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Clay County, Kansas

Clay County, Kansas, in the north central part of the state, is in the Smoky Hills region known for its rolling hills. The fossil rich rocky outcroppings are remnants of an ancient inland sea that deposited the limestone beds. The Republican, Little Blue, and Solomon rivers all run through the county.

Clay County, organized in 1866, was named for Henry Clay of Kentucky, near Pawnee, Delaware, and Kansa Indian land. Clay Center was soon made the temporary, then permanent county seat.

Even though new settlers moving into the county were concerned about the potential for Indian attack. In 1864 settlers sought refuge at Charles Huntress’ cabin, camped there a month, and returned to their homes after the tensions decreased. English settlers arrived around 1869 and established the Wakefield Colony.

Everyone was talking about fairs in 1893, as the Columbian Exposition in Chicago celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival. The citizens of Clay County were eager to host their own annual display by farmers and merchants. There was the excitement of horseback racing, pacers, and trotters, plus foot and bicycle racing. There were hogs, chickens, sheep, and ducks on display, as well as wheat, corn, potatoes, melons, and squash. The fair was considered among the most successful in memory with around 35,000 people attending during the four days.

Clay Center was hit by a tornado in 1895. The tornado caused fatalities as well damage to much of the community.  

During World War II, a U.S. Navy ship was named U. S. S. Clay, and commissioned June 29, 1943. The ship represented this county in Kansas as well as Clay counties in 17 other states.

Clay County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places include the Clay County Courthouse, built in 1900-1901, and the Clay Center Carnegie Library built around 1913, built through grants from Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Corporation and their work to establish public libraries.

Individuals with connections to Clay County include. Governor Henry Allen who grew up near Clifton. Governor George Docking, Sr., was born in Clay Center. Governor William H. Avery, was born, raised, and retired in Wakefield. Avery, also served as a U.S. congressman. F.B. Dawes, A.S. Goddard, and C.C. Coleman, all of whom practiced law in Clay Center served as Kansas attorneys general. William D. Vincent served as a U.S. congressman. Don W. Wilson, a native of Clay Center, served as archivist of the United States in 1987 and as director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum. Warren Henry Cole, a surgeon who pioneered X-rays in medicine.

Quick Facts

Date Established: 1857
Date Organized: August 10, 1866
County Seat: Clay Center
Kansas Region: North Central
Physiographic Region: Smoky Hills
Courthouse: April 23, 1901


1857 - Clay County is established
1866 - Clay County is organized
1864 - Hostile Indian actions in Nebraska caused a panic in Clay County

More on Clay County

Entry: Clay County, Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2010

Date Modified: August 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.