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Washington County, Kansas

Washington County, Kansas - Kansapedia - Kansas Historical SocietyThe Oregon-California Trail and the Pony Express crossed Washington County, Kansas. An historic station, located in the county, served travelers on the trails and the Pony Express and is a National Historic Landmark. The Otoe tribe of the central plains was assigned reservation lands in this area as part of a treaty agreement. Omar Knedlik, the creator of a popular frozen treat—ICEE—was born in this county.

Washington, County, Kansas, organized in 1860, was named for the first U.S. President, George Washington. The county was a crossroads for westward migration and military traffic. The Oregon-California Trail passed northeast Kansas following waterways that flowed through the county before turning north toward Nebraska. The Parallel Road led through the county toward the Colorado gold mines. A military trail connected Fort Kearney in Nebraska with Fort Riley in Leavenworth. A portion of the Mormon Trail Washington was voted the county seat shortly after organization.

For a short 18-month period from 1860 to 1861, the Pony Express, a transcontinental system to expedite delivery of mail and dispatches, ran from St. Joseph to California. The Hollenberg Pony Express Station, which provided supplies and lodging for travelers, is one of few such stations in its original location. The Pony Express was costly and soon replaced by the telegraph and ended in less than two years. The Hollenberg Station is a State Historic Sites and National Historic Landmark.

The Otoe Reservation was established in 1834—a 24-square-mile section, spanning Washington and Marshall counties in Kansas and Jefferson County, Nebraska, to the north. The Otoe, who traditionally lived in southeastern Nebraska along the Platte River, were forced to relinquish lands as settlement moved west. The Otoe experienced conflicts with other native peoples in the region like the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux. Another treaty negotiated in 1879 removed the Otoe to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The Kansas lands that had once been the Otoe Reserve were opened for settlement in 1883.

Kansas 12th Judicial District - KS CourtsFarming continues to be important to the county with 60 percent considered cropland by the early 21st century. Major crops include soybean, wheat, corn, and forage; major livestock include hogs and pigs, and cattle and calves.

Washington has had several courthouses; some were destroyed by fire and one by tornado in 1932. The present courthouse was built in 1933 and was dedicated in 1934.

Washington County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places include Hollenburg (Cottonwood) Pony Express Station and the Washington County courthouse.

Charles Manners was a U.S. deputy surveyor who marked the state’s border to the north. On May 8, 1855, Manners marked the intersection of the Sixth principal meridian with the 40 degrees north latitude, the Kansas’ northern boundary, by placing a cast iron post and four stones 10 feet from the marker as witness stones. On June 11, 1856, Manners set a monument made from red sandstone that also marked the cardinal points. The monument became buried over time. It was unearthed and reburied in 1976. The site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and restored.

Omar Knedlik was born and raised in Barnes. Knedlik purchased his first ice cream shop after serving in World War II. He later moved to Coffeyville where he became an owner of a Dairy Queen in the late 1950s. After his soda fountain broke in 1958 he stored sodas in the freezer to keep them cold. Customers were served bottles of semi-frozen sodas. They were such a hit with the people of Coffeyville that he worked with a Dallas-based company to create the first ICEE machine. Made from a car air conditioning unit, it combined frozen water, carbon dioxide, and a flavored mix. ICEE machines were first sold across the country in the mid-1960s. 7-Eleven purchased several machines and later changed the name to Slurpee. According to 7-Eleven, 14 million Slurpees are sold each month in the U.S. 

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 20, 1857
Date Organized: April 9, 1860
County Seat: Washington
Kansas Region: North Central
Physiographic Region: Smoky Hills, Glaciated Region, Flint Hills Uplands
Courthouse: March 11, 1933


1834 - Otoe Reservation established
June 11, 1856 - Charles Manners set a monument to mark the Sixth principal meridian, Kansas’ northern border
1857 - Washington County is established
1860 - Washington County is organized
1860 - 1861- Pony Express runs through the county
1882 - Otoes removed to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma
1883, May 31 - Otoe Reservation opened for settlement at public sale 

More on Washington County


Entry: Washington 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: August 2023

Date Modified: August 2023

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