Ellinwood was on the Santa Fe Trail, the trail that played a critical role in the westward expansion of the United States, and was an important two-way avenue for commerce and cultural exchange between the new state of Missouri and the newly independent nation of Mexico. East of Ellinwood the Santa Fe Trail beelined from Council Grove. Here the trail met the Arkansas River and continued west en route to New Mexico. About five miles west of Ellinwood, where the trail crossed Walnut Creek, was Fort Zarah, one of the forts providing protection for the trail.

In the 1870's, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was built, roughly following the route of the trail it was replacing. The town is named for Capt. John Ellinwood, chief civil engineer and surveyor for the AT&SF, who camped near here in the fall of 1871. The town's first merchant, George M. Jackson, laid out the town in the spring of 1872 and began selling whiskey and tobacco. The railroad reached Ellinwood that summer, and growth was rapid, reaching 400 by 1878.
(Read about Ellinwood's first 12 years.)

Ellinwood is of German heritage which is shown by the architecture of the Main Street buildings and the Underground Tunnels of yesteryear. The tunnels remain of greatest interest to tourists.

Elsewhere on the web, you'll find some interesting reading about the early days of Ellinwood:

Early history of Ellinwood
Published in 1883

1912 Biographical History of Kansas - Barton County