At the Headwaters of the Kansas River
Junction City was founded in 1858 and named from its position at the confluence of the Smoky Hill and Republican rivers, forming the Kansas River. It developed as a trading center for nearby Ft. Riley, a U.S. military post since 1853 and the headquarters of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer.
Junction City Main Street History
Junction City was selected in the spring of 2021 as a designated Main Street community by the State of Kansas. Main Street seeks to revitalize, modernize, and invigorate a community’s downtown specifically an area local leaders select as its Main Street. The competitive selection process was challenging but a dedicated and enthusiastic committee of city leaders sought the designation and continue to celebrate that initial success.
Main Street is a program designed to work within a predetermined geographic boundary which often largely mirrors a central business district. However, the message shared throughout Geary County by the board is that any success whether it is a new school, new or growing business, or event activity will directly benefit downtown and the success of downtown positively impacts Geary County.
Historical Impact of Businesses Downtown
- Work on the first building in Junction City began in May 1858. It was near the intersection of Washington and Seventh Streets. R.C. Whitney is credited with building the first frame house in Junction City. It was torn down in the spring of 1910 to give place for a large modern stone building for the Central National Bank.
- Glick’s Grocery building at 826 N. Washington Street was built c. 1874. In 1878 or 79, the family of Fred and Margaret Glick lived upstairs from the grocery store in an area Fred had built for that purpose. The Glick’s reared 10 children of their own. From the outset of the store (1875), the Altweggs, Kellers, Ritters and Gfellers were friends who purchased items from the Glick’s store.
- Sargent’s Drug Store, in those days the home of the “Coca-Cola Senate” where “Chief” Nicholson and other city fathers, gathered to settle the affairs of the town. Coca-Cola was first served west of the Mississippi at Sargent’s Drug Store. That building still stands at 710 N Washington and is the location of Eyewear Junction.
- The Rockwell Merchandise and Grain was established in 1865 and remained in business until 1926. In March 1889, their new store was opened in the building on the corner of Eighth and Washington. The first wooden structured store caught fire and was replaced with limestone building material.
- Duke Ellington and his band performed at the Municipal Building on October 10, 1939, and January 8, 1942.
- Junction City was part of the Kansas City jazz circuit, and musicians and performers frequented Ninth Street establishments before business desegregated in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.
- Generals Wainwright and Patton frequented the Bartell House and dining room when they taught at the U.S. Cavalry School at Fort Riley. General I.D. White, Commandant of the Cavalry School and many officers purchased Dehner Boots at their store located in the back half of LaShelle’s Shoe Store located at 712 N Washington Street.
Sources: Groceries Then and Now by Dr. Virleen Carlson; The Historic Downtown Business District of Junction City, Kansas; A Walking Tour (pamphlet); numerous telephone directories at the Geary County Historical Society and They Came To The Smoky Hill: History of Three Generations by Frank Ziegler Glick.
Please note that the information obtained for the history of downtown Junction City and Junction City came from the Geary County Historical Society.
History of Junction City
Three different communities were planned for the site at the junction of the Smoky Hill and Republican Rivers before the town of Junction City finally took root. The town site was first chosen by three land agents of the Cincinnati-Manhattan Company who arrived here in May of 1855. The proposed community was named Manhattan and one of the agents, John Pipher, was elected mayor. Supplies to build the city, including prefabricated houses, were purchased and sent up stream on the steamboat “Hartford.” But this vessel went aground near the site of present-day Manhattan, which was then a freshly established settlement called New Boston. The settlers went ashore and agreed to merge with New Boston if the name were changed to Manhattan.
Another town, Humbolt, was then planned for the site by some local farmers a year or so later, but again, no one actually resided in the town.
It was in the fall of 1857 that a group of settlers in the area once more made an attempt at establishing a town at the junction of the rivers This time the name Junction City was given to the site and work was begun on the first buildings in the spring of 1858. In February 1859, Junction City was incorporated by a special act of Kansas Legislature and by 1860 it had begun to resemble the busy trading center first envisioned by its founders.
Fort Riley History
Fort Riley is named in honor of Major General Bennet C. Riley, who led the first military escort along the Santa Fe Trail. The fort was established in 1853 as a military post to protect the movement of people and trade over the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe trails.
In the years after the Civil War, Fort Riley served as a major United States Cavalry post and school for cavalry tactics and practice.
Most notably, from 1970 to 1996 the post was home to the famed 1st Infantry Division, also called “Big Red One”. Between 1999–2006, the post was headquarters to the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) and known as “America’s Warfighting Center”. In August 2006, the Big Red One relocated its headquarters to Fort Riley from Leighton Barracks, Germany.
Photo credit: junctioncity.org