Hidden History: Bailey’s hopefulness gives Lyndon its successful beginning

One hundred and fifty years ago, the town of Lyndon was born, and as it turned out, was the only child of Judge Lawrence D. Bailey.

After land within the Sac and Fox reserve had been opened up for white settlement in 1869, a first attempt was made to locate a town in the center of Osage County, with the apt name of Osage Center. The creators of Osage Center lacked the funds to give it a proper start, however.

In 1870, another push was made for a town, this time employing the help of Judge Bailey, of Douglas County. It was Bailey that would be the boost that gave the eventual town of Lyndon its successful beginning.

Judge Bailey was born in 1819, in Vermont. A progressive man, he took a stance against slavery in 1837. While pursuing a degree in law, he apprenticed with the Tappans, who were prominent abolitionists. Because of his strong beliefs on slavery, Bailey headed west to Kansas in 1857 to help secure its entrance to the Union as a free state. He settled near Clinton in Douglas County.

He immediately put his politics to work, serving as one of the first supreme court justices in the new state. Judge Bailey was also instrumental in creating the first statewide board of agriculture, as well as establishing the State Normal School at Emporia, where he had maintained a law office for a short time.

His involvement in the early government of Kansas had him at the Eldridge Hotel, in Lawrence, in August 1863, when Quantrill’s raiders attacked the town. During the raid, Judge Bailey came face to face with Quantrill himself when the hotel was being evacuated. Not considered a threat, he was only asked to surrender his wallet, although the raiders left him with pocket change for breakfast. Bailey then swam the Kansas River to escape the violence.

Called the “wheel horse of Kansas farmers” for his hardworking approach to pretty much everything, Bailey also pursued building cities. With his work in politics and the State Board of Agriculture, he had traveled to nearly every county in the state, which gave him a good knowledge of Kansas and the needs of successful industry. He was appointed postmaster (a crucial position for any prospective town) of Belvoir, a town adjoining his sizeable estate in Douglas County.

Judge Bailey was involved in what was initially called the Wakarusa Valley Railroad, a jerkwater line that cut a path to Carbondale and then Emporia, and which traveled through Belvoir after it was relocated to a position nearer to the line. Jerkwater lines were so named for the tanks that hung at stops along this type of line – to start the water the engineer would jerk a chain to refill the train’s water tank for steam power.

“And they soon resolved to start a town,
To be the central gem and crown –
‘The Hub’ of Osage presently.
‘Twas done and Lyndon was the name,
From brook and hill the compound came!
She soon acquired some local fame,
And grew for months quite rapidly.”

Because of his “go get them” attitude, Bailey was employed to boom Lyndon and make it a desirable location to lure away the county seat from Burlingame. Bailey named the town Lyndon after a pleasant community in Vermont.

In March, there were just three houses at the location, but Bailey infused what The Topeka Daily Commonwealth called “his own bold confidence, hopefulness and enterprise,” and Lyndon started to grow. Lots for businesses were given away as incentive to grow the town and 10 loads of lumber arrived daily for commercial and residential construction. Lots for purchase were costly from the start and increased until $1,000 was asked for desirable corner lots.

By summer several businesses were already open with more on the way. By fall the population was about five hundred, with approximately 100 residences. With the population rising, and industry booming with about 20 businesses including two hotels and a newspaper that Bailey had started himself, Lyndon was quickly becoming a desirable county seat location. Burlingame, however, would not give up that title easily. And the key to a successful city at that time was access to the railroad, and Burlingame had achieved that landmark in 1869.

“When all pitched in with main and might
For a rogue and tumble county seat fight,
Each town taking its own part valiantly.”

In the election of October 1870, Lyndon was declared the county seat, although the records were not moved to the new location, which ultimately discounted the change of the county seat. The railroad and its arrival to Lyndon seemed to be the key.

Bailey used his influence and sought to have the rail line that crossed through his property in Douglas County continue to the booming coal center of Carbondale and then cut south through Lyndon, on through Melvern and then to Burlington. The cost for this project was projected at $5,000 per mile. The citizens of Osage County met in a large public meeting in 1871 to consider Bailey’s proposed line and an alternate of one that traveled from Topeka to Lyndon. Bailey’s line from Carbondale was immediately dismissed, and when voters took on the issue of the rail line from Topeka to Lyndon they soundly voted the alternate down. The railroad already went through the coal rich areas of Carbondale, Scranton, Burlingame, and Osage City, why did they need another?

“Voting came first and then came law,
With its long, sharp, costly bill and claw,
There was lying, spying, buying and jaw,
Thus the years rolled on NOT pleasantly.”

The discouraging situation in Lyndon shifted Judge Bailey’s focus to his sizeable land holdings around Belvoir in Douglas County. But then the financial crisis of 1873 hit and the investment properties became a liability. Judge Bailey lost nearly everything.

“And some there were who came to grief
Of whom this rhymer perhaps was chief
Most painfully wounded past cure or relief”

As Bailey slowly distanced himself from the project, Lyndon’s central location eventually started winning more favor. The county seat and the offices and records were moved to Lyndon in 1875, but the matter still remained contested. The county seat contest was finally settled in 1878, but by that time few improvements were made in the town and growth was stagnated.

At long last the railroad finally was secured for the Lyndon in 1886, and Judge Bailey was on hand to celebrate the occasion with the town. His greatest achievement in property dealings finally came to fruition.

“Lyndon claims an honored place,
Behold her fair and young!
She smiles on all with queenly grace –
The praise of every tongue.
This day she crowns herself a bride,
For with ties of steam and steel
She binds the great world to her side.
Let every engine’s whistle scream
And every church bell peal!
The modern Cinderella –
Looking back on trials past
May she rejoice with joy unspeakable
She has won her PRINCE at last!”

When Judge Lawrence Bailey died in 1891, he left no children to carry on his name and legacy. His chosen child, however, lives on with the name that he himself bestowed upon it – Lyndon.

Poetry excerpts by Judge L. D. Bailey were published in the Garden City Sentinel, July 17, 1886. Illustration of Judge Bailey was published in the Garden City Sentinel, Oct. 17, 1891. Plat map of Lyndon published in the Illustrated Historical Atlas of Osage County 1879.


wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She lived in Osage County for 20 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.


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