Historical

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History of Chapman

The history of Chapman goes back to 1855 when George Freeman settled on land 4 miles North of the present town site. In 1857 John Erwin and Michael Hunt settled on land 1 mile North of the present town site.

In 1858 the boundaries of Dickinson County were established by Governor Denver and the name of Dickinson was chosen in honor of Senator D.F. Dickinson of New York. Newport was the site of the First County Seat and was Southeast of town. In this same year Mr. Erwin broke prairie ground for the first crop of sod corn. Mr. Lenon planted wheat by hand and harrowed it in with a harrow made by tying brush together and weighing it down by a log.

The early settlers lived off the meat of buffalo, deer, wild turkey, rabbits, and prairie chickens. Their nearest doctor was an army doctor at Fort Riley, about 15 miles away.

Prairie fires, Indians, buffalo herds, and cyclones were always threats to the Pioneers. There were many tribes of Indians in the fertile valley of the Smoky Hill River running from Abilene to Junction City. Among the tribes were the Kaw, Delaware, Pawnee, Sacs, Pottawatomie, and Fox. Some were friendly and some were not.

Buffalo herds migrated from South Dakota to Texas and sometimes took up to 3 days for the herds to pass and would stretch for 1/2 to 1 mile wide. The prairie grass was so tall a cow could get lost if it wandered from the herd.

The Erwin home became the center of Pioneer hospitality; no traveler was refused lodging or something to eat. Mr. Erwin was also the postmaster to the first Post Office of Chapman Creek. This Post Office was called Farmington Post Office.

The first Catholic Church was built and the first Mass was held in August 1866. The church was built at the corner of St. Patrick’s Cemetery, close to the Erwin home. The first district school was held in this church.

The Pioneers traveled as far as Leavenworth, Kansas to buy supplies. They lived in dugouts, log cabins, wagons, and tents until better homes could be built and everyone helped. They had varied occupations, all contributing to the growth of the community.

In 1866 the Union Pacific Railroad came through the area and the community began to grow quickly. In 1869 the area suffered a devastating setback when they had a tremendous flood. Many human and animal lives were lost, not to mention the number of crops and homes that were destroyed.

In 1872 the community was incorporated and named after the Chapman Creek. This was then the beginning of the town of Chapman.

In the year 1874 a disaster occurred when there was an invasion of Rocky Mountain grasshoppers. They ate everything in their path, even the fuzz off the cottonwood boards and netting from farmhouse windows. The only thing that the grasshoppers did not destroy was Mrs. Ryan’s small patch of growing tobacco.

In 1879 bonds were voted on for a new school building which was to be used for all community activities, religious and social.

In 1880 the Methodist’s built a new church, and in 1883 the Catholics built a new St. Michael’s church and other congregations were also formed. In 1888 a high school was built for the education of those desiring advanced training. It was the first County High School of its kind in the world and home of the first Hi-Y teen club in the nation.

The first Labor Day was celebrated in 1909.

We are presently a town of about 1,400 people consisting of retirees, civil service workers and army personnel, with Fort Riley only 15 miles away. The area around is a farming community of wheat, milo, corn, cattle, and hogs.

There were many families instrumental in building the community around the town of Chapman. Most were from Ireland or were descendants of those who came from Ireland. Therefore, our town is called Chapman Irish.

Dickinson County Heritage Center and Historical Society

State of Kansas Historical Society

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