Monticello Township long gone but remains key part of area history
Visit the Monticello museum
The Monticello Community Historical Museum, 23860 West 83rd St. in Lenexa, is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays from March through November, and by appointment. For more information or to see a schedule of events, visit monticelloks.org or call (913) 667-3706.
By Gerald Hay
Special to The Dispatch
Monticello Township — once a key part of north-central Johnson County with a 154-year history and links to Wild Bill Hickok and “Bloody Kansas” — no longer exists in Johnson County.
Although it may have disappeared from the map, Monticello Township remains an important chapter in the pages of Johnson County’s history.
Representatives from the Monticello Community Historical Society recently shared the area’s story with the Johnson County Board of Commissioners. Their presentation was part of the monthly Johnson County Community Showcase program, which recognizes local historical sites and organizations in celebration of the Kansas sesquicentennial in 2011.
The final parcels of Monticello Township were disorganized in 2006. The action affected only remnants of land since Shawnee and Lenexa had annexed most of the township by the late 1990s.
The original township staked its claim on the Johnson County territory between the Kansas River as its northern end, its southern boundary at roughly 103rd Street, Cedar Niles Road as its western border, and Ogg Road as its eastern edge.
The township land, mostly rural, totaled about 42 square miles, or roughly 27,000 acres, covering what is now western Shawnee and eastern Lenexa.
Deriving its name from the historic home of President Thomas Jefferson, the township was established in 1857. Monticello town, located about 9 miles north of Olathe, was laid out in June of that year in newly created Johnson County in the then-territory of Kansas.
Monticello Township was established two years after the formation of Johnson County in 1855 and four years before Kansas became the 34th state in 1861.
The town of Monticello was founded on 160 acres on June 19, 1857, at the crossroads of Territorial Road No. 5 and the Midland Trail.
At that time there were no railroads in the area. Steamboats routinely churned the waters of the mighty Kaw — or Kansas River — and stopped at the Chouteau Ferry Crossing.
In March 1858, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was elected as a constable. He left in mid-1859.
By 1858, Monticello Township served as a key stagecoach stop between Lawrence, Fort Leavenworth and Westport, Mo. Pioneers would camp near the many springs and creeks in the area on their way west.
In 1859, Monticello town was almost entirely torn to pieces by a tornado, but it was quickly rebuilt. The township also weathered periodic grasshopper plagues in the 1860s through the 1870s.
In its heydays, the town featured the Reed Hotel, which was accidentally burned down in 1862, along with two general stores, a couple of saloons, a blacksmith shop, a schoolhouse and a post office that closed in 1915. By the 1930s, a handful of businesses — a general store, town hall and some smaller shops — remained in the town. After World War II, there were no real businesses left, only scores of homes and a school.
Aside from Monticello the township had several other towns, including Zarah, Waseca (also later known as Holliday), Wilder, Craig and Frisbie Station.
The towns along the railroad stayed alive longer than Monticello town. Most of them, at one time, had post offices, banks, schools and stores. A few also had cafés and hotels. Some of the businesses remained open until after the 1951 Great Flood that erased several of the small towns, including Holliday, Wilder and Frisbie Station.
Monticello Township and Johnson County also had their dark days during the unrest of “Bloody Kansas” with the struggle between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions.
At two different times, 1862 and 1864, guerillas under William Quantrill passed through Monticello Township on their way to sack the towns of Shawnee and Olathe.
Following the Civil War, the population of Monticello Township swelled to almost 1,100 residents by the 1870s and to 1,396 when the census was taken a decade later.
At its population peak, the township counted 2,813 residents in the 1980 Federal Census before annexation of its territory started in bits and pieces in the 1970s and in larger portions in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Although the township is disorganized, preservation of the township’s history remains the main focus of the Monticello Community Historical Society, which was formed in 1988.
In 1999, the historical society received ownership of the former Floyd Cline Fire Station at 83rd Street and Gleason Road in Lenexa and organized the building into the Monticello Historical Station at Floyd Cline Hall.
The museum and its research center house artifacts, historic pictures and educational materials encompassing the township’s entire rich history. The site includes a 1974 fire truck, originally used by the Monticello Volunteer Fire Department.