I have come across a couple different stories on how Dunlap was founded. I have my doubts about both, but I leave it the reader to decide which version they prefer. I was told once that Dunlap was staked out on a hillside location originally. In the night some pranksters removed the stakes and placed them in the valley, and so Dunlap was built where it is today.
I think this second version may be closer to the truth. This comes from a history of Dunlap written in 1925 by Mrs. Jessie Parrish. The Missouri, Kansas and Texas railway promoted the establishment of a town every ten miles along the track. Some settlers preferred the afore mentioned hillside location which was not quite a mile west of present Dunlap, the railroad preferred a location just east of Rock Creek. Joe Dunlap donated land where Dunlap now stands and surveyors staked the town site. The folks in favor of the hillside site platted streets hoping to encourage building on that location. John Guthrie who was a staunch supporter of the hillside site waited for darkness and then went to the valley and plowed up the stakes until daylight forced him to end his work. However, there were enough stakes remaining that they went ahead and started building the town anyway. Personally I think it would be quicker to pull up the surveyor’s stakes than to plow eighty acres, but what do I know.
The beginnings of Dunlap are kind of sketchy. Prior to 1846 various tribes of Indians crossed the valley where Dunlap now stands. In 1846 the Kaw were relocated to the reservation surrounding Council Grove from their reservation near Manhattan. Here they remained until 1873 when they were once more displaced to Indian Territory. The band of Kaw that lived in the Dunlap area were chief Kahegahwahtiangah’s, if your tongue can’t quite maneuver that you may call him Fool Chief. This band consisted of about 250 Kaw.
The Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad came through here in 1870. According to old stories there was somewhat of a race between several railroad companies to win the right to build through Indian country. The MKT won that right. In 1878 Benjamin Singleton, also known as ‘Pap’, purchased land in what was to become Dunlap. Pap Singleton born in 1809 was a former slave who made great efforts establishing colonies of freedmen in Kansas. Prior to the Dunlap colony, others had been established by Singleton in southeastern Kansas, they seem to have had less success than Dunlap. Somewhere around 500 blacks came to Dunlap, but only a part of them stayed. It was often said that the rumor of 40 acres and a mule brought them here, and they were disappointed. Of course that rumor is as old as the Civil War. The blacks that did remain for many years after held an Emancipation Day. They threw a big barbeque and many blacks came from Lawrence, Leavenworth and many other places.
Dunlap was established as a third class city in January of 1887. Although it was incorporated at a fairly late period, there was much activity going on earlier. The cemetery association was organized in 1881. The earliest church, the Methodist, was built in 1885. When the Katy first came through in 1870, Dunlap had a rough wooden platform that served as the depot for many years until a proper building was made.
A glance at an 1896 Dunlap Reflector shows that Dunlap stood on equal ground with Council Grove. The town boasted three blacksmiths, four doctors and a drugstore, attorney, flour and feed store, city meat market, men’s clothing store, shoe repairman, saddle and harness shop, two general merchants and a hardware store, Farmer’s Bank, confectionery and Osage coal, hotel, barber shop, Knights of Pythias, Knights and Ladies of Security, Modern Woodmen of America, Grand Army of the Republic, Methodist Episcopal church, Methodist Protestant church and a Congregational Church. Many other business, churches and organizations were added to the list in years to come. It appears that Dunlap was quite independent from other towns.
Although Dunlap is not as grand as it once was, there are still those that remain there that take great pride in their community. This can be seen by the hard work and expense that has been invested in the school gymnasium, which has been fixed up very nicely and serves the community for gatherings and events. With the latest interest being shown in the Indian, and Black heritage that is rooted in Dunlap, it has been attracting more attention as a tourist site.
Addenda October 26, 2012: The Hillsborough post office was established March 19th 1874; the name was changed to Dunlap on April 20th the same year. Joseph Dunlap served as the first postmaster for each. The Dunlap post office continued until August 12th 1988.