A Place Called Home
Netawaka, Kansas is a town of 200 people located in northeast Kansas, 40 miles north of Topeka, Kansas and one mile southeast of the Kansas Hwy 9 and U. S. Hwy 75 junction.
The town was laid out in 1866 on the central branch the Missouri Pacific Railroad by B. F. Baughn, who was the first settler on the town site. He built the first building, which was called the Netawaka House. The original proprietor was Mrs. Brown. Later it became the property of P. G. Kinney and still later, Mrs. L. D. Nichols.
The town was the distribution point for supplies furnished by the government for the Indians on the Kickapoo Reservation, who came to Netawaka between 1840 and 1860. Early white settlers came from the eastern and northeastern part of the United States. The community was an anti-slavery settlement, settled by people whose purpose was to make Kansas a free state. An underground railroad was located six miles southwest of town, where John Brown and slaves visited.
For information on the Battle of the Spurs, in which John Brown participated, which was held just south of Netawaka near Straight Creek, click on the "Battle of the Spurs" link above.
Netawaka was also a shipping point as livestock were brought from as far north as Sabetha and as far south as Holton. Lumber for the first houses in Holton was hauled from Netawaka.
The City Hotel was built in 1866, and was under the management of Mrs. Amanda Bibb. Edward W. Kenyon, a pioneer merchant from Windham Co., Connecticut built the first store in Netawaka, beginning in the fall of 1867, with completion and stocking with goods in January of 1868. Kenyon was also the first station agent, and land agent for the Kickapoo lands in charge of the Central Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad, In 1868, Kenyon was appointed postmaster, a position he held for many years. The second floor of his store was called Kenyon Hall, and was used for public purposes, such as lectures and concerts.
The Grange also built a store and hall in the town, but because of irregular participation, the business was discontinued.
A. J. Evans and Sons built a grist mill in 1881, valued at $11,000, and this was considered a great addition to the town.
In the 1870's and 1880's, many German settlers came to Netawaka, including Christof Heers from Ohio and the Linnewehs, Bergmans, Banakas, and Beamans from Illinois. The Klahrs were first in Illinois, then Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Mitchell County, Kansas, before coming to Netawaka. The Groves came from Germany to New York, then to Illinois, then to Missouri, and finally to Netawaka. The Grundemans came from Germany and the Purtze4rs and Bohnenkempers from places Indiana. Later an influx of Lutherans came from St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Craig, Missouri, including the Gerhardts, Harms, Dieckmanns, Letzsch, Idekers, and Millers. The floods of the Missouri River Valley brought them to the rolling hills of Jackson County, and to Netawaka. The area east of Netawaka, where many of them settled, was called Little Missouri.
In 1870, Frank Stout, who was connected with the Holton Recorder, started the Netawaka Herald, but in October of 1871 sold the paper to parties from Irving, who removed it to that place. On June 4, 1872, George Irving commenced the publication of the "Netawaka Chief," but on September 24, 1872, he sold it to A. J. Best and H. D. Roberts, who published it until July 14, 1874, when he moved it to Hiawatha.
Netawaka, in its early days, had a good schoolhouse, which cost $2000 to build, and ten teachers were employed.
From 1884 through the 1890's Netawaka was on the boom, with five general stores, two hardware stores, two livery stables, two hotels, several saloons, two drugstores, a band, and several churches.
Early church organizations were the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists. The Episcopalians organized a church in 1870, with Rev. Turner as pastor, but it was discontinued after a couple of years. The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1876 with ten members, and Rev. Mayer as the pastor. In 1878, the Presbyterian Church was founded by Rev. D. R. Todd.
On November 24, 1889, Rev. H. F. Eggert, of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Fairview, conducted the first Lutheran service in Netawaka, with the service held in a home. For years later, on Feb. 6, 1893, Immanuel Lutheran Church was organized and a charter signed. For a view of the early German Lutheran Church, click here. The first pastor was called and installed in 1894, and in 1901 the Lutherans bought, for the sum of $500, the Presbyterian white frame church and lots which had been built by the Presbyterian Synod in 1972. Lutherans held services in the afternoon, and the Presbyterians in the morning. In 1923 the congregation moved to a new brick church on its present site. A brief history of the church is found at the end of this web site.
In March of 1881 the Liberal Lecture Assn. was organized, with D. H. Sutherland, who lived two miles south of Netawaka, as president and E. W. Kenyon as secretary. Meetings were held in Kenyon Hall.
Early residents in town, in addition to Edward W. Kenyon, were Adam Amon, a farmer and cattleman; Thomas Daily, a farmer; M. A. Bunchess, who ran a drug, stationery, and jewelry store; Robert Little, a farmer; Henry Lueck, a farmer; Andrew Neal, a lawyer and real estate agent; L. P. Paddock, a physician, surgeon, oculist, and aurist; H. H. Poston, a farmer and stock raiser; A. P. Rider, a farmer and stock raiser; J. F. Smith, a farmer and freighter; George Sprague, who ran a livery stable and drug store; and I. Travis, a farmer and stock raiser. Brief biographies of several early founders of Netawaka are found following this history.
The 20th Century
The town continued to prosper as an agricultural center through the early 1900's, due largely to its location on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Businesses included Klahr's Hardware Store, Christenson's Lumber yard, Henry Purtzer's Blacksmith Shop, the Wolf Oil Company, Rink Klahr's Barber Shop, Jack and Bertha Zwonitzer's Snappy Inn Cafe, the Lueck Grain Company, Kramer's (and later Dexter's) Grocery, Christenson's Grocery, Ed Vine's Produce and Feed Store, Jack Carson's Telephone Co., three gasoline stations, and several taverns.
Highlighting the years were the annual 3-day Netawaka Picnics, including carnivals, free shows, dances, and livestock judging; state tournament Netawaka Rural High School basketball teams in the late 1950's and early 1960's; the prominence of Henry Lueck as the State Democratic Chairman; some outstanding Netawaka Athletic Club baseball teams; an active Netawaka Saddle Club; construction of the Netawaka Senior Center and City Hall/Fire Station; and award of the Medal of Honor to Danny Peterson, who selflessly gave his life in Vietnam.
However, a series of blows in the 1900's made growth of the community difficult. During the depression of the 1930's the bank went under, dealing the town a tremendous blow. In the 1950's Highway 75 was rebuilt, bypassing the town about a mile to the west. Then the Lueck Grain Elevator burned to the ground, and was re-built outside the town itself. That elevator was later sold to a cooperative, and then closed. The Missouri Pacific Railroad abandoned the route through Netawaka. The Netawaka Picnic was discontinued.
As population decreased, enrollment in the school declined, mandating consolidation with other communities into the Jackson Heights School District and closing of first the high school and then the elementary school. Many businesses closed, leaving the town without a grocery store, restaurant, or gas station. Automobile travel made purchasing from larger stores in Holton and Topeka a viable option.
The 21st Century
As the 21st Century began, the small residential community finds itself with two churches (Immanuel Lutheran and Netawaka Methodist), a Senior Center, a City Hall/Fire Station, and a Post Office.
With the surge of gambling and the construction of casino complexes by the Kickapoo and Sac and Fox tribes just to the north of town, with the continued emphasis on agriculture, and with the desire for small town living, the future of the community seems assured for the present.
Netawaka High School
The first graduating class of Netawaka High School was in 1902 and the last class graduated in 1966, when the school was consolidated with Whiting, and then the Jackson Heights High School, Jackson Heights Unified School District 335.
In 1872 classes had begun at Netawaka Grade School, but in 1909 a large two story brick school house was built, combined the grades and a high school. The structure contained four large rooms, a laboratory, a basement, and a good heating system. The school board at the time was Otto Grove, Dr. E. T. Myers, and John Green.
The four year high school course had been developed by Mr. Everett Stroud as superintendent and C. Omar West as his assistant, and in 1917 a manual training course was added.
During the 65 years of its existence, there were a total of 518 graduates, an average of 8 per class. Graduating during that time were 21 Klahrs, 16 Gerhardts, 14 Zwonitzers, 13 Amons, 13 Williams, 11 Oxandales, 10 Christensens, 9 Grundemans, 9 Schumanns, 8 Beamans, and 8 Whitcrafts.
A total of 76 teachers and principals served the school during those 65 years.
Beginning in 1922, the school published "The Netawa-Kansan" newspaper, printed at the Gossip Printery in Holton. This paper detailed in words and pictures the many activities of the school and community, including sports, organizations, honors, and events in the community. It was later replaced by the mimeographed "Hornet's Buzz," which told mainly about the school. A featured section, entitled "Behind the Headlines," provided gossip for the students.
The founders of Immanuel Lutheran Church were mostly young men who came from Germany to Kansas. Their aim was to establish homes for themselves and their families. They came during the 1870's and 1880's and had been told that Lutheran churches of their faith were already established in this county. This was true, however, at Netawaka, where they settled, there were none. For almost ten years they waited, hoped, and prayed for that dream to become a reality.
Finally they found what they had been waiting for and on the first Sunday in Advent, 1889, they had their first church service. Rev. H. F. Eggert from the Fairview Lutheran Church conducted the first service.
Between Fairview and Netawaka was Indian country and the Kickapoo Indian Reservation. The roads were Indian trails or cow paths. There were no bridges, so the streams had to be forded. To drive or ride around the Reservation took a long time. So it happened that one evening as Pastor Eggert was returning home from Netawaka a few Indian braves descended on him, riding around and around him and yelling at the top of their voices. Pastor Eggert said later that he was terrified, but after a while the Indians rode off into the night and he was free to return to his home north of Fairview.
There was no house of worship in Netawaka, so German-language services were held in various homes. In February, 1893, five men signed a charter and the Lutheran Church at Netawaka was established. The Charter Members of Immanuel were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bergman, Mr. and Mrs. William Banaka, Mr and Mrs. Fred Heers, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Linneweh, and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Wegmeier.
Soon after they were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Beaman, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Kreibel, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Klahr, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Kukuck, and Mrs. Dorothea Ruegge. Later in the 1890's Mr. and Mrs. Henry Purtzer, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Beaman, Mr. Emil Zwonitzer, Mr. Henry Zwonitzer, and Mrs. Louis Koch joined the congregation.
A number of children were now ready for Confirmation instruction. However, there was no place for them to meet. The situation was quickly remedied by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Linneweh. A student from the Seminary at Springfield, Illinois, was sent to help Pastor Eggert. The student's name was F. Eggers. Mr. and Mrs. Linneweh not only gave the young man room and board, but also prepared a room in their home where a class of sixteen children could meet. In 1894 the first class of eleven was confirmed.
The members were now advised to call a resident Pastor. After much encouragement by Pastor Eggert, they called the Rev. G. H. Schilling of St. Francis, Kansas. He accepted the Call and was installed on Nov. 4, 1894.
They still had no church or parsonage, so the second class of eight confirmands met in a house generously offered by another member--Mr. Fred Kukuck. Members of that class included Henry Kern, Anna Lentzsch, Mathilda Oxandale, and Mary Beaman.
The parsonage was then built in 1898 on land purchased for the sum of $500.. It consisted of six rooms with one room stipulated for use in instructing the confirmation class. This was not an ideal arrangement, but it was a far cry from the two rooms which had been home for Pastor Schilling for four years. They now had a home for their Pastor.
In 1901 they bought the Presbyterian white frame church and lots which had been built by the Presbyterian Synod in 1872. The land where the church stood had been given to the Presbyterian church by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. A Bishop Vail signed the document transferring the property to the Evangelische Lutherische Immanuels Germeinde (Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Congregation).
Rev. Schilling served as Pastor for nine years and then accepted a Call to Wisconsin. Rev. Paul Stolp was the next Pastor. He established a Christian Day School in 1903 and the second year there were fourteen children who went to school in that one room in the parsonage.
A schoolhouse was built in 1905 by Albert Gerhardt and Mr. Polzin on the site of the present Immanuel church. Later this building was moved to the main street of Netawaka and became Rink Klahr's Barber Shop. The school continued uninterrupted until 1918.
In 1906, Immanuel Lutheran Church joined the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, an affiliation it holds today.
In 1923 the present church was dedicated on the site of the former parochial school, with the cornerstone laid on April 15, 1923. The cornerstone contains a Holy Bible, Luther's Catechism, a Lutheran Hymnal, the congregation's constitution, synodical papers, a Lutheran Witness magazine, a Walther League Messenger magazine, a copy of the Holton Recorder, and lists of officers, contractors, and officials of nation, state, and county.
The lectern, the table upon which the large Bible was placed by the pulpit, the settee and matching chairs in the Mother's Room are from the original church. The hand-carved altar and pulpit were built in 1907 by Mr. Kaaz of Atchison and were used in the original church, then moved to the new church.
The history of the church was written by the Rev. H. F. Krohn in 1923, and was brought up to date by the Rev. O. C. Mueller in 1943.