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Riley County, Kansas

Riley county was one of the original 33 counties created by the Territorial Legislature on March 8, 1855, and was organized on September 17, 1855, by Thomas Reynolds; C. R. Mobley; and Clay Thompson. It was named for Major General Bennet C. Riley, commander of Fort Leavenworth, and contains the cities of Leonardville, Randolph, Riley, Manhattan (part) and Odgen.

In 1852 Camp Center was established near the junction of the Smoky Hill and Republican rivers. In 1853 the fort was renamed Fort Riley. The fort has been the major influence in the county's history. Today it is the home of the U. S. Army's First Division.

The Methodist Church in Manhattan was organized in 1855. The Manhattan Congregational Church (1858) still uses its original building. Shortly after the founding of the city of Manhattan, George Park suggested the establishment of an agricultural school. Begun as a Methodist sponsored school in 1859, the state finally accepted the school into the system in 1863 as one of the first land grant college in the United States under the Morrill Act. The first county fair was held in 1869. The first school district was formed countywide in 1858. The first schoolhouse was in Manhattan, 1859. The construction in 1959-1963 of Tuttle Creek Dam and reservoir for flood control, inundated three Riley County towns, and caused the relocation of another. Randolph relocated one mile to the west.

Randolph in 1906New Randolph town site









Several interesting Kansans hail from Riley County. Damon Runyon, famous author and playwright in the 1930s and 1940s, was a native of Manhattan. A. K. Longren, pioneer aviator grew up in the county, and Horace Tabor, later famed for his Colorado silver mine in Central City, settled in Riley County in 1855. Isaac Goodnow, the founder of Kansas State University, legislator, superintendent of public instruction (1863-1867), and founder of the Kansas State Teachers Association lived in Manhattan throughout his career. Clair M. Patee, who perfected the movie projector with Thomas Edison, and owned the first movie house in the United States, (New Jersey) and the first one in Kansas at Lawrence, was born in Ashland. Governors Nehemiah Green (1868-1869) and James Harvey (1869-1873) were from Manhattan. Congressman John A. Anderson (1879-1891) and Congresswoman Martha Keys (1975-1979) were from the county. Among the notables stationed at Fort Riley were George A. Custer, J. E. B. Stuart, Frederick Funston, Philip Sheridan, and George S. Patton.

Morning in Kansas; The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler; and Bruce Friedman's A Mother's Kisses are all written about the Riley County.

The county contains many interesting sites such as, the Ulrich-Dary House, the Platt House, Anderson Hall, Kansas State University, the Union Pacific Depot, the First Territorial Capital, the Custer House and the U. S. Cavalry Museum (Hospital Building.)

For more information see the Riley County website.The Riley County Historical Society, the Manhattan Public Library, Kansas State University Archives, Farrell Library, Kansas State University, the U. S. Cavalry Museum, and the Geary County Historical Society in Junction City, all have source collections pertaining to the county including newspapers on microfilm, county records and archives, genealogical materials, photographs, and published materials.

Entry: Riley 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: June 2010

Date Modified: April 2016

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