City incorporated 110 years ago
Bonner Springs was a thriving community 110 years ago and was struggling to determine its future. There were angry voices in Bonner throughout the fall of 1898 as the possibility of becoming an incorporated city was argued.
The idea of becoming an independent city first surfaced on April 6, 1891, when, according to the Wyandotte County Commission Agenda, W. S. Twist presented a petition for the incorporation of Bonner Springs. This was the first item on the agenda. The second was opposition to Bonner Springs becoming a city and was presented by Judge J. O. Miller. The commissioners did not approve the petition and Bonner Springs remained a growing, but unincorporated, city.
The year 1898 was a good one, both locally and nationally. The United States was euphoric over winning its first foreign war. In a conflict that lasted just three months, American forces vanquished the Spanish and added new territory. Unfortunately, that joy wasn’t going to last long as the nation soon found itself entangled in a guerrilla-type war in the Philippines. In addition, Germany was rattling sabers over U.S. annexation of the islands.
Some might have thought the world was spinning out of control. There were race riots and even an Indian uprising. Just as the case is today, the world was a very dangerous place.
Despite being rebuffed by the county and facing some opposition locally, leaders were determined to carry on the battle to become a city. In September, a town meeting was called to again discuss the possibility of incorporating. According to the Chieftain story, the meeting was more subdued than previous sessions. The Chieftain reported: “The upmost good humor prevailed throughout the meeting. The project was argued for and against.”
Philo Clark proposed that a committee be formed to survey public opinion on the matter. The idea was to take the petition to each residence and have them sign either for or against the plan. The plan was accepted, although the Chieftain did not report the vote count. The newspaper did see that the winds of change were blowing. “Many persons who fought against having the town made a city of the third class two years ago are ardent supporters.”
J. J. Smith and D. M. Frame were to conduct the survey. The Chieftain reported: “This newspaper has always favored incorporating Bonner, and always will, knowing the benefits that must result.”
A total of 69 real estate taxpayers and 10 personal property taxpayers signed the petition in favor of incorporation. Only one person refused to sign the petition.
With overwhelming public support, the incorporation plan was moving rapidly. Clark was named to head a committee to set the city boundaries. Another committee was appointed to draw up the petition and a committee of J. A. Blackman, Philo Clark, J. D. Waters and F. M. Downs were named to take the petition to the county commission.
I’m sure the committee had to be nervous as they headed for Kansas City, Kan., to present the petition. After all, they had been rejected several times in the past. They presented the petition to the commission on Oct. 20, 1898. They got their answer at the meeting of Nov. 10, when the commission officially approved the petition for incorporation. The Chieftain reported that the meeting took less than two hours and there was no “remonstration.”
After officially becoming a city, it took only a few weeks for Bonner Springs to get organized. The city held its first election on Dec. 6, and the man who had led the effort for incorporation, Philo Clark, became the first mayor. Members elected to the city council were: A. J. Wood, Frank Warner, M.D. Bardon, C. L. David and M. S. Everett. C. A. Walker was the street commissioner and marshal and J. A. Blackman was the first city clerk.
Just two weeks later, the council passed two ordinances. The first was to set meetings on Mondays at 7 p.m. The second ordinance made it unlawful for residents to keep a dog over three months old without a city license. The fine for violating the ordinance was $1.
It was 17 years later, in 1915, when Edwardsville became an incorporated city. No, there was no opposition from the commission to the Edwardsville plan.
Looking back, it took a lot of determination for Clark and the others who labored diligently for incorporation. Despite opposition by the county and some local residents, they continued the fight and what they did was create a wonderful city that remains as vital now as it did 110 years ago. We still owe them a huge debt of gratitude.