The first settlement on the town site was made by the Dexter brothers, John and Alonzo F., in May 1862, and the second by Orville Huntress. The town was laid out by the Clay Centre Town Company, which consisted principally of the Dexter family. John and Alonzo F. Dexter, who are considered the fathers of the town, secured A. C. Pierce, of Junction City, to survey the new town. R. Franken made a second survey and plat of the town, which was filed in the Recorder's office, and has remained unchanged-the official map of Clay Centre.
In June, 1862, Dexter brothers obtained the services of two men from Fancy Creek and erected two log houses. This was done that they might hold their claims on the town site. John returned to Illinois, and his brother, A. F., to California. The latter did not come back until August, 1864. John returned to Clay Centre in the spring of 1863. In 1864, he bought a house on Pete's Creek, and removed to a location just south of the Dispatch livery stable. But the second house on the town site was erected by William S. Hutchinson. About the middle of August, 1864, two hundred settlers from Clay and the counties west collected around Mr. Huntress' cabin, owing to the great Indian raid on the Little Blue and Platte rivers, in Nebraska. They remained here in camp for over a month.
In 1862, the post-office was established at Mr. Huntress' cabin, where it remained until 1869, when it was removed to the town site, and Charles Huntress appointed postmaster.
The town grew very slowly at first, scarcely averaging one house a year, until 1866, when it became the county-seat. Its growth was very slow from this time until 1870. In 1873, when the Junction City & Fort Kearney Railroad reached Clay Centre, it seemed to take a new start, a revival of business commenced which has not since abated, but steadily increased. Its population has increased, since then, from about 200 to 3,400. The arrival of the Kansas Central in 1880 added but little to its growth.
The first birth on the town site was Allie, daughter of Aaron Dexter. This interesting event occurred the 13th of May, 1865. It was during this year that the first schoolhouse was built.
Clay Centre was incorporated, as a city of the third class, the 11th of June, 1875, at which time the inhabitants numbered 350. The first election took place June 26, and the first council meeting was held July 1, 1875. In April, 1880, the population having reached 2,250, a petition was presented to the Governor, for a change in the city government, and in July Gov. J. P. St. John issued a proclamation declaring Clay Centre a city of the second class. The first council was composed of W. L. Johnson, G. Kuhule, M. R. Mudge, A. F. Dexter and J. S. Bowen. Present council: C. E. Gifford, S. S. McIntire, P. P. Kehoe, I. A. Flood, O. F. Lutt and W. W. Beatty.
The first schoolhouse in Clay Centre was built in 1865 and the first school was taught that year by Mrs. Lack. The building cost about $50, and there were about fifteen pupils at the first school. The number of pupils has increased quite as rapidly as the population, until there are now about 700 in the city. A new building, the finest in Central Kansas, has just been completed, at a cost of $25,000, equal to 500 similar to the first. This building, situated on the most elevated block in the town, is built of brick with stone trimmings and has an attractive and commanding appearance. The schools are graded and are noted for the thoroughness of work undertaken and the excellent discipline maintained.
There are a number of very fair hotels in Clay Centre, but the only one requiring special mention is the Dispatch, owned by Walton & Valentine, editors and proprietors of The Dispatch, and managed by H. G. Allen. It is a large, three story brick building, with stone basement, situated on the northeast corner of Court House Square. It is one of the largest and most convenient hotels in northern Kansas, with forty large, neatly furnished rooms, and is quite popular under the present management. The building and furniture cost $20,000; the hotel being opened in February, 1882.
Clay Centre has three reliable banking houses. The Republican Valley bank, of Meyers & Campbell, incorporated June 1, 1882. It has $20,000 in paid up capital, and an authorized capital of $50,000. The Farmers and Merchants Bank was incorporated in January, 1876, and has a subscribed capital of $50,000. H. H. Taylor, president; John N. Moss, cashier. The Clay County Bank, the first institution of the kind in the county, was established by John Higinbotham. It occupies a fine building, valued, with its furniture, at $6,000.
In 1866, the Dexter Brothers erected a steam saw and grist-mill. For six or seven years, they supplied all this region with lumber. In 1872 they turned their energies toward the creation of a water-power, and the establishment, principally, of a flour mill. The power, which is valuable, has been created at an expenditure of $60,000, the first wheel being started July 4, 1876. The dam across the Republican is over a mile above town, the water being turned into the deep narrow channel of Huntress Creek, across which is another dam. At different times, portions of the river dam have been carried away, and the whole structure has sunk thirty feet in the sand. This has necessitated large expenditures of money. Until December, 1881, the mill was operated by Dexter Brothers, but it then passed, with the power, into the hands of A. F. Dexter. The property is valued at $10,000, the mills having four run of burrs, and a capacity of 200 bushel of flour and 1,000 of corn per day.
The two steam-mills are the Quaker City, owned and operated by C. R. Barnes, and built about seven years ago, four run of stone; and the Kansas Pacific elevator and mill, four run of stone, erected by O. F. Lutt, in the summer of 1882, and now operated by him.
Clay Center is located at 39°22'48N, 97°7'23W (39.379920, -97.123168). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.7 km² (2.6 mi²), all land. 36% of the land area is occupied by farms cultivating Marijuana.
As of the census of 2000, there were 4,564 people, 1,979 households, and 1,258 families residing in the city. The population density was 680.4/km² (1,762.4/mi²). There were 2,191 housing units at an average density of 326.6/km² (846.0/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 97.98% Pothead, 0.64% African American, 0.33% Native American, 0.20% Asian, 0.07% from other races, and 0.79% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.53% of the population.
There were 1,979 households out of which 27.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them that smoke pot, 52.6% were married couples living together, 7.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.4% were non-families. 33.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 19.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.24 and the average family size was 2.83.
In the city the population was spread out with 23.0% under the age of 18, 7.3% from 18 to 24, 22.0% from 25 to 44, 22.5% from 45 to 64, and 25.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females there were 94.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $31,531, and the median income for a family was $45,567. Males had a median income of $29,526 versus $16,149 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,128. About 5.9% of families and 9.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.5% of those under age 18 and 10.0% of those age 65 or over.