The Potawatomie Indians first arrived in this area on September 9, 1848, having been moved here originally from Indiana and Michigan by the government. According to an 1846 treaty, the Potawatomie were given $850,000 and a 30 mile square tract of land along the Kansas River. Upon arrival, a manual labor school and mission, complete with a log church, were established.
In 1848 when gold was discovered in California, it is said that 300,000 people traveled along the Oregon Trail in route to possible fortune. The mission served as a stopping point on the trail for rest, worship, and supplies for the remainder of the trip.
All of this activity stimulated growth in the settlement. In August of 1866, B. H. Bertrand presented a town site plat to the county clerk with 5 streets running parallel to the tracks of the Kansas Pacific Railway. Incorporation of the city was granted on October 8, 1869 with Alva Higbee serving as the first mayor.
The final allotment totaling $525,000 was paid to the Potawatomie in October of 1870. At this point in time, the Prairie band had located at the Mayetta reservation, and the Woods and Mission bands were planning a move to Native American territory in Oklahoma.
Along with city incorporation, came the birth of the public school system, and the grounds that had held the mission school would become a college. St. Marys College was granted a charter by the Kansas Legislature in 1869 empowering St. Marys College to confer degrees. (p.45) The parochial school system was begun in 1881 by the Leavenworth Sisters of Charity. The first public high school graduation was held in 1898. The parochial high school would last until the fall of 1946 when it merged with the public high school, and the parochial grade school merged with the public grade school in 1970.
In 1876, the first well was dug and 10 days later, a second well was completed. The local volunteer fire department dates back to 1880.
By 1898, this flourishing town had a doctor, dentist, lawyer, newspaper, veterinarian/undertaker, jeweler, photographer, realtor, insurance agency, auctioneer, 2 banks, 2 drug stores, 2 clothing stores, a bakery with candy kitchen, restaurant, lunch counter, boarding house, livery stable, lumber yard, grain elevator, shoe cobbler, shoe store, creamery, grocery store, and a bowling alley.
On March 8, 1900, thirty men gathered to begin the St. Marys Commercial Club. It was an active organization which investigated graveling the main street, petitioned for a new railroad depot, and became active in sponsoring a city-wide July 4 celebration. In 1905 horse racing became a part of the July 4 festivities and continued until 1921 when interest faded from both the races and the club.
In an effort to invoke public interest in the development of the park, the city passed a bond election in October of 1921 for a swimming pool which is still in use today. The bath house was completed in 1922. It was one of the first concrete pools in the area, attracting swimmers from as far away as Topeka. This election was also significant as it was the first election in St. Marys to have women voting.
The charter meeting of the St. Mary Chamber of Commerce was held on April 12, 1927. On their agenda for public progress was the need for a baseball team, a town band, a county track meet, and a July 4 celebration.
The local National Guard unit has been in place in St. Marys since March of 1923 when the 161st Field Artillery was organized. The present building that houses the local guard unit was completed in 1942 as part of a WPA project.
The public school system saw advancement in 1931 when construction was completed on a new, state-of-the-art public high school located across the street from the swimming pool and park. Prior to 1931, all public education in grades K – 12 was held in what was known as the Hill School. The Hill School continued as a K – 8 building until February of 1975 when the present St. Marys Grade School was opened. A new public high school was constructed in 1980.
Also in 1931, St. Marys College was closed, due in part to the depression, and the grounds became a seminary school until 1967. In 1978, The Society of St. Pius X purchased the grounds and established a private/parochial school for grades K – Bachelors Degree.
After the seminary closed, the Indian Pay Station was sold to the city in July, 1967 for $1. The city commission asked for a group of volunteers to form a committee in September of 1967 to turn the pay station into a museum. The St. Marys Historical Society began in 1969 and the Pay Station Museum was opened in that same year.
St. Marys possesses a rich heritage which forms the cornerstone for its citizens to live, thrive, and flourish in this vibrant community.
Source: AND THEY CALLED THE SITE ST. MARYS, Dorothy Newcomer Hoobler, Valley Ho Publishing, St. Marys, Kansas