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Harvey County, Kansas

The German-speaking Mennonites who came from Russia to Harvey County, Kansas, changed the region’s agricultural history. The wheat they brought and the farming methods they introduced helped earn Kansas’ nickname as the Bread Basket of the World.

Harvey County, Kansas, in the south central part of the state, in the Wellington-McPherson Lowlands where rich deposits from an ancient sea and an aquifer make an ideal agriculture environment. Below is one of the largest salt deposits in the world. The county was established in 1872 and named for Governor James M. Harvey. It was formed when delegates to a Republican convention in Wichita became unhappy when their numbers were cut. They formed Harvey County from townships in Sedgewick, Marion, and McPherson counties. A county named Otoe existed from the early 1860s until 1864 partially where Harvey County would be formed. A portion of Harvey County was once part of the old Washington County, Peketon County, and later an enlarged Marion County

In the early 1870s Newton, which became the county seat, was a shipping point for cattle from Texas. The cowtown earned a rough reputation as cowboys gathered in local saloons. That changed when in 1871 the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad reached Newton. The cattle trails rerouted to pass from Wichita to Dodge City and Newton’s business community matured. 

The community learned that Santa Fe wanted to established division office in Newton but required a good supply of water. The community asked for help from Erasmus Haworth, state geologist with the University of Kansas. He helped identify an ample source, called the Equus beds, and as a result Santa Fe moved its division offices and shops to Newton in 1897.

Grasshoppers, or locust, invaded in 1874 causing destruction for Harvey County, as for many Kansas counties. At the same time Mennonites who were Germans from Russian were arriving in Kansas. Bernard Warkentin was an immigration agent who worked with the Santa Fe and helped to persuade his countrymen to emigrate. Theirs was an agricultural society thought to be compatible with the Kansas environment. They brought with them cultural traditions and hard winter wheat seed. While Kansans had previously planted wheat, they generally planted in the spring but the heat of summer was often too severe for the crop. Hard winter wheat was planted in the fall and took advantage of the winter moisture as it grew. Changes in planting and farming eventually helped Kansas to become known as the Bread Basket of the World.

Hesston College was founded in the county in 1909. The two-year Mennonite college established the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in 1981 to feature native Kansas plants and trees. The Hesston Manufacturing Company was begun in 1947, which produces agricultural equipment and a popular line of belt buckles highlight rodeos.

Harvey County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Register of Historic Kansas Places include Bethel College Administration Building; Carnegie Library, established with help from Andrew Carnegie; Coleman House, a Lustron pre-fab steel house built following World War II; and the Warkentin Home, also a National Historic Landmark.

Notable individuals with connections to Harvey County include Arthur Hertzler, a nationally known doctor who founded the Halstead hospital and authored, Horse and Buggy Doctor; John McCuish, 34th governor of Kansas; Samuel R Peters, U.S. congressman from 1883 to 1891; John M. Houston, Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Alfred Schroeder, Kansas Supreme Court Justice Adrian Green, and Elizabeth Hoisington, director of the U.S. Women’s Army Corps.

Quick Facts

Date Established: 1872
Date Organized: 1872
County Seat: Newton
Kansas Region: South Central
Physiographic Region: Arkansas River Lowlands, Wellington-McPherson Lowlands, and Flint Hills Uplands
Courthouse: April 2, 1966


1871 - Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad reaches Newton.
1872 - Harvey County is established and organized.
1874 - Grasshopper Invasion, which effects many counties in Kansas, including Harvey.
1870 - Mennonites arrive in Harvey County, bringing hard winter wheat seeds.
1870 - Newton gains a rough reputation as a cowtown
1887 - Bethel College is founded.
1909 - Hesston College is founded.

More on Harvey County



Recipes from Harvey County


Recipe - Sauerkraut


Entry: Harvey 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.