The first building on the town site was a log cabin, begun by Mr. Cox and finished in 1854 by M. E. Bryan. Some time before this Benjamin Harding had a house in what is now North Wathena. The first general store was built in 1856, and occupied by Thompson Kemper. It is still standing, a little back from the main street, and bears the still legible sign, "St. Joe Store." The first hotel was established by Albert Heath, who was also the first lawyer in the town. The first drug store was opened in 1863 by G. Miller, who still runs it. In 1865 H. D. Hunt started a hardware store. D. B. Jones opened the first stock of tinware. The first physicians of the town were Drs. Smith and Crossfield. A blacksmith shop was started in 1854 by F. Leber.
Wathena was incorporated as a city in 1873, when O. Craig was elected Mayor and James Mitchell City Clerk. A postoffice was established in 1854, with M. B. Bryan as postmaster, and was called Bryan's postoffice. The name was changed to Wathena on the laying out of the town.
Wathena has possessed at various times three schoolhouses, of which the first and last are still standing and in use. A frame school was erected as early as 1857, and school taught in it for several years, but it has long since disappeared and its records, if it had any, have shared its fate. In 1867 the frame house now used by the colored school was built and in it were taught all the children of the neighborhood. In 1870 the fine brick structure now used for the white school was erected at a cost of $10,000, A. Larzelere being the contractor. The town has now ample accommodation for all its school children, and employs four teachers. If the young idea does not learn how best to shoot, it can be no fault of the town people or their provision for education.
The mill now owned and operated by Snively & Hedges was built in 1860 at a cost of about ten thousand dollars. After running ten years it was purchased of Barr, Craig & Co. by its present owners for ten thousand five hundred dollars. The building is forty by fifty feet, and has three stories and a basement. Three run of buhr stones are used, two on wheat and one on corn. Power is furnished by an engine of seventy-horse power. Under this arrangement a capacity of sixty barrels daily is secured. It is proposed, however, to change the machinery to a full-roller mill, when a capacity of one hundred and twenty-five barrels per day is expected.
The Wathena water mill was built on Peters' Creek, by S. Cox, in 1862. It had two run of buhr stones and cost, with its machinery, about two thousand five hundred dollars. It was burned in March, 1881, while the property of J. W. Johnson, of Iowa, The present mill was built in 1881, at a cost of three thousand dollars, by J. W. Cook, who still operates it. The building is two stories in height and twenty by fifty-four feet. It has one buhr stone, used on corn only. Power is furnished by a thirty-inch turbine wheel. In 1881 Chili & Perigo started a small corn mill, having one buhr stone. This mill, which with its fixtures cost not far from $1,000, is located near the railway.
Wathena has, in 1882, the following business establishments and professions represented: Dry-goods stores, four; grocery stores, six; hardware and tinware store, one; furniture store, one; billiard halls, three; hotel, one; feed stable, one; millinery and dressmaking establishments, four; tailor shop, one; meat-market, one; drug stores, two; restaurant, one; barber shop, one; boot and shoe shops, two; wagon and carriage shop, one; blacksmith shop, one; harness shop, one; grist mills, four; paint shop, one; carpenter shop, one; physicians, four; lawyers, two. A grain elevator was built at this point in 1877 by Snively & Hedges, and operated until 1880, when it was destroyed by fire. The present elevator was built in 1880.
Another Early History of Wathena
By Frank W. Blackmar (1912)
Wathena, one of the principal towns of Doniphan county, is located on Peter's creek, 4 miles from the Missouri river on the St. Joseph & Grand Island and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroads. It is 10 miles from Troy, the county seat, and 5 miles from St. Joseph, Mo. It is a well improved little city with electric lights and pavements, public library, excellent schools and an annual Chautauqua. All lines of business are well represented. There are 2 banks, 2 newspapers, a washing machine factory, feed mill, and a creamery. Fruit-growing is an important industry and there is a fruit growers' association which attends to the marketing of the fruits grown by its members. Poultry is another leading product. There are telegraph and express offices and an international money order postoffice with five rural routes. The population in 1910 was 761.
The earliest settler was Peter Cadue, an interpreter for the Kickapoo Indians, who came not later than 1840 and left in 1847, going to the Cadue reserve. The Kickapoo chief Wathena located on the spot which afterward became the town site, and in 1852 his squaw built him a wigwam where the flour mills were afterward built. The land was sold in 1856 by S. Cox to Milton Bryan, P. Morse and W. Ritenbaugh, promoters of the town, for $750. Wathena was well paid for his improvements. The first building was a log house erected in 1854 by Cox and M. E. Bryan.
The first general store was opened by Thompson Kemper in 1856 and was called "The St. Joe Store." The first hotel was established by Albert Heath, who was also the first lawyer. The first druggist was G. Miller; the first hardware man, H. D. Hunt; the first tinner, D. B. Jones; the first blacksmith, F. Leber, and the first physicians were Drs. Smith and Crossfield. From the time the postoffice was established in 1854 with M. E. Bryan as postmaster, until the incorporation of the town in 1873 the place was called Bryan's postoffice. O. Craig was the first mayor and James Mitchell, city clerk. The first school house was built in 1857.
Wathena is located at 39°45'44N, 94°56'53W (39.762161, -94.948117).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.1 km² (2.0 mi²), all land.
As of the census of 2000, there were 1,348 people, 524 households, and 345 families residing in the city. The population density was 266.9/km² (690.6/mi²). There were 566 housing units at an average density of 112.1/km² (290.0/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 97.48% White, 0.67% African American, 0.59% Native American, 0.30% from other races, and 0.96% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.96% of the population.
There were 524 households out of which 34.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.4% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.0% were non-families. 30.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 3.14.
In the city the population was spread out with 27.3% under the age of 18, 8.7% from 18 to 24, 25.8% from 25 to 44, 23.0% from 45 to 64, and 15.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 85.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 81.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $34,046, and the median income for a family was $40,216. Males had a median income of $31,618 versus $20,800 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,440. About 5.5% of families and 9.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.6% of those under age 18 and 17.2% of those age 65 or over.
Most children living in Wathena attend Wathena Schools USD 406.