The Spanish "El Dorado" is a widely used place name. El Dorado is home to the El Dorado Correctional Facility, which currently houses BTK killer Dennis Rader.
The Early History of El Dorado
by William G. Cutler (1883)
El Dorado, the county seat and largest city of Butler County, is located on the Walnut River about fifteen miles above its confluence with the Whitewater. The 140 acre tract which comprised the original town site was entered on March 23, 1868, by B. Frank Gordy, and filed for record in the succeeding month. Shortly after entering his claim, Gordy sold a fifth interest each to Henry Martin, Samuel Langdon and Byron O. Carr, and with them formed the El Dorado town company. Town lots were laid out and sold to all who would improve them, at the rate of ten dollars a lot.
The location of the town near the crossing of the old California trail on the Walnut, and its other natural advantages of position, did much to aid it at this critical time, when it needed but a trifle to kill the embryo city. Houses of a very modest description sprang up rapidly, and the town began soon to present a semblance of substantiality. There had been some houses on the town site prior to the entrance of the Gordy claim. As early as 1867 a log house was built in the east part of town, and the same summer E. L. Lower put up a cabin where Dr. A. White's residence now stands. The latter of these buildings has passed away, but the former still stands just west of the livery stable on East Central avenue. The third building on the town site was a frame store erected by Henry Martin.
Just prior to the erection of this store, Elias Main put up a saw mill on the Walnut near the present lower bridge. The year 1868 brought many new industries to the town. In the spring D. M. Bronson opened a land office. Dr. Kellogg divided his time between this office and the practice of his profession. A wagon shop was put up by a Mr. Handley, a blacksmith shop by Mat. Strickland and a harness shop by Mr. Gearhart. Mrs. Long opened a millinery store, and some minor branches of business were carried on.
This year was also signalized by the opening of the first regular saloon. This institution, after being some time a sore spot in the community, was closed by the suit of Mrs. Thomas Tool for damages to her husband and the ensuing litigation. To counteract the influence of the saloon element thus early arrayed against the prohibition forces, the temperance people organized a lodge of the Sons and Daughters of Temperance. This order flourished for some time, but finally died out and its records have been lost. The year closed upon the town in a flattering state of growth, and bidding fair to become a large central trading point.
Thus far the reputation of El Dorado had spread little beyond its immediately associated towns in the northeast - the places where it touched the line of older settlement, and felt, though distantly, the pulsations of the world's great heart. With 1869 came the publication of a paper of its own, the Emigrant's Guide, gotten up by Bronson & Sallee, who had entered extensively into real estate dealings, and printed by Jacob Stotler, of the Emporia News. The Guide was what would now be called a 'rustler,' and crowed for Butler County and El Dorado after a very lusty fashion. This year saw the first social gathering of the people in the new settlement, and the first disaster, the drowning of the Johnson family in the June flood in the Walnut. With 1870 came a rush of settlers and a flood of events which deserve more specific description.
With the rush of 1870 came the demand for more room within the town limits, and the specially suave and ready respond to the demand by real estate men. Lower's addition of eighty acres, now forming all of the town north of Central Avenue, was laid out in this year, as were the blocks of land belonging to Finley & Gordon, on Main street, and that of Wilson on the west. These, together, made a little less than 320 acres.
The form of the name of the capital city of Butler County is even now a vexed question. When the Walnut Valley Times made its first appearance, its usually well posted editor adopted the spelling of 'Eldorado.' This came to be in general use, and when the change in management of the paper was made, and 'El Dorado' printed as the name of the city, considerable discussion was evoked. The following letter from Captain J. Cracklin, of Lawrence, one of the party who started the town, may fairly be said to settle the matter.
LAWRENCE, KAN., Dec. 11, 1882.
"Dear Sir: - In reply to yours of the 7th inst., I would say the name El Dorado is two Spanish words, and signifies 'The golden land.' The beautiful appearance of the country upon our arrival at the Walnut, suggested the name, and I exclaimed, 'El Dorado,' and when the town site was selected, the name was unanimously adopted. I proposed the name and Mr. Thomas Cordis seconded it.
Yours very truly, J. Cracklin."
William Hildebrand is supposed to have been the first settler near El Dorado, having taken a claim near where J. D. Conner's farm now lies. In 1859, his place which had become a sort of headquarters for horse thieves, was raided, and Hildebrand after joining the order of the flagellants or anglice, getting a sound thrashing at the hands of the vigilantes, was given twenty-four hours to effect his escape from the county, and disappeared forever from El Dorado's horizon. In 1859 occurred the first wedding in El Dorado, as well as in the county, the parties united begin Miss Augusta Stewart and a Mr. Graham. Shortly after the wedding, the groom received serious injuries from the discharge of an overloaded gun and died. The first child born in El Dorado, was Mattie, daughter of Mr. P. R. Wilson. The first death, that of Mrs. H. D. Kellogg.
El Dorado post office, as originally located, stood a mile and one-half south of the present town. The mails were, however, handled at the residence of Henry Martin on the present town site, and the Postmaster, Daniel Stine, lived at Augusta. There was a little frame building at the site of El Dorado proper, but in 1867, when the county lines had been moved to their present southern limit, this had been stripped and stood alone and untenanted. At this juncture D. M. Bronson, who had been appointed County Attorney, proposed to Connor, Representative from this district, to refit the building and employ it as county seat headquarters. After various conferences, in which Connor refused to do anything, Bronson left this part of the country and went to a point below Augusta. On his return the present El Dorado had been located and made the county seat. Had Connor responded to Bronson's wishes, the present site of El Dorado might now be a fine farm.
A postoffice had been across the Walnut, opposite the present city, for four or five years before old El Dorado was surveyed, and D. L. McCabe had been Postmaster. Daniel Stine, of Augusta, was, as has already been stated, Postmaster in the old town, though never performing the duties of the office. The officials in the present city have been: Henry Martin, H. D. Kellogg, Mrs. Long, Frank Frazier and Alvah Sheldon. The office has for some years been a presidential one.
The first Fourth of July celebration is thus described by Mrs. D. M. Bronson:
"Our first Fourth of July celebration occurred in 1868, which eclipsed anything I had ever seen for pure, unadulterated patriotism and practically illustrated freedom. The grove near Dr. Gordon's was selected for the purpose. The preparations were elaborate, seats were improvised, a speaker's stand erected, an old army flag was resurrected out of some dark corner and suspended in graceful folds from the limb of a tree just over the head of the speaker, which was both inspiring and effective. A public dinner was the order of the day. The men reconnoitered around to secure the financial requisite.
The Women were occupied preparing the 'grub.' The day arrived, and 'all went merry as a marriage bell.' The sun shone brightly, the birds sang sweetly, and all nature seemed in unison with our hearts. The Marshal of the day was Mr. Elisha Main. The exercises were introduced by singing the 'Star Spangled Banner,' which was executed with spirit; what was lacking in time was supplied in sound. Father Stansberry offered a prayer; the Declaration of Independence was read by W. T. Gallagher; orations were then delivered by D. M. Bronson and W. T. Gallagher, which were both eloquent and patriotic, and so vivid in portrayal that we could almost see the noble bird in his aerial gyrations, and hear the footfall of the Pilgrim Father on the barren Plymouth Rock.
The Declaration, our glorious Magna Charta, was literally worn out, what there was remaining of it would hardly make a gun wad. After the exercises closed the table was prepared, looking inviting enough to please the most fastidious epicure. But here came the 'tug of war.' There were about ten bachelors to one woman in the county. All hungry, lean and lank, they made one grand forward march for the table. In about five minutes that table was bare. One lady approaching me with a countenance indicative of sorrow, said: 'Have you seen anything of my fruit cake?--the first one I have seen or made since I left old England's shores.' I told her I supposed it had gone to hunt up my dried apple pies. I did come near on this occasion being converted to the doctrine of total depravity. The day's exercises closed by a grand ball over Henry Martin's store, located where Mr. Denny's store now stands. This was our first dress ball."
The first hotel opened in the new town was a rough frame, erected in 1869, and occupied by Thomas Bros. This very modest hostelry was later made the rear portion of the El Dorado House of S. Langdon. For the past four years the building has been used as a flour and provision house, and the walls, which have resounded to the baying of hunting dogs or the tales of Indian scares, or later, to the wassail and rude mirth of pre-prohibition times, are covered with dust, and for some time have echoed no sounds save the tramp of footsteps and the scurry of the rats.
El Dorado has been fortunate in its exemption from disastrous fires, the only one of any great importance occurring in December, 1880, and destroying the Walnut Valley Elevator. This structure was built in 1878, at a cost of $10,000, and had a capacity of 40,000 bushels. It was not only an elevator, but also a flouring mill. At the time of its destruction it was nearly full of wheat. The origin of the fire was never precisely ascertained, but was thought to be incendiary.
The city now has a population of fully 2,000, and is growing rapidly. Some idea of its gain in the past year can be taken from a statement of the buildings erected during 1882. This list, which is too long for publication, foots up $59,100. This sum is distributed among a hundred buildings, giving an average cost of $591. Many included in the list were small buildings, offices and the like, but none ran in price above $4,000, and but sixteen reached $1,000, the majority being cozy residences at or near the outskirts of the city.
Early City Government
El Dorado was laid out and a form of town establishment inaugurated in 1868, but no practical organization was effected until Sept. 12, 1871, when it was organized under the laws applying to cities of the third class. J. C. Lambdin, who had been chairman of the board of trustees, became Mayor protem until the election of Henry Falls.
Early Schools and Churches
The first schoolhouse in El Dorado was a log cabin built by a subscription of the settlers. Here Miss Jane Wentworth taught a class of about fifteen. In 1869-70, the old stone house still standing near the park, was erected at a cost of $2,000, and regular terms of school begun. The old stone schoolhouse, although a large structure for that early day in the city's history, soon proved inadequate, and on February 22, 1872, the corner stone of the present building was laid. The fine stone so abundant in this part of the country was used and the succeeding fall the building was completed at a cost of $8,000.
It soon became evident that the new building was not large enough and its youthful population overflowed into the old school. In 1879 a large addition was constructed at a cost of $4,000. This stayed the tide a little, but in 1882 it again became necessary to have recourse to the old building. What shall be the next step is a knotty problem now vexing the city fathers and awaiting the city's becoming one of the second class and establishing ward schools. The present school population is nearly six hundred.
The Baptist Church was organized in 1869 by Rev. James Saxby, who supplied it for some time. During 1870 the church was under the ministrations of Rev. T. G. Grove. The church then went down and held no services until 1875, when Rev. E. W. Melton was made pastor. In 1877 the pulpit again became vacant and so remained until 1879, when Rev. J. D. P. Hungate accepted a call. His ministry lasted until 1881, when Rev. C. H. Remington, the present pastor, took charge of the church. A church building with a seating capacity of 250 was erected in 1880 at a cost of $2,500. A Sabbath school started in 1879 has now an average attendance of 75 and is in charge of John Foutch.
The Presbyterian Church was organized in 1870 by Rev. James Gordon, who became its stated supply for about one year. The pulpit was then filled by Rev. W. M. Stryker. The pastorate then remained vacant for about three years. In 1877, W. M. Pocock was called to the vacant chair, which he occupied about three years, giving place to Rev. S. McAnderson, the present pastor. A church building was begun in 1873 but when the walls were up the work was stopped until 1877, when the house was completed; the whole costing $3,500. A parsonage was built in 1878 at a cost of $500. The church now has a membership of eighty. A Sabbath school started in 1877 has now an average attendance of 75, and is in charge of F. P. Gillespie.
The Methodist Church was organized in 1870 by Rev. S. F. C. Garrison who supplied it for two or three months and was succeeded by Rev. D. L. Knowles; to this clergyman succeeded Revs. S. L. Roberds, A. Hartman, J. W. Fox, T. C. Hunt, W. Oakly, Paul F. Davis, and Rev. J. T. Burris, the present pastor, who was installed in the spring of 1882. A church building, erected in 1873 at a cost of $1,500, was enlarged in 1879 at a cost of $8,000, and is now one of the most commodious in the city. A parsonage was built in 1875. A Sabbath school, established in 1873, is in a flourishing condition, has an average attendance of 130, and is in charge of M. Fullenwider.
The Christian Church was organized by Rev. E. E. Harvey in February, 1873. Under his leadership it continued to grow for four years. In 1877 E. L. Craig accepted the pastorate. He was followed by Rev. J. F. Floyd who remained until 1882, when Rev. J. J. Henry was installed. A church building was completed in 1875 at a cost of $3,400, most of the money being furnished by Eastern friends, and the labor utilized to aid the needy of the town. It has a seating capacity of 250. The society now numbers 165. A Sabbath school, established in 1875, has now an average attendance of 70, and is in care of J. W. Shively.
The United Brethren Church began to hold meetings at the Satchel schoolhouse in 1876, under Rev. George Gay. After a little time, however, it became dormant, and so remained until 1878, when services were resumed. In 1881 Pastor Guyer commenced his labors, holding services in El Dorado, and in 1882 a church building valued at $1,000 was erected. The society now numbers 80. A Sabbath school, started in 1881, is in a flourishing condition under the superintendence of William Myers.
Exchange Bank - A private banking house was opened by Neal Wilkie and S. L. Shotwell, on the northeast corner of Main Street and Central Avenue. Here a business was conducted until February, 1877, when the new building was completed, and the bank organized under the new laws concerning State banks, and a few years later changed its organization to that of a national bank. Its officers are: A. L. Redden, President; H. H. Gardner, Cashier; W. L. Gibson, Assistant Cashier.
The Bank of El Dorado was opened for business of April 5, 1881, by Edward C. Ellett and N. F. Frazier. As a private banking concern it makes no official statement of resources. It has, however, a capital of $30,000 and a surplus of $16,000. This surplus will continue to increase until 1886, under a limitation act when the bank was established, which allows neither partner to draw from the funds before the expiration of five years. The bank occupied a fine building on Main Street.
The Butler County Bank was organized in January, 1882, under the laws regulating State banks, and opened its doors on February 1. It has a capital of $42,000, and the following officers: John Foutch, President: F. P. Gillespie, Cashier; F. B. Ewing, Vice-president. Business is transacted in a first floor room in Masonic Block.
The El Dorado Mills were build in 1870 by Wheeler & Burdett. Some few years later the firm was changed to Burdett & Weeks and as such now exists. The mill buildings which stand on the east bank of the Walnut near the bridge, have been twice enlarged (1879 and 1881) and are now 38x40 feet and two stories and one-half in height. Power is obtained from the river through the medium of a forty-inch turbine wheel, and when that falls from a steam engine of forty horse-power. The mill is provided with three wheat and one corn buhr-stones and has a capacity of fifty barrels of fine grade flour per day.
The Walnut Valley Mills were built in the spring of 1881 by Baldwin & Nicholson, by whom they were run until May, 1882, when they passed into the hands of M. A. Asmey, who now operates them. The mills have three run of buhrs - two for wheat and one for corn - and a capacity of forty barrels per day. Power is furnished by an engine of twenty-five horse-power. All the wheat required by this mill is furnished by the farmers of the county. Both 'new process' and 'Chicago XXXX' flours are made.
El Dorado is located at 37°49'16N, 96°51'30W (37.821117, -96.858281). The city is situated along the western bank of the Walnut River, southwest of El Dorado Lake. It is located 30 miles east-northeast of Wichita at the junction of U.S. Routes 54 and 77 and K-254. The Kansas Turnpike, designated as Interstate 35, bypasses northwest of the city. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.6 km² (6.4 mi²), of which 16.5 km² (6.4 mi²) is land and 0.2 km² (0.1 mi²), or 0.93%, is water.
El Dorado's population was estimated to be 12,659 in the year 2005, a decrease of 157, or -1.2%, over the previous five years.
As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 12,057 people, 5,068 households, and 3,182 families residing in the city. The population density was 730.8/km² (1,894.1/mi²). There were 5,460 housing units at an average density of 330.9/km² (857.7/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 94.32% White, 1.37% Black or African American, 1.07% Native American or Alaska Native, 0.22% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 1.06% from other races, and 1.89% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.93% of the population.
There were 5,068 households out of which 30.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.3% were married couples living together, 10.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.2% were non-families. 31.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.33 and the average family size was 2.94.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.2% under the age of 18, 10.4% from 18 to 24, 26.6% from 25 to 44, 20.1% from 45 to 64, and 17.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 91.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,098, and the median income for a family was $40,461. Males had a median income of $31,648 versus $21,806 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,458. About 10.4% of families and 13.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.7% of those under age 18 and 6.1% of those age 65 or over.
El Dorado (USD 490) has one junior college, one high school, one middle school, and 5 grade schools.