Hidden History: Superior townsite fades away with founder’s Kansas dreams – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Hidden History: Superior townsite fades away with founder’s Kansas dreams

Superior School, Osage County, Kan. Photo by Wendi Bevitt.

The very first attempt at a settlement in what is now Osage County was called Council City. But Council City had a problem. The settlement company that funded and planned it was disorganized, and no one could quite decide where the best location should be – or even if it should be called Council City! After multiple attempts at establishing a location, in an area that covered nearly half a township between Switzler and Dragoon creeks, principal settlement seemed to find a resting place at approximately where Burlingame is today. At the head of the Council City enterprise in the earliest days was James Winchell.

Winchell had been with the settlement company since its arrival in Kansas in the fall of 1854. Shortly after their arrival, the members of the company each selected their preferred tracts of land. Winchell chose a large, wooded parcel located near the confluence of the two creeks. It was not only beautiful but contained significant advantages for building. He was eager to start organizing the town and became its first postmaster.

But when Philip C. Schuyler arrived in Council City in the spring of 1855, he had his own ideas for Council City. Both Winchell and Schuyler were very driven individuals, and it soon became evident that their ambitions would not be able to be combined.

Winchell abandoned Council City at the Switzler location and instead decided to put the resources available on the southern end of the proposed Council City tract for his own town.

His first attempt would be in 1856 with a town named Fremont in honor of General John C. Fremont. In the spring of that year, Winchell served as a delegate to the first national Republican convention. It was at that convention that Fremont was declared the Republican nominee for the presidency. Winchell’s support for Gen. Fremont prompted him to use that name for his town. However, John C. Fremont did not win the presidency, and likewise his namesake town also lost momentum.

Superior School, Osage County, Kan. Photo by Wendi Bevitt.

A town would be attempted at the Fremont location again, the very next year, 1857. To the north, P.C. Schuyler had totally assumed leadership at the Switzler Council City location and was preparing the launch of his new town – Burlingame. Likewise, Winchell’s Fremont also received a name change that year – to Carbondale. Yes, dear reader, you read that right – Carbondale. This Carbondale bore the same name as the current one and for the same reason. Coal.

A group of men from the town of Wyandotte under the leadership of Professor Edward Daniels (state geologist of Wisconsin and also agent of emigration for the National Kansas Committee) was particularly interested in what he called the “magnificent physical resources” in Kansas as well as seeing that Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state. Daniels was joined in this endeavor by Horace White, who served as secretary for the Carbondale Town Company. White, like Winchell, was a journalist and was determined to use his position to further the free state cause. Winchell was not listed as being associated with these men directly, but he was living in Wyandotte at the time.

The plan for Daniels and White was to sell lots for the town back east and encourage emigration to Kansas. There was a problem though. The country was under a major financial depression, and the men could not tempt buyers to buy the rich coal lands, even at reduced prices. And so, this town, like Fremont, would also fail.

In early 1858, Winchell made another go at a town, this time one named Superior. Burlingame had continued to grow in the meantime, making a new town in the vicinity risky. But Burlingame was in Shawnee County at the time, and Superior would be in what was known as Weller County. Plus, Winchell didn’t much care what others thought. He pursued what he wanted despite any obstacles. This extended from his business dealings to the navy blue coat with tails that he constantly wore (scandalous both for its color, which was too similar to a military uniform; and for the brass buttons that adorned it being shockingly flashy).

For Superior, Winchell headed the operation with the assistance of his friends from Wyandotte. So numerous were the men from Wyandotte that Superior became known as “a child of Wyandotte.” Plans were even made for a road connecting the two towns and a college. Eventually, the town was reported to have a meeting place, hotel, general store, brick works, and craftsmen who made furniture.

The main feature that was promoted, though, which also reflected the personal interest of James Winchell, was plans for a large school. Education was a passion for Winchell. After he completed his secondary education in his native New York, he went on to attend the State Normal School at Albany, eventually graduating as valedictorian in his class. These stimulated a great love for education, and he firmly believed that there was “no legacy so rich as a good education.” It is uncertain, however, if Winchell’s dream of a school came to fruition.

Superior continued to develop and was declared the county seat of Weller County. Weller County became Osage County in 1859, and Superior became the logical county seat. But when area surrounding Burlingame was added to Osage County, the fight was on for the county seat. A compromise location for the center of government for the county was proposed at a point between the rival towns and given the name of Prescott. Burlingame though was staunchly opposed to the idea. After fierce a battle, the county seat was awarded to Burlingame.

Superior would slowly fade away and James Winchell would leave Kansas and return to his native New York. Some of the buildings at the Superior town site were repurposed. The hotel became first a cheese factory run by Henry Sheldon, and later was torn down but the building materials were used to build a barn that stood near the location along U.S. Highway 56 until just last year. In 1868, a brick school was constructed at the Superior townsite and named for its namesake. The current wooden school that sits along the highway was erected in 1894 and is the last remaining structure standing as a memory to James Winchell’s quest for a place of his own on the Kansas prairie.

See related story: In Osage County: Superior School, a school without a town

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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