In 1869 a Rev. Peirce organized a colony in Chicago with the intent to settle in some of the Western States. J.B. Somers of Council Grove, who was a real estate agent, had been corresponding with Rev. Peirce during the organization of the colony. About the time the colony was ready to head west Mr. Somers made a trip to Chicago to finalize some things and accompany the group of some 40 families to Morris County. This Somers was the same that married Judge Baker’s widow and later drowned in the Neosho River.
The first location of this settlement was about three miles north and west of Parkerville on the MKT railway. Not too long afterwards the colony moved two miles further up the track and settled on land owned by T.S. and W.J. Mackenzie. The Mackenzies were instrumental in the organization of this settlement and in 1871 had the town site surveyed.
An interesting story in the White City’s Centennial Times of August 22nd 1985, is about a passenger train that came through in May of 1871. It was promoted as an ‘Investors Special’, and carried a bunch of New Yorkers who had come to take a gander at the Kansas prairie. A group of Kaw Indians overran the train and brought it to a stop between White City and Council Grove. “The train was decorated with U.S. flags. It was reported that as soon as the train stopped, the Indians swarmed over it, stole all the flags and tried to get in the coaches, which were quickly locked. No one was injured and the train proceeded on to Junction City, with some of the Indians chasing the train on ponies.” This of course was fabricated completely for the entertainment of the easterners.
The town was first called Swedeland or New Swedeland, however, the post office established on January 2nd 1872 was called White City. It appears on an 1878 map of Morris County as Swedeland and on the 1887 map as White City. I think it is reasonable to say the name was officially made White City when the town was incorporated as a third class city on October 17th of 1885. A story passed down by the locals says that the Rev. Peirce was the one who pushed to have the town located at the site closer to Parkerville and that he wanted it named New Chicago.
Thomas B. Eldridge was the first to build a house on the town site and that would probably explain why he was the first postmaster appointed to the White City post office. For those of you who know your antebellum history, the name Eldridge should ring a bell. Thomas was a brother of Colonel Shalor Winchell Eldridge of the famed and fated Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence. Thomas also built the first hotel in White City which was later managed by railroad superintendant Francis C. White. This F.C. White was so highly favored the town was named after him, so goes the local history. The limestone post office and the hotel still stand in White City at the intersection of McKenzie and Commercial Streets. The hotel has been divided into two separate houses, both sections remaining in the same block.
James Thornley and W.N. Dunbar built the first store in 1872 and the following year a schoolhouse was erected.
By 1883 White City had grown to about 200 and boasted three general stores, one grocer, millinery, drug store, two wagon shops and two elevators. There was a Methodist and Congregational church at that time as well.
In 1887 the Chicago, Kansas & Nebraska Railway laid track from Topeka through White City. By 1891 it was taken over by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway. In 1980 that line became the Oklahoma, Kansas & Texas Railroad and then merged with the Missouri Pacific in 1988 which then merged with the Union Pacific in 1997.
I recently made a trip to White City where Terra Coons gave me a special tour of the box car museum at the Katy Park and the Baxter school house. In front of the box car is a very hefty limestone block that was once part of a bridge near Skiddy. The block is engraved ‘Quivira of Coronado 1541 Identified By W.E. Richey 1880-1903’. Apparently this Richey believed that the artifacts uncovered at the excavation for the bridge were none other than Coronado’s and so the site was marked with the construction of the new bridge.
The box car has been restored and now houses a plethora of local artifacts. One room of the car is filled with hand tools from the Frank and Waunita Folsom collection. There are a number of excellent photographs of White City’s olden days. One photo that caught my attention was the all women’s brass band. There was no date on the photo but by the dress we guessed it shortly before or at the turn of the century.
The Katy Park also has a very nice monument honoring the veterans of White City. The town has made an excellent endeavor at preserving its history and making a neat and attractive display for visitors. Like most towns, White City has had its share of destructive fires taking out a good many of the old buildings. Individuals in the community have made great efforts in preserving the remaining old buildings. Nina Miley restored an old limestone building that otherwise would have become a pile of rubble. It now serves as her law office and B&B. Many other buildings are in good repair and neatly cared for.
We also looked at the Baxter school house located just north of the Katy Park. The school house was originally located 8 miles west of White City on June Baxter’s property. Baxter came to the county in 1858. His wife Elizabeth was the first teacher and before the school house was built, class was conducted in the Baxter home. The school is in fine repair and used for community activities. A demonstration was given to the public as to how class was conducted in the old days, with children participating and experiencing first hand. A clogging demonstration is planned to be held there later this spring. We hope to remain informed on upcoming events.
One annual event I always look forward to in White City is the St. Patrick’s Day supper at the Christian church. For the past several years Charlie Laughridge and I have entertained the diners with some Irish fiddling. And of course we are rewarded with a generous slice of corned beef and cabbage with a baked potato.
White City’s population in 1910 was 506, and by 1920 the population reached its peak at 652. The 2010 census shows a population of 618. Unlike other towns in the county, White City has not only shown an increase in population over the past decade, but over the past 30 years. It has surprisingly maintained a pretty steady population over the past one hundred years. What could the rest of us learn from White City?