Hidden History: Barclay, Osage County’s forgotten Quaker community – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Hidden History: Barclay, Osage County’s forgotten Quaker community

A Quaker influence has been in Osage County since the state was opened for settlement in 1854. Even before that time, however, the Quakers were active in Kansas Territory as missionaries to the Native American tribes. Quakers took the belief of “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” literally and believed that all races were equal. At the Kansas Quakers missions, followers sought to bring the Christian faith, as well as education, to the tribes.

Their position in the missions gave them early access to the newly opened lands after the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Their early presence here also put them in position to take a role in laying the groundwork for Kansas to be admitted as a free state. Nearly from the time slavery was introduced to the United States, the Quakers had objected to the institution of slavery. Quaker beliefs prohibited them from any force in the matter, so they found another way to take an active role in the fight against slavery – such as the Underground Railroad. In our area, Quaker missionaries were in Osage County early on, but later moved into Wabaunsee County, where they established known stops for the Underground Railroad.

The next major influence of the Quakers in Osage County would not occur until more than a decade later. When a treaty in 1859 shrunk the Sac and Fox reservation, nearly 140,000 acres of the premium parcels of the former reservation lands were snapped up by government officials and land speculators. The largest portion went to Seyfert and McManus Company, acting in conjunction with the Reading Iron Works, of Reading, Pennsylvania. John McManus was also tied to the railroad, and because of his varied interests, sought to open coal mines in the county.

Also interested in the former Sac and Fox lands was a wealthy Quaker businessman from Philadelphia by the name of John M. Wetherell, who started making plans for a large Quaker colony in Osage County as early as 1868. Wetherell purchased 18,000 acres within Superior Township, with the intent of securing coal lands within four to 10 miles near Burlingame. He would eventually purchase nearly 20,000 additional acres.

His plan, however, shocked his wife. When he wrote home to tell her about his purchase, she immediately replied, “John, come home, thou art going crazy!”

But Mrs. Wetherell should not have been too shocked, as her husband’s grand plans for establishing Quaker communities was not new. Just a few years, prior, Wetherell and his brother-in-law, Joseph Steer, were responsible for platting a Quaker community in Iowa called West Branch. West Branch was part of a grouping of Quaker settlements in Cedar County, located near the Cedar River, called Cedar Ridge. A street in West Branch was named for Wetherell and retains that name today. West Branch would eventually become the birthplace of one of our two U.S. Presidents who claimed the Quaker faith, Herbert Hoover.

Wetherell’s plan for a Quaker colony in Kansas came to fruition when he established Barclay in 1872. The settlement was named Barclay for Robert Barclay, a Scotsman whose writings helped define the Quaker faith. By the following year, five more families arrived from Philadelphia.

No matter the aspirations, however, the 1870s were difficult to maintain progress in land development. Projects stalled due to problems facing the state, such as the fallout from the depression of 1873, grasshoppers, and drought. The town however was strategically located near a road to Burlingame, and was a station on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad.

The Wetherell home was the center of activity for the budding community. In early days, it was host to the weekly Sunday school classes, a post office for the town, and a school for the young people.

John Wetherell died in 1875, and his family took his body back to Pennsylvania for burial and did not return.

When the Exodusters (African Americans leaving the terrible conditions in the South after the Civil War) arrived in Osage County, the Quaker influence welcomed them to their part of the county. After facing discrimination in other mines, Exoduster men established their own mine and community just outside of Barclay. The project was short lived, but the friendly community gave these men an opportunity they did not have elsewhere.

The first school in Barclay was built of stone but later replaced by a two-room frame building in 1879. With the expansion of the town, other larger schools or expansions to existing structures were made until the final school was built in 1926. The school district eventually consolidated with Osage City in 1957.

The town never consisted of a population much more than 100 citizens, but it had a train depot, blacksmith shop, church, and post office. In later years, the post office was located in the Old Reliable store, a store that was owned by E.F. Painter, which sold general merchandise, dry goods, coal, oil, gas, and fresh fruit. The post office was closed in 1955. The Friends (Quaker) church discontinued association with the denomination in 1975.

Visitors to Barclay today will find a scattering of houses among its few streets and the school standing at the edge of town.

Barclay’s former city hall. Photos from Wendi Bevitt collection.

Barclay’s old high school at the edge of town served as a residence and storage since it closed after consolidation with Osage City schools.

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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