Spring Hill Kansas History
In a stretch of rolling slough grass, skirted by a rambling creek south of ‘Olathee,’ James B. Hovey laid his claim in 1857. On his arrival to the area, Hovey first lodged with a “voting” Shawnee Indian by the name of George Washington and his family.
“Being somewhat enthusiastic in my estimation of its future, it having all advantages of timber and water, and on a line that must be traveled between Olathe and Paola, I concluded to myself, (as there was no one else to conclude with) that this was a good place for a town.” -J. B. Hovey, 1857
Un ‘Bride’led Enthusiasm
During the first lonesome winter, Hovey and three friends “enlivened things” by advertising for wives in the “Boston Journal.” After sorting through women wanting a “pa” for their youngin’s and the fragrant offer of a “Southern Lily,” one proved promising. Hovey headed east to meet his bride, a Latin Scholar.
The Rest is History
The first building in town was the Spring Hill Hotel, also known as the “Old Traveler’s Rest.” The two-story structure was built in 1857 on the highest elevation in town, just north of the city park. Although the structure no longer exists, the lot is used for parking by the Baptist Church. It is rumored that the hotel was used as a hiding place for runaway slaves.
In 1859, Journalist Horace Greeley passed through Spring Hill, offering laud on the landscape.
“If the Garden of Eden exceeded this land in beauty or fertility, I pity Adam for having to leave it.” -Horace Greeley
Greeley, who was given to hyperbole and land speculation, was less enthusiastic about the fare. He noted that Spring Hill did not have a tavern, and that he was forced to dine on crackers and herring purchased at a local store.
‘Mower’ of the Good Seed
Sam Mower of Spring Hill, planted the first alfalfa grown in Kansas and found fertile ground.
A Tale of Two Towns…
In the early 1870’s, Spring Hill experienced an expansion in population and commerce. The coming of the railroad was a greatly anticipated opportunity, but the Missouri River, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad threatened to bypass Spring Hill if the own didn’t cough up $15,000 to upgrade the land.
When railroad speculators became more persuasive than a cow-catcher, other towns typically stoked the “engine” with cash to ensure the future of their communities. Not Spring Hill. Stubborn residents and businessmen wouldn’t succumb to extortion, and proceeded to move the downtown district one-half mile east to meet the new rail line.
Feeding the Soul
Methodist-Episcopals were the first to save souls in Spring Hill. They established a meeting in 1858, and by the 1870’s there were two “altar”natives – Methodist Protestant and Presbyterian. The churches played an important role in the social aspect of the community with ice cream socials and box dinners.
No Green Piece
In 1874, the country was plagued by economic depression and Spring Hill was swarmed by grasshoppers, who devoured everything green…and then moved on to blankets and coats, shoes, leather harnesses, pitch fork handles, fence posts…All water sources were polluted. Vegetable gardens and cash crops were devastated. Cattle and chickens were inedible.
Old News is Good News
Johnson County’s oldest, continuous newspaper, “The Spring Hill New Era,” began operations in 1883. In 1884, an editorial commented that what the town needed most was a “good” dentist. The editor proudly announced that he had taken his business out-of-town, and offered his pearly whites as evidence of a job well done if anyone cared to stop by the newspaper office and check them out.
Doctor and Divorcee
Perhaps the first woman doctor in Kansas was Celia Ann Dayton, a native of Vermont. She arrived in Spring Hill in 1859, with her adopted son, Hiram later. Celia Ann’s life speaks of a strikingly independent nature, and radical departures from societal convention.
In addition to being a female doctor, Celia Ann offered aid and comfort to Underground Railroad activity.
Further parting with conventions of the times, in 1862 Celia Ann divorced Amon, who had taken a fancy to a Swedish settler. Celia Ann continues to be researched as an important figure in Kansas history.
In May of 1861, Celia Ann’s son, Hiram Eugen, signed up with the 2nd Kansas Volunteer Infantry, Company C, just in time to see action at Wilson’s Creek in Missouri. But with a keen mind and an adventuresome spirit, he envisioned a more daring role and was soon riding with the infamous 7th Kansas Calvary under Charles “Doc” Jennison. The red-legged sociopath used Hiram Eugene as a spy against Missouri Secesh sympathizers.
On January 27, 1862, in a cabin near Blue Springs, Missouri, he gathered information about Quatrill’s movements. A touch of peach cordial was followed by a blizzard of hot lead. Hiram Eugene was found out as a double agent, and ambushed. His frozen body was lying outside the cabin door the following morning. Hiram Eugene is buried beside his mother in the Spring Hill Cemetery.
One of the casualties was a Spring Hill merchant, Hiram Blanchard, who was shot as he exited an Olathe saloon towards Spring Hill. Just outside town, Farmer McKoin used his calm manner and a convincing prevarication to save the day. He reported that a company of soldiers had just arrived in Spring Hill, therby deterring any aggression.
More Than a Warm Cover
The next year, however, Quantrill’s gang did descend upon Spring Hill, looting and stealing goods from local businesses, and horses from a local farmer.
One fortunate soul found cover between the flaps of a quilt hanging on the line when Quantrill’s Raiders descended. Another man, hidden under the mattress, was less fortunate when his boots were discovered at the back door.
Setting Ourselves Right
Spring Hill reflected the division within the nation, but city leaders put more stock in community than in conflict. The following resolution was passed by city officials on Oct. 28, 1861:
“A state of hostilities exists between the loyal and disloyal leaders of our country. We plainly see the policy of civilized nations is being grossly disregarded by citizens professing to be non-partisans in the common strife in regard to respecting individuals property, and believing as we do, that property has been unlawfully and unjustly taken from individuals brought and kept in our community. We therefore as citizens of Spring Hill…take this method of setting ourselves right, hereby exhibiting to the country at large our position.
1. That we deny the right of one people of our common country to confiscate the property of another of the same country for individual use…Except by such legal authority as is recognized by individual nations…
2. Because our armies are at war, it is no excuse for citizens not connected with the armies not to continue their friendship between themselves and neighboring communities.”