South end of Erpelding Avenue, looking north from the Railroad Crossing
(circa 1890)  [photo received
from John Laird (California)]

How Leonardville Became Leonardville

So... how did Leonardville get started? Many factors over many years lead up to the founding of Leonardville.
First, during "The Age of Exploration," the European explorers were funded by the government (rich Kings and Queens) who were out to make more money. Gold and/or rare Spices were valuable. Columbus stumbled upon North America in 1492 while trying to find a shorter trade route to the East. The Spanish explored here in the 1500's, but didn't find much gold. The English settled Jamestown in 1607 and struggled for years to make it worthwhile. Tobacco became a cash crop for the English and make the New World "a profitable venture," so they decided to stay. The English, the French and the Spanish all laid claims to the New World and wars were fought to decide who got what.

The English claimed the eastern lands and eventually established thirteen English Colonies in the north and east, mostly along the Atlantic coast. The French laid claim to a large portion of the interior and the Spanish claimed much of the southern and western lands.

The Colonists grew tired of the over-bearing English Royalty and in 1776 they declared their Independence and then fought a revolutionary war to prove their right to be independent and thirteen colonies eventually became the United States of America. 

In the early 1800's the American government wanted more land and France needed money, so in 1803 France sold their Louisiana Territory to the United States and in the middle of this "Louisiana Purchase" was Kansas.

For almost fifty years not much happened there until the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 established the Kansas Territory and officially opened up the land for settlement. It was along the rivers and creeks where cities sprang up and people settled. The rest of the land was thought uninhabitable because it lacked a ready supply of water and was often referred to as "The Great American Desert."

But the Homestead Act of 1862 changed all that by offering free land to "homesteaders." This allowed people to file a claim for a quarter-section (160 acres) of land. The land became theirs at the end of five years if they had built a house on it, dug a well, broken 10 acres, fenced a specified amount, and actually lived there. Thousands of people came, mostly from Europe, for many reasons, but all hoping for a better life in a new land.

Also, during the 1870's the Kansas Central Railway was being built westward from Leavenworth, Kansas. The plan was to build a "faster route" to Denver. It was a "narrow gauge" railroad, narrower then the "standard gauge" track. The railroad had made it to Garrison in western Pottawatomie County by the spring of 1880; a total of 175 miles in ten years. Now a bridge was needed to cross the Big Blue River and there was no money. Many thought the railroad would die there, but by the spring of 1881 the money was raised and construction of the bridge was started. Now it was on to the west across Riley County, but where across the county? Some thought to the north to Randolph and up the Fancy Creek valley. Some thought to the south to Riley and Bala. Maybe somewhere in between!

Now, having a railroad was definitely a great asset to a city and generally a profitable asset. A railroad would open up access to ship commodies to markets and ship in needed supplies to a community. 

In the central part of the county was a farm owned by Lambert Erpelding. Erpelding lived in Chicago, but had sent his three young sons, Frank, George, and John here to farm the land. (They were often referred to as the "Chicago Boys" by the other locals.) Erpelding wanted that railroad, but he needed a town

(Continued in the right column.)

Links to the other pages about

General Leonardville History:


Leonardville 1884

This is an article taken from the Leonardville Monitor in 1884 and
tells about the beginnings of the city and what was going on in 1884.

This is a excellent article!

It contains much information about the first settlers, their early
churches and organizations in Leonardville.

Leonardville 1910 Pictorial Booklet

This is a pictorial booklet published in 1910. It contains 31 photos
of the businesses, school, churches and prominent city residences.

Leonardville History (1931)

This is a history written for Leonardville's 50th Anniversary celebration in 1931.

Leonardville History (1956)

This is a history written for the newspaper for the commemoration of
Leonardville's 75th anniversary.

So Leonardville Was Born
This article was written by a grandson of one of the Founding Fathers,
Lambert N. Erpelding.
It appeared in Leonardville's Centennial book,

"City of the Plains, A Story of Leonardville."

(Continued from the left column.)

to lure a railroad. To the north of the Erpledings were farms owned by Lucien Kilbourne on the west and John Ford on the east. Erpelding persuaded them to donate a corner portion of their farms at the point where it adjoined the Erpelding land to create a town site.

There were already Post Offices located at Alert, Bala, Randolph, Riley Centre, May Day and Winkler's Mills, but none in their area. So, on February 15, 1881 a post office was established on the Lucien Kilbourne farmstead. They named it Alembic, after Alembic, Michigan, the home town of Lucien's wife Helen.

They went to the president of the Kansas Central Railway, Leonard Smith, to persuade him to build his railroad through their new city. In return the new city would give every other lot to the railway company, to help them raise money for the construction. They also promised to name the new city, Leonard, in honor of the railway's president.

So in September of 1881 the new site for the city of Leonard was platted and during the first week of October of 1881 the tracks were laid through Leonard. The new railroad brought a lot of excitement to the new city. Businesses and residents from the surrounding area began to migrate to the new city with its new railroad. Leonard became a frontier "boom town."

An application was made to the U.S. Postal Department to change the name from Alembic to Leonard. The application was denied, because the postal department said Leonard was too often confused with the city of Larned. So the city name was (reluctantly) changed and officially recognized by the Post Office on June 28, 1882 as "Leonardville." 

So instead of Leonardites they became "Leonardvillains"!

And the rest is history...