with drawings of many Kansas business buildings and farmsteads. And, the Manhattan city directories list people and businesses from the 1950s until today.
Google does not know everything yet! Manhattan Public Library maintains a huge collection of newspapers and local publications on microfilm. The earliest is from 1859 entitled: The Manhattan Express. Other titles include The Kansas Radical from 1866, The Leonardville Monitor from 1884 on, and the Riley County Chronicle from 1889. The Seaton family bought the Mercury newspaper in 1915, and after several title reincarnations, the Seatons adopted the title: Manhattan Mercury in 1954. Whatever its title, we archive the Mercury from then to now on microfilm – and of course, we keep the paper copies for three months, too!
The microfilm collection provides a wealth of history for Manhattan, Leonardville, Randolph, and the Riley County area. Thanks to Sy Ekart, who has volunteered hundreds of hours over several years, manually inspecting decades of aging newsprint, we have indexes covering newspapers from the 1850s through the 1940s. Sy is continuing to index more newspapers on microfilm today. The indexes note obituaries and many other articles in local newspapers. Accidents, business openings and closings, elections, and so much more; if it happened here, Sy indexed who did what.
Beyond recounting the specifics of Manhattan, older newspapers can entertain! It is sometimes startling and just plain funny to look at the past. Familiar and strange things for sale for mere cents, political commentary that could almost have come from today’s op-eds, interesting personal notices – both more and less has changed than we tend to think! Even browsing your local newspaper from when you graduated from high school can bring back many memories – the news of the time; what bands were playing; the best places to eat and relax.
Manhattan Public Library holds these wonderful indexes in the reference area on 2nd floor, and they are also available at the Riley County Genealogical Society. Manhattan Public Library’s new microfilm readers let patrons e-mail, print, or save any of these materials for later reading or sharing. We will be happy to request other Kansas newspapers on microfilm from the Kansas Historical Society at no charge.
Our local history cabinet holds articles and pictures about all sorts of things: local floods, from the massive pre-Manhattan Kansas River flood of 1844 to the floods of 1903, 1951, and 1993; the Tuttle Creek Dam controversy; local biographies; city maps from various times; articles on Kansas City’s George Giles, of the African American Monarchs; writings from anti-slavery settlers; the origins of Manhattan street names; stories about the Old Military Trail, and hundreds of other bits of local history.
Our popular “Tech Tuesdays” classes are starting this Tuesday, January 12 at 2:00 p.m. with “Download E-books and Audiobooks. The following Tuesday, January 19th, also at 2:00, p.m., the session will be on Smartphone Help. Feel free to call Manhattan Public Library at 785-776-4741, ext. 300 for more information.
Photos courtesy of the Riley County Historical Society