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Incorporation of Kansas Cities

In Kansas, records of the incorporation of cities (or towns) are handled differently from the incorporation documents for businesses, social groups, churches, and charitable organizations, which file their charters with the Kansas Secretary of State's Office. These include the charters of "town companies" -- private businesses that bought land, platted it, and sold town lots.

But over the years, cities have filed for incorporation in different ways, making it difficult sometimes to track the records down when they're needed. One place to look is the newspaper, if there was a county newspaper at the time, for a published notice of incorporation. This is a guide to early changes in the ways that Kansas cities  incorporated and where to look for the records.

City Incorporations, 1855-1859

During the Kansas territorial period, the Legislative Assembly was the state body in charge of incorporating cities. They passed laws that established the form and powers of each municipal government, and these were recorded by volumes published after each legislative session. In 1857, they were included in the index for "local laws;" from 1858-1859 they were included in the volumes of "private laws." There is an index to the early Kansas Session Laws covering 1855-1877. Copies of these bills are part of the records of the territorial legislative assembly at the State Archives.

City Incorporations, 1859

Chapter 80 of the Laws of 1859 required city incorporations to be filed at the probate court in the county where it was located.

City Incorporations, 1862

Section 5 of article 12 of the Kansas Constitution established the groundwork for the incorporation of cities. Chapter 46 of the 1862 statutes provided for the incorporation of cities with a population of at least 7,000, although Leavenworth was the only Kansas city that had that many inhabitants at that time.

City Incorporations, 1868

Chapter 18 of the Laws of 1868 established governmental powers and organization for cities of the first class, which required at least 15,000 inhabitants. Again, only Leavenworth had a large enough population to qualify at that time. They were declared a first class city by a proclamation of the governor. The State Archives has a collection of of these proclamations.

Chapter 19 of the Laws of 1868 stated that cities with at least 2,000 inhabitants could become cities of the second class, but a proclamation from the governor was not required until 1872, in chapter 100 of the Laws.

Chapter 108 of the Laws of 1868 authorized the incorporation of cities with less than 2,000 residents, and those incorporations were still filed with the probate court in the county where the city was located.

City  Incorporations, 1869

In the Laws of 1869, a provision was added to Chapter 26 providing that cities with a population between 800 and 2,000 people could declare themselves a "city of the third class" by referendum (popular vote).

City Incorporations, 1871

Chapter 60 of the Laws of 1871 repealed Chapter 26 (1869), eliminating the referendums, and gave the district courts in each county the responsibility for incorporating cities with less than 2,000 people as cities of the third class.

City Incorporations, 1872

Chapters 99, 100, and 102 of the Laws of 1872 contained major revisions of the powers and organization of first, second, and third class cities, but left the record of incorporation with the district courts.

City Incorporations, 1886

Chapter 66 of the Laws of 1886 transferred the responsibility for recording incorporation of cities of the third class away from the district courts, to the boards of county commissioners.

City Incorporations, current laws

Four chapters of the Kansas Statutes Annotated contain laws governing the incorporation of cities:

  • Chapter 12 contains powers and procedures that apply to incorporated cities.
  • Chapter 13 provides that cities with a population of 15,000-25,000 have the option of remaining a city of the second class, or being proclaimed a city of the first class by the governor.
  • Chapter 14 provides that cities with a population of 2,000-5,000 may remain cities of the third class, or be changed to a city of the second class by proclamation of the governor--cities with a population between 5,000 and 15,000 are proclaimed cities of the second class.
  • Chapter 15 provides for incorporation as a city of the third class, via referendum, for cities with a population of more than 250 people. Chapter 15 also provides for the dissolution of a city's incorporation status when the population has declined.

Lists of incorporated and unincorporated cities in Kansas (PDF format)

Incorporated Kansas cities in alphabetical order, with dates of incorporation, 1981
Incorporated Kansas cities listed by county, 1979
Unincorporated Kansas cities listed in alphabetical order, 1981

Entry: Incorporation of Kansas Cities

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: December 2017

Date Modified: January 2018

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