The town is located on a plateau 1,700 feet above sea level. A range of hills rises to the north and west, from which Eskridge looks like a grove with a church in it, so completely is it covered by the foliage of its trees. Situated near the head of four streams, the Dragoon, Mission Creek, Mill Creek, and Elm Creek, this town has a large area of rich country tributary to it and its nearness to Topeka and Kansas City makes these lands very valuable for all kinds of special and general farming.
Eskridge is an important shipping point. It is the center of the greatest Shorthorn district in the world. There are about 1,000 head of pedigreed cattle within a radius of twenty miles. Some of these animals are worth thousands of dollars.
The whole town has a well-kept, thrifty appearance. Its business blocks are substantially built of native stone or brick. Unlike Alma, it never had a boom of any sort to string its nerves up to a tension, and then let them down, but has enjoyed a steady growth from the beginning.
Eskridge has unusual educational advantages for a town of its size. Besides its excellent graded and high schools, it is the fortunate possessor of a university which reflects great credit on the town. This is the Wesleyan University, a Bible School founded in 1901, by men of lofty ideas and great faith, and ambitious to make it the foremost institution of its kind in the United States. Many people do not realize the value of a college to a town. Aside from a matter of culture, a college always brings money and business to the locality, not only in what the attending students spend, but in donations and gifts, the benefit of which the community receives in the end.
The First Eskridge
The history of Eskridge begins with the establishment of what is now called East Eskridge, in 1861, two years after the county seat fight came up. With characteristic enterprise Eskridge at once got into the game, although she had only one house at the time. By an offer of a court house square and a building to be donated to the use of the county, Eskridge at the election, February 7th, 1871, polled 256 votes against 269 for Alma, 217 for Newbury, and 2 for Wabaunsee. The race was now between Eskridge and Alma. Another election was called three weeks later, and Eskridge lost to Alma by thirty-six votes.
It was in this year that Col. Ephraim H. Sanford, the founder of Eskridge, started a paper called the Landmark. This was the second paper established in the county. The press and other material was brought from Emporia and had been the property of a man by the name of Eskridge, for whom Sanford named his town. We have said his town, because he founded it on his own land, of which he owned six or seven hundred acres in the vicinity. He was a man of great energy and enterprise, and had apparently made a success of everything he undertook.
He held many offices of honor and won distinction in politics and war. His strenuous temperament is nowhere more prominent than in his loyalty to his own town. According to his idea, Eskridge was the central point of the whole globe-according to his map, all railroads lead to and from Eskridge, and according to the pictures in the Lank Mark, heavy steamers plied the Dragoon, and unloaded their commerce at Eskridge landing. Colonel Sanford was Postmaster for over twenty years and must have been appointed in the early ’60s.
Dr. M. F. Trivett and Wm. Earl, who are both live wires in modern Eskridge, lived in East Eskridge in the early days. Dr. Trivett was the first man in the vicinity to own a buggy. Wm. Earl kept a stock of general merchandise from the time the town first started. He was not only the first merchant in Eskridge, but he has been in business longer than any merchant in the county.
Under the strenuous efforts recounted above, the town assumed village-like proportions and in 1880 had two hotels, two livery-barns and several stores. The population was between 400 and 500.
About this time the Santa Fe surveyed for a road to take the place of the old trail. Bonds were voted all along the line and tradition has it that a load of hop tea was sent to Harveyville and that a few cold ones found their way to Eskridge. The writer does not believe it. It is true, however, that after the road was built the people along the route were given an excursion on the flat freight cars, previously used for hauling dirt. The people were game and went. The train stopped at every corner, and even in the middle of the block if anyone wanted to get on. It rained as usual and rained hard.
Instead of all railroads leading to Eskridge, the only one which did go through, “passed by on the other side” of Colonel Sanford’s town, and the little burg had to move over to the west. Dr. Trivett was first to move his residence. He also built the first building. W. H. Earl moved his store building, and built the first new store. Within three years the town had grown considerably and the surrounding country was being rapidly developed. Eskridge was shipping great quantities of hay for which $3 per ton was being received.
In 1882 the first paper in the new town Home Weekly, was ‘moved from Alma by W. W. Cone. This was the second of the six papers Eskridge has supported at different times. The rest are The Eskridge Star, issued in 1883 by Mitchell F. Fowd and owned at present by Dow Busenbark; Wabaunsee County Democrat, Dr. Platte, editor-which lasted a few weeks–a little longer than Democrats do in Kansas; The Eskridge Sun, A. A. Graham, editor, issued 1888; The Eskridge Tribune, Frank Hartman, editor, issued in 1900; The Wabaunsee County Tribune, 1900, by Seaman &: Carrol.
In 1890 Eskridge had the misfortune of being visited by a destructive fire. All the west side between Trusler’s and Mudge’s were burned. E. L. Shumate & Son, W. H. Mills, J. W. Taylor, and Parmiter & Son were the principal sharers in a $25,000 loss.
It was about this time that a new era of prosperity began. The hardships of pioneer life disappeared and people began to have all comforts of life. By this time nearly every farmer had a nice orchard. Fine new homes replaced the small houses put up when “getting a start.” Large barns were built to accommodate the produce from improved farms. The effect was soon seen in the growth of the towns and in the volume of business transacted.
Today Eskridge is the second largest town in the county, and is known far and wide as a “fine town for business.” About the only drawback to the place is the poor railroad accomrnodations. This condition promises to be remedied by the new railroad, the Topeka and Southwestern, which promises to go through before the close of 1907.